Tag Archives: humor


Sometimes when you leave the house in a hurry, you forget something really important – like your bowling ball. This is the story of Veronica.

In 1993, I made a bold move that would change the trajectory of my life forever.  Young, inexperienced and in love, I packed up my bags, left the Twin Cities, and moved to Milwaukee.  When people today ask how I ended up in Milwaukee, I always explain: “I moved here for love that has long since passed.”  At the time, the plan was to move here for a year – maybe two – and then head back to the Twin Cities.  Twenty-one years later, I am pretty sure Milwaukee is home.  Today, there is a finite list of reasons I would consider moving:  1) Scott Walker is elected President (in which case it is compulsory that I move to Canada); 2)  I am inspired and propelled by love again; or 3)  Milwaukee is destroyed by a zombie apocalypse.

Anyway, if you have ever moved to a new city, you are probably aware as I was that it is really hard to make new friends.  It can take seemingly forever.  I am so lucky now to have an incredible group of friends, but I am very aware that this has required over 20 years of interviewing, nurturing, harvesting and weeding out a few clunkers.  Good friends are worth their weight in gold.  Once you have them, you should never let them go.  I’m not sure if I would have the wisdom to value friends the way I do now, had I not had a period of time where I didn’t really have any nearby.

But when you are in a new city and devoid of any meaningful friendships, you have to find things to do that don’t require friends.  There are only so many movies you can see or festivals you can attend.  In my case, I decided to engage in something fun that I could add as a skill.  For the first two years I was in Milwaukee, Mr. Jennifer Wittwer and I went bowling on a weekly basis, sometimes twice a week.  I actually got pretty good over time, and could consistently bowl an average of 200 or higher. I really grew to love it.

One day, Mr. Jennifer Wittwer came home and said he had been at the closing-out sale of a local sporting goods store.  While there, he found a bowling ball that was the right weight, had finger holes exactly the right size, and – get this – already had his name engraved on it.  He had invested a grand total of $5.00 on this purchase, and was beaming with pride at this almost unbelievable turn of events.

At the insistence of Mr. Jennifer Wittwer, I too went to the sporting goods store to see if I could find a bowling ball.  The store was in its final close-out, so it was dirty and disheveled.  People were everywhere, frantically trying to get the deal of a lifetime.  I made my way to the bowling ball section and took a quick inventory:  the pickins’, as they say, were slim. But then, tucked away in the back of the shelf, I caught a glimpse of her – the bowling ball of my dreams.  Perfectly marbled in an array of purple tones, she was eleven pounds of pure beauty.  I picked her up and felt her smooth surface in my hands.  I held her up to my face and instantly fell in love.  I tried the finger holes and they were a perfect fit.  “I’ve found her!” I exclaimed.  I then looked at the name on the ball, and had a good, hearty laugh.  Engraved on the ball was the name “Veronica.”

From that day forward, my bowling alter-ego became Veronica.  I embodied the cool, casual spunk of a Veronica the minute I would step foot into a bowling alley.  While Jen is fun and sassy in her own right, Veronica had a little spring in her step that let the world know she was in charge.  Veronica was also fiercely competitive and could have a little temper flare if things weren’t going so hot.  The bottom line is this: Veronica was the kind of girl everyone wants to befriend, but nobody dares to mess with.  Veronica meant business.

Years later, when Mr. Jennifer Wittwer and I ended our relationship , I left the house in a hurry. After 12 years together, my sister and brother-in-law helped me pack up and move out of the house in about a 3 hour period of time.  The circumstances necessitated my haste.  It was the most emotionally tumultuous and difficult time of my life, a time I don’t care to re-live or ever repeat.  Somehow, someway, I made it through. As I settled into my new life, and then into my new home, my stomach dropped when I one day suddenly realized: Oh my God, I forgot Veronica.  In the midst of all of the chaos and the sudden, abrupt changes, Veronica got left behind.

I try not to think about it too much and I push it to the recesses of my mind.  I don’t know where Veronica is today.  For all I know, she is in a landfill.  Maybe she got donated somewhere and a young girl in a junior bowling league has taken to her.  I shudder at the thought, but it is possible that the new wife of the former Mr. Jennifer Wittwer is using Veronica on a regular basis.  I simply don’t know where Veronica is, what she is doing, and who is loving her.  It breaks my heart.

Is it normal to have regrets in life?  I think so.  I certainly have a few.  It has become a joke, a metaphor of sorts, when I reflect on my broken marriage.  “I want my damn bowling ball back!”  And I say it in jest, but truly, I do.  I’ve offered $100 to the person who is brave enough to go ring the doorbell of the former Mr. Jennifer Wittwer and demand Veronica back.  So far, no one has taken me up on it.  Until then, I will patiently wait.  Someday, maybe someday, we will be reunited.  Until then, I will just continue being Jen – the best Jen I know how to be.  Even when I go bowling.


Celebrating Your Inner Weirdo

Author’s note:  To protect the innocent, all names have been changed in this story.

It can be an intimidating experience to spend the bulk of your time with psychiatrists and psychologists.  This past week I was out at a going away party for Dr. Dom Farding and the place was crawling with shrinks.  For some reason, I kept blurting out unusual facts about myself and it just wouldn’t stop.  (Maybe it was the “just add alcohol” component to the evening, but really, I only had two drinks.)

A few of us were hanging out with Dr. Tara Doleman and her two adorable, precocious little girls.  I had asked the girls if I could come over some time and play with their Lite-Brite, and they seemed a little like “Who is this strange lady and why does she want to play with my toys?” but then said I’d have to ask their mom.  At this point, Dr. Bony Brasher joined the conversation and we had a stroll down memory lane about our favorite childhood toys.  Topping the list for me, of course, was Fisher Price Little People.  I noted how sad I was that they had changed the size and shape of Little People, which I had heard was because the old wooden version was exactly the same size as a 2 year-old’s trachea.  Dr. Brasher posed the question, “Who was eating them, anyway?”

All of this led to me remembering, and then over-sharing, that as a child I used to chew on Barbie’s feet.  In fact, I chewed on them so much that eventually the rod holding Barbie’s leg together started to poke out the bottom of her feet.  This caused Dr. Bony Brasher to cast a discerning psychiatric eye in my direction.  You know, the shrink look, the one with an arched eyebrow.  “But…it was a Ballerina Barbie.”  I stammered this out in my own defense, as if it somehow added to the acceptability of my Barbie foot chewing behavior. (Fortunately, it wasn’t until later that I recalled that my best friend Cindy and I used to pop the eyeballs out of my Sunshine Family dolls for entertainment.  I can only imagine the differential diagnosis Dr. Brasher would do if he knew that.)

All of this got me thinking…the truth of the matter is that we all have an Inner Weirdo.  The only difference is that some of us talk about it, and some of us don’t.  But the reality is that everyone, outside of the presence of others, does weird things.  A guy I once worked with was witnessed scraping his tongue with Scotch tape in his office.  Weird?  A little.  But the only really weird thing was that he did it where other people could see him.  Any of us, under the right conditions of tongue funkiness, might do the same thing.  Only privately.

So my point in all of this is that we should all celebrate our Inner Weirdo.  Don’t be ashamed!  Don’t hide who you are!  Be who you want to be!  Just know that being weird is part of the human condition, and it is part of what makes us more alike than different.  Because in the right set of circumstances, all of us pick our nose, talk to ourselves in the car on the way home from work, lick the last of the ice cream out of the bottom of the bowl, and chew on Barbie’s feet.  I guarantee it.

Now go be weird today.  I’m pretty sure I am going to.

Bananas Are All the Rage

When I was 16, I fell madly, deeply, cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs in love with a guy who had been one of my best friends for some time, and I made a complete and total irreparable mess of the relationship within about four months.  A couple years later I fell hard for a guy who was still ridiculously preoccupied with his last girlfriend.  In college, I dated the same guy for four years who was more of a best friend than anything.  When I was 23, I met and eventually married a man who – I hope you are sitting down for this – didn’t really think I was all that funny.  It’s no surprise we are not still together – clearly he had issues.  I say all of this so as to point out that I have had some complicated relationships in my day.  But none has been more complicated than my relationship with the ordinary yellow banana.

The thing about bananas is, I want to like them.  Really, I do.  And sometimes, for maybe a day at a time, I find them tolerable.  The problem is, I have a very small window of opportunity with bananas.  I can look at a banana sitting in my fruit bowl and think to myself, “I am going to eat that banana for breakfast.  But first, let me shower.”  I am telling you, by the time I get out of that shower things might have changed.  The window of opportunity may have slammed shut, as a few brown spots may have appeared.  In the time it took me to lather, rinse and repeat the banana lost its appeal.  Get it – appeal?  Because bananas have peels?  Damn, I am funny.  Told ya.

Bananas, to me, are the fruit equivalent of whiny little bitches.  “Oh, hi.  I’m a banana.  Please don’t touch me or look at me or even think about me, because if you do I might bruise.”  My friend Colleen said it best – bananas do not travel well.  You can take a banana from your house, gently place it on the cushion of your car seat, and by the time you get to work it will be all battered and bruised like Mike Tyson just had his way with it.  Whatever, bananas!  You know what I think?  I think you need to shut your pie hole.  Get it?  Pie hole.  Somebody stop me, please.

My sister revealed to me that her solution to this nonsense is a banana carrying case.  Really?  This is what it has come to?  We have to buy luggage for our bananas?  The banana by design has its own carrying case, but I guess that’s not good enough. A banana carrying case may be the ultimate response to a first world problem.  What is next?  The banana is going to give me a list of his or her demands before agreeing to come to my house?  I mean really, come on.  This has gone too far.

Even in light of all of these petty annoyances, I still try to convince myself each and every week at the grocery store that I like bananas.  My inner turmoil sounds something like this:  “Bananas are good for you, Jen.  On paper, they meet a lot of your needs.  Everybody else likes bananas – you should too.  Even if you don’t like bananas, you know your parents would approve of them.  Just give the poor banana a chance. You can do this.”  Eventually, I acquiesce to the chatter in my head.  Every. Damn. Time.

Week after week there is the same result.  I buy two or three very green bananas and take them home.  I manage to eat one of them in the 12 minute window of opportunity I have to enjoy a perfect banana.  Then I have to find a way to discard the remaining one or two bananas, which, in the blink of an eye, have become spotted, brown, rotten, sugary, mushy, repositories for ready-to-hatch-fruit flies.

Since there is only so much banana bread you can make, I had to find a new solution.  I actually hired someone who would take my “past the Jen Wittwer expiration date” bananas.  Now granted, this person has a lot of skills to add to the team, but one of her most important functions is to take any banana from me, any time, no questions asked.  While I might make it seem like I am doing her a favor by giving her bananas on a weekly basis, the truth is she has become my banana savior.  And – wait for it, wait for it – I am so relieved I don’t have to monkey around with those rotten bananas anymore.  Get it?  I said monkey.  

I’m here all week, folks.

Billy Joe

In short, he was the coolest cat I ever met, and while most of his family called him “Billy Joe,” I was lucky enough to call him Dad. There are so many things I admire about him, that I am not sure I can put them all to paper. He was funny and patient and tolerant of the most trying of circumstances–far beyond anyone’s comprehension.

Born on October 1, 1941 to Harold and Kathryn Swearingen, Billy Joe was the baby of his family. (One of his all-time favorite jokes: “They named me Bill because I came on the first of the month.”) There is something about being the baby of the family that lends to a special brand of charm, and he had oodles of it. He just had an easy way about him, and was always the life of the party. Need a spot-on impression of one of the locals in our small Iowa town? Bill was your man. Want to feel better about your own circumstances, compliments of some serious self-deprecation? There he was again. (“How tall are you?” someone once asked. “Depends,” said Dad, “if I am on my good leg or my bad leg. I am either 5’10 or 6’0.”) His life was tragic, and charmed, and as far as I can tell, truly one-of-a-kind.

In 1971 just months before his 30th birthday, my dad was diagnosed with kidney failure and was given two weeks to live. But here’s where I developed a sense that there indeed is a plan out there greater than ourselves: Bill’s brother Alan was completing his medical residency at the University of Iowa hospitals who just happened to be some of the pioneers in the field of nephrology. So in a race against the clock, my family packed up and moved from New Mexico to Iowa so that Dad could get what was then state of the art treatment.

From there, and for many years to follow, my dad and our family experienced a whole lot of medical ups and downs. I look back, and I realize that all of my formative years were shrouded with worry of losing this most remarkable man. But here comes lesson number two, compliments of Dad: All the worrying in the world doesn’t change a thing. And, in fact, it just might make things worse. He showed us.

Dad went through a couple transplants that didn’t last long, but he spent most of the rest of his life on dialysis. Twenty-five years, to be exact, which put him in something like the top one thousandth of one percentile of life expectancy of people on dialysis. He had a point to prove.

If his onslaught of medical problems wore on his nerves, he surely never showed it. Every night for many years, we played Nerf basketball in the kitchen while Mom cooked dinner–sometimes to her chagrin and more often to her delight. Every night sometime after dinner, Dad would grab the guitar and sing his silly made-up songs. He thought and planned and dreamed about ways he could improve our little hobby farm for the quarter horses he so passionately raised on it. Maybe it was because he had the keen sense that life is short, but Dad really knew how to live.

When Dad’s body finally gave out on him fourteen years ago, clearly long before his will dared to do so, my sister and I were there with him. I have always felt it was a privilege to share this most amazing moment with him as he danced on the delicate line from one world to the other. And though he had been in a coma-like state for two days prior, he awoke on his last day and was as lively and as funny as I could ever remember him being. And you know what he said? He said the most astounding thing, considering that he was in the last hours of his life. He looked us in the eye and said, “I am not going to lose levity today.” There came lesson number three out of a gazillion that I got from him. I thought it every day he was alive, and I have thought it every day since: I am lucky to have known this man.

Life has all kinds of twists and turns. Nobody is guaranteed anything, and if you think you are then I say you’re a fool. Just ask Billy Joe: Our charge, if we can, is to live. Not just to breathe, but to live. Find your passion, surround yourself with quality people, seize every opportunity to try something new, make a new friend or for God’s sake, laugh.

Happy Father’s Day, my sweet dad. Thanks for shaping me and above all else, for letting me live in your light. Wherever you are, I will meet you again someday, and when I get there I know one thing that I can count on for sure: We won’t lose our levity.