Oh, Right! A Holiday!

It’s Thanksgiving time! As most of your know, I have written a book about Thanksgiving. As a result, I’ve been busy doing my Author Visit Dog and Pony Show. This has made me less available on this blog and elsewhere.

Sorry about that. Once I finish sleeping off the effects of the dark meat, I promise my behavior will change.

This guy's goin' down.

This guy’s goin’ down.

Upon my return, I will tell Christmas stories! I will revisit the phenomenon that is H.A.C.K.S! And I will desperately attempt to fulfill my very last New Year’s Resolution!

In the meantime, allow me to get into the spirit of the holiday by telling you all how thankful I am for having so many funny, thoughtful, and supportive blog pals. You make doing this great fun.

Enjoy your holiday!

And nothing makes a holiday more enjoyable than getting an author some residuals!

And nothing makes a holiday more enjoyable than giving a deserving  author some residuals! Just sayin’.

Iron Man

My mom always considered ironing to be a kind of hobby, something that helped her to relax, something that made her happy.

Ironing leads to happiness? It’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s brain around – until I tell you that my mom is German. If Mom’s side of the family taught me anything, it’s that Germans don’t know how to stop working. Instead they find ways to combine work with leisure.

Mom would set up her ironing board in the kitchen. The kitchen in our house adjoined the family room, the location of the house’s only color TV. While she waited for the iron to begin angrily sputtering steam (and that iron could spit with the ferocity of a pit viper) Mom would slam Psycho into the VCR. Then, for the next hour and a half, she would make pants creases so sharp and starchy that Norman Bates could’ve used them to slice open Marion Crane.

Mom loved cans of spray starch and used them with gusto. While it made our shirts, pants and hankies crisp, clean and perfect, her liberal starch application meant that some spray mist ended up on the kitchen’s linoleum floor. This created a permanent slick spot that would send passersby skidding into the dishwasher.

I was usually that passerby. The bruises on my knees and ankles didn’t entirely heal until I moved out.

This is why I hate ironing, I think; it’s just too easy for me to associate it with leg injuries and serial killers.

This is a problem, for I am a fully-fledged house husband. I am the designated iron-er.

I try to avoid it when I can. When I glance into the clothes drier and discover a garment that is sort of wrinkled, I hear myself say, “It’s not that wrinkled.”

I then fold it up and put it in a drawer.

On the rare occasion I find a garment too wrinkled for me to say, “it’s not that wrinkled,” I hear myself say, “I’m gonna donate this shirt to a homeless person!”

This strategy works just fine for my clothes. When the wrinkled garment in question is Ellen’s, however, things get more complicated.

Ellen’s eyesight is bad, so bad that without her glasses she is almost legally blind. Yet, by some horrible miracle, she can spot a clothes wrinkle at 30 paces. I don’t know how she does this, but I’d wish she’d stop. I also wish she’d start wearing more cotton. That stuff never needs ironing – and on the rare occasion it does – zip zip zip – I can touch it up before a Psycho VCR tape makes it past the FBI warning.

But Ellen dresses professionally. Well-dressed professionals do not wear cotton. They wear weird fabrics that are created in laboratories by brilliant, sadistic Germans who dedicate their lives to creating new and exciting ironing challenges; something that’s delicate, shiny, ruffled, layered, pleated and susceptible scorch marks; something that can miraculously manufacture new wrinkles while you’re ironing out old ones.

Despite these hardships, I give ironing my best effort. I am a house husband. Ironing is my job. And, when I can’t avoid it, I take that job seriously.

One day last week as Ellen stumbled though our front door hunched under the weight of her take-home work, she found me waiting for her in the foyer.

“I ironed your ruffled blouse thing!” I announced. I held the blouse up for inspection and awaited kudos.

Ellen squinted for a moment.

Ellen does not have what one might describe as a poker face. At any given moment I can tell what she is thinking. In that particular moment she was thinking, “Oh, that’s sucky.”

She didn’t say that, of course, because my wife makes an effort to be thoughtful. Instead she said, “It’s good, but I think I need to touch it up a little.”

I was aggrieved by the suggestion. I had set up the ironing board in the family room and labored over that stupid, shiny, ruffle-y, wrinkly blouse half the morning. I invested way too much time and effort and starch on this stupid thing. And now Ellen was going to tell me that she’d “touch it up?” Oh, I don’t think so.

Besides, I knew Ellen wouldn’t touch it up. She’d be too busy to touch it up. For weeks and weeks that awful blouse would sit by its lonesome in the ironing basket. Every day it would mock me and remind me of my ironing failure.

So, to save face, I said, “No, I’ll take care if it.”

“I think it looks good,” she lied. “I can just touch it…”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said again.

“It’s really no tr–”

“I. Will. Take care of it.”

Sensing that the German part of my heritage was flooding my brain, Ellen let the matter drop.

And I am pleased to report that, after many trials and tribulations, I finally did get that awful blouse perfectly ironed.

It was quite simple really.

I invited my mom over, revved up the DVD player, rented Psycho from the library, uncapped the starch can, and resolved to live the rest of my life with black and blue ankles.

One Hat. Two Versions.

Highlights coverSometimes I’ll rewrite a story so many times I’ll forget how much it’s changed.

That was certainly the case with my story Harold’s Hat. As I mentioned on this blog, Harold’s Hat was published in the July issue of Highlights for Children. And because the  folks at Highlights are lovely, wonderful people, they gave me permission to reprint a PDF of the finished story! Here ya go:

Harold’s Hat mag layout PDF

I just adore Harold’s crazy eyes in that last illustration.

This isn’t the only version of Harold’s Hat floating around. An embryonic draft of HH appeared on this blog in June 2013, which I wrote for one of Susanna Leonard Hill’s awesome writing contests. Both versions share many of the same story beats, but otherwise they are two very different animals.

Feel free to compare ’em. It’s fun!



halloween coat 2Do I like Halloween? Well, let me put it this way: If I wanted to make a spectacle of myself panhandling in costume, I would be on Times Square shaking down tourists.

So, no. I do not like Halloween.

I do like Susanna Leonard Hill, however. (How can one not, really?) I also like Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog contests, and I enter as many as I can.

Yes, even the Halloweensie one.

Here are the rules: Entrants have to write a Halloween-themed story no longer than 100 words. (In Halloween parlance that means the story is “Fun Size.”) This story also must contain the words “costume,” “haunt,” and “dark.”

So, here’s my submission! Enjoy!


Night Ninja

“I’m the black ninja! Hiyah!”

“That costume is too black.”

“The better to haunt my victim’s dreams!”

“Well, you’re going to have to haunt their dreams with a little reflector tape. Stand still.”

“Mom! Ninjas can’t reflect! They gotta disappear!”

“I don’t want you to disappear into the fender of a car. Take this flashlight, too.”


“It’s cold out. Get your coat.”

“But my coat is green! Light green!”

“Then you’ll be an adorable light green ninja. Out you go.”

“Ninjas aren’t adorable!”

“Have a good time, sweetie! And don’t come back without dark chocolate!”

“I hate Halloween.”

The Cornhusker Con

I would live there if they had rabbits this large.

I would consider  living there if they had rabbits this large.

It is widely said that people from Nebraska are lovely and generous. Maybe it was just a stereotype, but, boy, did I need that stereotype to be true.

I was driving alone from New Jersey to Salt Lake City and I kind of miscalculated the cash thing. Davenport, Iowa, was about halfway to my destination, so one-quarter of my money should have been gone. But no matter how many times I counted and recounted my remaining bills on the rumpled motel comforter, I was missing a third of it. Staying in motels every night and eating out three times a day was expensive, apparently.

But Nebraska was one state over — and I had a mooching plan in place. I didn’t know if my plan would work, but I had to try. My bankroll was depending on it. Before I checked out, I made a call to Lincoln. Brian, my college friend, lived there. I hadn’t spoken to him in years.

Brian was an interesting person. He entered Carnegie Mellon University – one of the nation’s finest engineering schools – planning to study engineering, a career that was always in demand and paid very well. Midway through his sophomore year, however, Brian had an epiphany. He decided to switch majors. He needed to pursue graphic design, a career that was hardly ever in demand – and on the rare occasion that it was, the pay was terrible. Carnegie Mellon University, it should be noted, is not one of the nation’s finest design schools. I know this first hand. I lived the Carnegie Mellon design experience and was underwhelmed by it.

Oh, and Brian also played the bagpipes.

Armed with these life skills, it should come as little surprise that two years after getting his degree, Brian was unemployed and living at home with his parents.

But he was also a Nebraskan. If the popular assumption held true, he would be lovely and generous.

My phone call to Brian went something like this:

Me: Hey, Brian, it’s Mike Allegra!

Brian: Mike! Oh, my God! I haven’t talked to you in… I don’t know how long! How are you?

Me: I’m good, I’m good! Listen, I’m driving across the country.

Brian: You are? Awesome!

Mike: I’m in Iowa right now.

Brian: Stop by and see me!

Me: That’s exactly what I wanted to do! I should be in Lincoln at around dinnertime. You want to get dinner?

Brian: Yeah!

Mike: Great! (Beat.) Oh, one more thing. Do you know of any good motels in town?

Brian: Oh, no, no, no. You’re not staying in a motel. You can stay with us!

Mike: No, Brian. I couldn’t do that!

But of course could. And I did.

A few hours later I met Brian’s very nice and very Nebraskan parents. They were lovely and generous.

“Driving across the country! My goodness!” Brian’s mom said. “You’re a long way from home. You must have dirty laundry.”

My brain jumped for joy. More mooching!, it shouted. OK. Play it cool. Just like you did with that motel B.S.

“I have some laundry,” I said. This was a bit of an understatement as pretty much everything in my suitcase was dirty by now. “After dinner I was going to ask Brian to point me to a laundromat.”

She waved my comment away as if it was a lazy mosquito. “Oh, stop it! Put your dirty clothes right here. I’ll do them while you and Brian catch up.”

“No, I couldn’t!” I protested.

But of course I could. And I did.

So, while Brian’s mom scrubbed nearly 1,000 miles of dusty road out of socks that smelled like regurgitated corn chips, Brian showed me the city.

Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, was a lot smaller than I had anticipated. It wasn’t a city at all, really. It resembled the downtown of a charming suburb that had found prosperity but had yet to discover ostentation. In its unique way, it was kind of perfect.

“Burger place, OK?” Brian asked.

“Sure!” I said, even though I knew I should’ve said no. I had grown a bit too acquainted with red meat on this particular journey. This awful diet, coupled with countless hours of sitting behind a steering wheel, was starting to cause me a bit of discomfort.

To be frank, I hadn’t pooped since Baltimore. But I ignored my rebellious lower intestine. I sensed another opportunity to mooch and that was where I placed my undivided attention.

Play it cool, my brain said. Now go get a free burger.

Oh, and a milkshake. I wanna milkshake, it added.

We trundled into a restaurant designed to mimic the neon and chrome feel of a ‘50s drive-in. As I held the door open for Brian, I said, rather off-handedly, “My treat.”

“No,” he replied, a hint of firmness in his voice. (Just a hint, mind you. Brian was Nebraskan, after all.) “You’re in my town. My treat.”

“No, Brian. You’re doing so much already. We’ll split the bill.”

“No. My dad even told me to buy your meal.”

“That’s really nice of him, but I couldn’t.”

But of course I could. And I did.

Under these happy circumstances I thought it was appropriate to order a bacon cheeseburger deluxe. With a milkshake, of course. And some extra onion rings on the side. All the food was piled high in merry, red plastic baskets the size of office garbage cans. I hadn’t eaten so much since the previous Thanksgiving.

Brian and I talked and reminisced and laughed for hours. We just picked up where we left off our senior year of college. Brian really was a good guy.

Halfway through the meal, I excused myself to go to the men’s room. The lone stall was occupied, which was fine, for my lower intestine remained plugged up and petulant. I did my business at the urinal.

That was when I noticed the wallet on the edge of the sink. It was stuffed with so much cash, it was about as fat as the burger I had just forced down my gullet. I assumed the wallet belonged to the guy in the stall. But, if so, why would it be siting on the sink out of his view where anyone could just grab it? Why wasn’t it in the stall? With him? In his pants pocket?

I was horrified that anyone anywhere would ever do such a stupid thing.

For a moment I thought I might have wandered into a police sting. But judging by the noises Mr. Monopoly was making in the stall, the guy was clearly not prepared to take down a potential thief.

At this point in the story I would like to point out that, as a rule, I do not chat with people in restrooms. I hate it. I avoid it at all costs.  But if ever there was an occasion for me to do so, it was now.

“Um. Sir? Excuse me. Is this your wallet?”

The man’s strained, tremulous voice echoed off the tiles. “Hm? Oh, on the sink? Yeah… That’s mine.”

I had startled him in the middle of his business. The awkwardness was not lost on either of us.

“Do you, um, want your wallet in the stall? With you?”

“No. Uh. No. It’s fine. If… If you’ll excuse me…”

Red faced, I apologized for my interruption, washed up, and returned to my table, leaving the rich bounty behind to bewilder some other passerby.

I just had to share my new anecdote with Brian. But when I did, I was surprised to discover that the story didn’t surprise him at all.

“We don’t live in fear here,” he said.

“I don’t live in fear in New Jersey, either, but I don’t leave my wallet out like that.”

“Why not?” Brian asked.

“Because I don’t want anyone to take it!”

“That’s a kind of fear, though, isn’t it?” he asked.

“No. It’s common sense.”

“You lock your car, you lock your house, right?”


“Even though you live in a safe town, right?”


“Why? Because you’re afraid something will get stolen.”

OK. Yes. I am. But leaving a wallet on a men’s room sink? That’s just –”

“That’s a little extreme, even for around here,” Brian admitted. Then he smiled. “But it does give you a pretty good idea of what Lincoln is like.”

It sure did. And for some reason, it made me not like Lincoln very much. The people here were too alien. Too trusting. Too innocent. Too nice. By comparison, I was a selfish, manipulative turd. Lincoln, in it’s inoffensive, kindly way, called attention to who I was — and I hated who I was.

“Brian,” I said. “I want to pay the bill.”

“Already got it, buddy,” he replied.

I returned to Brian’s house to find my clothes cleaned and folded on the guest room bed. Brian’s mom even folded my underpants.

This was all too much. Right then and there I decided to leave first thing in the morning. Dawn. I would graciously refuse breakfast, thank them all repeatedly and profusely for their generosity, and head west in search of more corrupt places where my casual misanthropy would be the rule rather than the exception.

But I was more tired than I knew — and the bed was more comfortable than anything I had laid on in the past week. I awoke at 9:45. I was greeted by an empty house.

I found two notes on the kitchen table. The first was written in a pristine, near calligraphic cursive. It was from Brian’s mom. In it, she apologized that she and her husband had to leave for work. Then she invited me to stick around and make myself breakfast. “Just close the door behind you when you’re ready to leave,” she wrote.

The second note was in Brian’s hand. He wrote how happy he was to have seen me. His note contained an apology, too, for he neglected to tell me the night before that today was his first day at a new job. Brian was working as a designer at last.

It couldn’t have happened to a nicer person.

Nebraskans were more lovely and generous than I could have possibly imagined. I didn’t belong here.

Time to go, my brain said. I hoisted my bag — now filled with clothes that were clean, folded, and smelling like a spring breeze — and headed for the front door.

But I paused in the foyer to listen to my brain once more.

I’m kinda hungry, it said.

Brian’s mom said it was OK, it said.

Do you think you could find some frozen waffles? it asked.

But of course I could. And I did. And, despite my troubled conscience, they were delicious.

Three Things On My Bucket List


Harumph! (Groundhoggy grumpiness courtesy of International Business Times.)

The term “Bucket List” has become so common these days that most people have forgotten that it was popularized by one of the worst films of Jack Nicholson’s career. Since I don’t believe in inadvertently promoting bad movies (that is why you’ll never hear me say “something’s gotta give”) I would like to replace “Bucket List” with a term of my own:

The-Things-I-Would-Like-To-Do-At-Some-Point-In-My-Life-But-Have-Nothing-To-Do-With-My-Family-Or-Career-So-If-I-Don’t-Get-To-Do-Them-It-Really-Won’t-Be-A-Big-Deal List

As you can see, I prefer accuracy to brevity.

For your convenience, I’ve turned this term into a simple acronym:


Here are three things that top my list:

Visit Punxsutawney Phil

Phyllis would be great, too!

Punxsutawney Phyllis would be great, too!

I love groundhogs. They are cute, cantankerous, and always wear a “Now, what the hell do you want?” expression on their faces. So it seems only logical that I would want to go to Pennsylvania, get up at the crack of dawn, and stand in the frigid cold to catch a glimpse of the most famous groundhog of all time.

My wife, Ellen, thinks I’m insane for wanting to do this — and she has told me in no uncertain terms that she would never, ever, ever in a hillion-jillion-zillion years accompany me on such an excursion. My son, Alex, is more open to the idea of such a trip, but I think that’s because Groundhog Day often falls on a school day.

When I tell other people about my dream of visiting Punxsutawney on the groundhoggiest day of the year, their reactions range from mild amusement to a horrified, “I don’t know-you-anymore!” style of bewilderment.

There is one exception: My mom. She not only endorses such a trip, but also insists on going with me. This is kind of surprising because Mom is whimsically challenged. (She would loudly and proudly agree with this assessment, by the way.) Yet going on a several-hundred-mile journey to see an animal that Mom can find in her own backyard… And then listening to this animal pretending to predict the weather… Well, that’s about as whimsical as it gets.

So I don’t understand Mom’s motives, but, someday soon, she will be welcome company.

Run For President

Let me clarify straightaway that I don’t want to win; I just want to run. My reasoning is simple: I like meeting people, Ellen says I look good in a tie, and a presidential campaign seems like a great way to promote non-presidential things. You know, like a book.

I could certainly do better than this scumbag

Even if I accidentally did win, I could never be a worse president than this guy.

Since I have no intention of winning, I can say whatever I want during the campaign. In fact, saying whatever I want will pretty much guarantee that I won’t win. (I am a student of history and can assert that no presidential candidate ever won an election by calling another candidate a “poopie head.” My first campaign promise: I will publicly and repeatedly call every xenophobic candidate a “poopie head.” You’re welcome. God bless America!)

I also want to run because I came up with a nifty campaign slogan:

Get a Leg Up With Allegra!

I look forward to your lack of support in 2020.

Cuddle a Capybara

Weighing in at about 100 pounds, a capybara is the world’s largest rodent. Capybaras are social, curious, friendly, and adorable. Considering my pro-rodent (prodent) beliefs, I should – scratch that – I must find an opportunity to hug this Godzilla guinea pig.

So what do you have on your Bucket List?

Write me a comment and let me know!

So I Have A Fish Now

Oh, hai!

Oh, hiya.

She is a six line wrasse. I named her Audrey because she has the grace and elegance of Audrey Hepburn.

And because Audrey – like all living things – needs to poop on occasion, I also got a shrimp to, ahem, clean up after her. The shrimp is named Fosse – as in Bob Fosse. I named the shrimp Fosse because his waggling antennae reminded me of jazz hands. I also chose the name because, if memory serves, Bob Fosse (the person) drank Tab. If you don’t remember Tab, it was a diet soda that tasted like poo. So there we are.

Hey, big spender!

The Jets and the Sharks have nothin’ on the Shrimps.

And no tank is complete without a snail. He has yet to exhibit enough personality to warrant a name. I am, of course, willing to hear suggestions.

Turn Ons: Eating slime. Turn Offs: Slimelessness.

Turn Ons: Eating slime.
Turn Offs: Slimelessness.

To be honest, Audrey, Fosse, and No Name Snail don’t belong to me. They are my son’s pets. He just let me name them.

Alex was always fascinated with saltwater fish. Ever since he was about three, he would leave me in the dust the moment we entered a pet store. Off he’d race to the tanks along the far wall.

He must have picked up this behavior from my wife, Ellen, who also has a habit of abandoning me in pet stores. She, however, would dart in the opposite direction, to the furry critter section, and act as if it was her personal petting zoo.

I would’ve preferred to have followed my wife to the critters; I am a rodent person, after all. But you can’t let a preschooler wander off to a distant corner of a huge, busy store alone, because, you know, blah, blah, blah, bad parenting, blah, blah.

I also couldn’t ask Ellen to watch Alex because she would always have her hands full. Literally. She would be cradling three chinchillas in her arms saying, “Who’s adorable? Who’s adorable? You are! Yes, you are!”

So off to the fish tanks I would go. Alex would talk to me endlessly about how beautiful the fish were. How graceful they were. How awesome the tanks looked. How much he liked the pump that blurbled air bubbles into the water.

Then he’d ask me which fish was my favorite. In response I’d point to the 89-cent goldfish, because I had a pretty good idea where this conversation was going.

But he never asked for a fish. Perhaps in his young mind he thought they were for display purposes only.

So Alex and I just talked and watched the fish as we waited for the PetSmart employees to shoo Little Miss Grabby Hands away from the rodent cages. When Ellen no longer had anything in her arms to pet, we were allowed to leave.

As Alex got older he and I still lingered in the fish section of the pet store, but our discussions shifted to questions about fish care. And when his questions got too complicated for me to answer, we’d chat up an employee. Alex knew my philosophy of pet ownership: If you’re not willing to take care of it, don’t bother to ask the question. This philosophy had held him off for years. By the time last Christmas rolled around, however, he was weighing his options. Maybe he did want to take care of a fish.

And maybe I did, too. After all those times of standing in front of those tanks, I began to awaken to their appeal. No, fish aren’t as cuddly as rodents, but they sure are beautiful, aren’t they?

At Christmas, Alex got his aquarium. And this past month, Alex picked out Audrey. Much to my chagrin, Audrey is not an 89-cent goldfish. And much more to my chagrin, Audrey costs much more than an 89-cent goldfish.

And did you know that you have to pay for salt water? You can’t just throw sea salt in tap water and call it a day, apparently. And you need living sand. Not just any old sand. The living kind. That also goes for rocks, too. You need living rocks. (The  idea that the rocks and sand are alive unnerves me slightly.) You also need a heater and a thermometer and a thing that scrapes the slime off of the glass. And those poo-eating shrimp aren’t chump change either. And please don’t get me started on how much that bitty eight-gallon aquarium cost.

When I was a kid, I had a goldfish. I won him at a fair. It lived in a glass bowl with colored (non-living) rocks and a plastic castle. It was dead in two months. I wasn’t exactly sad to see it go. Neither was my mom. The investment was minimal. The bowl, rocks and castle probably cost three bucks.

But I will do everything in my power to keep Audrey alive and happy. I’ve spent way too much for her not to be happy. And alive.

Besides, ever since she came to live with us, not a day has gone by when Alex and I haven’t pulled up two chairs to watch Audrey glide around the living rocks, Fosse whip out the jazz hands, and No Name Snail do nothing. We watch and we talk. And those moments are well worth any investment.