Humor in unexpected places (Part II)

Of course the Albany police blotter is not the only place I find humor.

My husband’s cousin, Dana, is in charge of a hospice program in Santa Barbara. You’d think that would be a terribly depressing occupation. But Dana has gone so far as to teach a course about how to look death in the face and laugh. Part of her admittedly semi-creepy obsession with death humor includes her collection of euphemisms for dying, which she e-mailed to all her relatives, just for fun. I was curious, so I Googled euphemisms for death and added to her list. Here are just some of the ones I found that I’ve grouped into loose categories.

Wishful thinking


the big nap


left the building

resting in peace

slipped away quietly

got a one-way ticket

went to the lone couch of everlasting sleep

There’s the “better place” series

was called home

with the ancestors

with the angels

gone to Davy Jones’s locker

gone to meet one’s maker

gone to one’s just reward

gone to one’s last home

gone to one’s rest

gone to the happy hunting ground

gone to the last roundup

gone west

gone to that big (fill in your favorite) in the sky

Those that make use of various sports, game, or theater metaphors

a race well run

reached the finish line

cash in one’s chips

traded to the angels

final curtain call

PC versions

became living-challenged or living-impaired


tending towards a state of chemical equilibrium


returned to dust

back to molecules

Several of them stress the underground aspect

six feet under

became a root inspector

bought a pine condo

checking out the grass from underneath

taking a dirt nap

pushing up daisies

go home feet first

riding the perma-pine

gone into the fertilizer business

picking turnips with a step-ladder

feeding the worms

In the horizontal phone booth

Some are more obvious


no longer with us

ceased to breathe

at room temperature

is now stiff

ate his last pizza

(is) no more

Seem to be mob-influenced

sleeping with the fishes

rubbed out





snuffed out

put in cement boots

Treat the dead as inanimate objects


permanently out of print

taken out of production

past his sell-by date

got stamped “return to sender”

Blunt, to the point

went belly up

ate it


stone dead

dead meat

deader than a doornail





checked out


cut off

done for





stiff as a board

got bagged

wearing a toe tag

on the unable to breathe list

Use mythical or literary references

crossed the River Styx

wandering the Elysian Fields

shuffled off this mortal coil

Then there’s the category I call: Where-did-that-come-from?

bit the dust

bought the farm

gave up the ghost

paid the bills of mortality

fallen off the perch

gathering the asphalt

popped their clogs

ended his/her earthly career

basted the formaldehyde turkey

Then there are those that perennially look on the bright side

out of his/her misery

sprouted wings

joined the majority

winning one for the reaper

decided that hell’s got a better HR policy than the office

gone to take his/her free kick at Hitler’s backside

kicked the oxygen habit

Next time: Part III!


And a good time was had by all…

My father always claimed that you could hand actor Paul Robeson a phone book, and he could make it sound dramatic.

reprinted from

Well, last night at Pegasus Books on Solano I witnessed something comparable: “What’s Strunk & White, and Read All Over? The Elements of Style (subtitled “An Act of Love”). Actors Brian Herndon and Ken Sonkin portrayed the venerable E.B. White and William Strunk Jr. reading aloud the classic reference book owned by every English major since 1918, The Elements of Style.

Rule 11—use the active voice

The active voice is usually more direct and vigorous than the passive:

I shall always remember my first visit to Boston.

This is much better than

My first visit to Boston will always be remembered by me.

That’s right—they took turns reading rules from a manual word for word. But they did it with such expression, purpose, and humor that it was quite entertaining. In addition, each took on an identifiable persona so that rather than merely relaying information he created a memorable character who interacted with the other. One was the stuffier, stick-to-business type; the other, a bit more mischievous and playful. Occasionally one would stray from the text to  tell the other that he was “adorable,” but they were faithful to the text 99% of the time.

Musical interludes were provided by Karla Kane and the Definite Articles. Wait, I mean Karla Kane and the Definite Articles provided musical interludes. (Use the active voice!) Although Karla herself was suffering from laryngitis, the band picked up the slack and sang ditties about parts of speech from the beloved ’70s Schoolhouse Rock series. They saved my favorite for last: “Conjunction Junction.”

Joe Christiano, who has worked at Pegasus since 1991, began this dramatic reading series in August 2010 and calls it First Person Singular. Christiano told the East Bay Express that his idea is to “bring something to the bookstore that was as compelling and cathartic as a night in the club or a night at the theater.”

I found it funny and captivating. And it was free! I can’t wait for the next one…

For info on future events from First Person Singular, go to

Finding humor in unexpected places (Part I)

When someone approached me and asked if I would be interested in speaking at her club’s luncheon, I thought she must have confused me with some other Tanya Grove. (I hear there is another Tanya Grove who, at least at one point, lived in Berkeley, and for all I know, she’s a popular speaker on any number of interesting topics.)

But no, she insisted it was me that she was inviting. Because we were at an Albany Patch event at the time, I wasn’t surprised when she said she read my comments on the Albany police blotter published in the Patch. But it did seem a crooked path to the speaking circuit.

Then she explained: she was always looking for humorous speakers. I probably should have politely declined then and there because there’s nothing so ripe with pressure as having to be funny in front of a large group of people you’ve never met.

It reminds me of a family story in which my sister-in-law, as a teenager, had been dating a new boy, and in that early stage had bragged to her parents just how funny he was. When the day came that my father-in-law was introduced to this boyfriend, his opening line was: “Say something funny.”

Of course nobody could be funny in that situation. Humor has to have a context—it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Ask my dog—he’s absolutely terrified of the vacuum cleaner and sees no humor in it whatsoever…

I had never spoken to a group of people taller than third graders, but I blithely accepted the invitation to speak and began planning my humorous talk.

But where does one find humor? Some people harvest tidbits from their own lives: you know, the clueless husband, the ungrateful kids,  the unreasonable boss, or the randy neighbor. But I don’t have any of those things. I mean, I do have a husband, but he’s not clueless, and my daughter has turned out to be quite lovely, thank you very much. My boss (who also happens to be my husband) is a gem. Now it’s quite possible that one of my neighbors is hot to trot; but if that’s true, I’m blissfully unaware of this condition.

When I want a chuckle, I read the police blotter in the AlbanyPatch. If you have been a regular reader of my blog since last summer—and if you are, thank you, thank you, thank you!—then you know that it’s not that I enjoy reading about dangerous criminals or get a weird rush from hearing about violence. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I  feel better about my neighborhood knowing that these are the kinds of things that make the police log. It’s strangely comforting to know that I live in a place where cops will respond to such calls.  

When Emilie Raguso, editor of the Albany Patch, started reading my blog, she suggested that I become what the Patch calls a “local voice” and share my slightly irreverent musings on the police blotter.

And thus a career was born. Okay maybe not a career, since of course there’s no money to be made.  But if I can bring a little laughter into the world, I’m happy to do so.

For those of you who do not read the crime blotter on Albany Patch—and if you don’t, why not?—here’s a selection of the tough calls that Albany PD gets on a regular basis, grouped loosely into categories.

There are those that are funny because of the way they are reported. (I don’t change the wording of any report, except to occasionally remove a name.)

Two callers reported two males involved in a fight with a bat. 

   —What I want to know is: did the two males win or did the bat? It seems like an unfair fight if you ask me. 

Someone reported that his or her Jack Russell terrier was bitten by a “large shepherd” in Memorial Park. 

 —I can only assume the Jack Russell was bitten by a German shepherd because there are so few sheep to herd in Memorial Park. 

A caller reported a dead young deer deceased in the back yard.

—So it was dead and deceased?

Then there are those that show how unreasonable or needy some people are.

Someone visited the Albany Police Department to report that his or her vehicle was missing after letting a “friend borrow it [a] couple months ago.”

 —Unfortunately it’s not a crime for a friend to turn out to be an unreliable snake. Maybe it should be.

 A woman visiting from Roseville,CA—north of Sacramento—went into the Albany Police Department to see if someone could “go shut her garage door,” which she believed she’d left open. 

 —Seriously? Hey, I think I left my oven on. Could someone go check for me?

 A man near Madison and Castro streets reported he was “concerned because there is a swarm of bees near the corner.”

I would be concerned too…if I didn’t have two legs to walk away from them.

A woman came into the police department to see if a police officer could speak to her 5-year-old daughter “as a reminder” about “Not good behavior.”

—Really? Scared straight in kindergarten?

Some of them just lead me to more questions…

Someone found a backpack on Jackson“with Tinkerbell on it” containing electronic equipment. The person was referred to another agency.

 —Another agency? Sorry, Albany police only handle backpacks with Hello Kitty and superheroes. For characters from children’s literature and/or Disney movies, they have to hand it over to Berkeley police.

Someone on Stannage Avenue called to complain about six chickens that had been digging up his or her home on a regular basis.

—Okay, there are so many unanswered questions here:                              

  • First, didn’t the person who was calling know whether he was a he or she was a she?
  • And how does he or she know it was 6 chickens exactly? Did he or she see them in the act?                                                           
  • If so, couldn’t he or she fend off a few chickens? I mean, it’s not as if they’re barracudas, right? Even six at once would probably be deterred by a little foot stomping and a few halfheartedly thrown rocks…
  • And if they weren’t caught in the act, it would be presumptuous to accuse them all. (It only takes one bad chicken to give the whole coop a bad rep.)
  • And finally, “digging up his or her home”—what does that mean, anyway? Is this home made of actual building material, or is it some little piggie house made of straw?

And then there are the ones that are just funny all on their own.

A woman on Ordway called to report a “loud party with some pleasant French music and some out of tune karaoke singers” that was preventing her from getting her baby to sleep. 

—It is not against the law to play pleasant French music, even on American holidays. It is also not illegal to sing off-key. It probably should be, but I just don’t see how it could be enforced.

A man on San Carlos Avenue reported that his wife hid his car and would not tell him where it was. Civil matter, parties advised.

Police received a report that a man in his 40s was “chasing geese with a sword” at the soccer field near Golden Gate Fields. 

Man fighting geese with a sword


Illustration courtesy of Jim Beller. Jim, who also blogs on the Albany Patch, notes:  “The police report didn’t specify if it was the man or the geese who had the sword, so, to be fair, I armed both sides.”

 A man called police to say “he just wants to go to sleep and (his) wife won’t let him get in the bed.”

    —I wonder if it was the same guy whose wife hid his car…

And sometimes crime reports have a silver lining…

Someone reported the theft of two boxes of books during the week after four cases were dropped off by UPS.

—Since I make my living from publishing, I found this as a good sign because in these uncertain times when many are bemoaning the slow death of the publishing industry, it means that books are still considered worthy of stealing!

Look for Part II tomorrow!

Modern day knights still exist

I’ve always been clumsy. So, though it was jarring, it was not a complete surprise when I misjudged where the curb began, especially since I was also drinking a nonfat latté and juggling my lemon ginger muffin. This all requires a basic degree of coordination and grace, which I do not possess.

Splat. My latté flew out of my hands and onto the sidewalk, as did my muffin (though, luckily, still safely encased in its little paper bag). My left knee and palm bore the brunt of the fall. I clenched every muscle in my face, wrapped my arms around my knee, and rocked, I suppose, in an attempt to shake out the pain.

From two different corners of the intersection rushed men to my aid, helping me up, retrieving my muffin, and checking on the extent of my injuries. One was a man in a suit, probably returning to his car after a business meeting nearby. The other I recognized—he worked at the Westwind Café where I had gotten my afternoon pick-me-up.

I assured them both that I was fine and was stupid to think that I could drink coffee and walk at the same time. The man in the suit remarked that we’ve all done it at some time, and, noting my limp, asked again if I was really okay to walk.

I responded only that I was glad I wasn’t wearing shorts, since presumably the pants I was wearing spared me some degree of skin scraping. Of course I don’t even wear shorts anymore. Certainly not to work. Definitely not in January. But it was what popped out of my mouth.

Then I thanked them both profusely for their kindness and concern and started to head back to the office. The young man looked at the Rorschach-like splatter that my latte had created on the sidewalk, told me he worked at the cafe, and offered to replace my drink.

First I said, no, I’d already drunk half of it before I spilled. But as he was leading me back across the street, I found myself accepting his generous offer. The caféhad officially closed moments earlier, but the young man called out cheerily to the woman behind the counter that they had “one last customer.”  (I usually arrive just before 3:00 when I’ve fallen asleep at my desk and need something to keep me going for the remainder of the day.) He poured me a cup of coffee with a smile, and I was grateful.

I returned to work with a bruised palm and a skinned knee, but also with a big grin on my face. I had encountered not one, but two kind souls, who took time from their busy days to make sure a clumsy stranger was okay. Maybe a soothing word and a free cup of coffee isn’t the same as being rescued from a fire-breathing dragon, but in my book, they were both knights in shining armor.

Just sharing a poem

Sometimes I just see something and want to share it with everyone. Here’s today’s offering.  

Instructions for Helping the World

by Greg Pincus

Write a poem.

Work with clay.

Draw or paint a day away.

Knit or dance.

Make a song.

Film a movie all night long.

Use your hands,

Brain and heart.

Live! Create! Go make some art.

For more of Greg’s poems, go to

Goodbye, Ben

Ben Marafino was my friend. Judging by the packed seats and people standing in the back of the chapel, he was a friend to many.

Any time a friend dies, it’s sad. But on top of the loss itself was the suddenness. Six weeks ago he was playing two roles in a production of The King and I. Then on New Year’s Eve, he had a heart attack and died. No illness, no hospital stay, no time to say goodbye.

He was a scientist, a math teacher, an actor, a singer, a proud father, a good husband, a loyal, generous friend, a hugger, and the class clown. He was the guy who would give you a ride even when he was busy. He was the guy who stayed upbeat even when he was out of work. He was the guy who encouraged you to do a solo and applauded loudly afterward even if you kinda flopped.

Ben made me laugh and he made me smile. He was always up for anything and did everything with a big grin.

This upcoming Thursday he would have been at Berkeley Broadway Singers’ first rehearsal of the season, and we all would have hugged him and laughed at his corny jokes. We would have told him how we missed him last season and how glad we were that he was back.

But now we can’t.

Instead we gathered at the Chapel of the Chimes this afternoon and celebrated Ben’s life by sharing stories and music, with all kinds of songs from all kinds of singers. Our fearless leader, Ellen Hoffman, played piano for most of the tunes. Alan played a Brazilian piece on guitar while David E. played saxophone. David G. performed a song he wrote himself to say goodbye to Ben. Denise belted out “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Anna sang a gospel tune. Eddie sang a Johnny Mathis hit. Paul lead us in Eidelweiss. Someone sang a number from The King and I. Ed sang “On a Clear Day.” Michael sang, “Youve Got a Friend in Me.” Robin sang, Frankie sang, Tina sang, and we all sang “What a Wonderful World,” a song that makes me cry even when I haven’t just lost a friend. 

I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Ben. But I was grateful to be surrounded by so many others who also loved Ben, so we could say goodbye together. Ben would have loved it all, and it seemed wrong that he didn’t get to sing a final solo or do a last duet with Sarah N.

So, goodbye, Ben. We’ll miss you.

Overflowing with meaning

I’m not blaming my father-in-law. I’m just saying that the two events roughly coincided: his moving into our house and the toilet in the downstairs bathroom overflowing. In any case and absolutely no blame assigned, after ten minutes with a mop that I disposed of immediately following the whole hazmat operation, I felt ready to start life anew.

However there is a force of nature that goes like this: if you are expecting houseguests, your chances of experiencing a plumbing emergency go up by 1000%.

My darling daughter is home from her first semester at college, and for her birthday two of her close friends took a bus up from SoCal and her boyfriend flew out from Massachusetts to stay with us.  Cue toilet back-up.

Because I was still recovering from my recent encounter with the downstairs bathroom, my husband took on plunger duty this time, gallantly missing parts of the Fiesta Bowl to ensure that I would not have to buy yet another mop. (It’s possible that Stanford lost to OSU because he was not constantly there to provide moral support.) Although there was no mess to clean up this time, he issued a warning that until further notice, the downstairs toilet was off-limits.

Which is fine, but the other toilet is in the bathroom that happens to be located in our bedroom upstairs. Consequently, throughout the night we had a number of teenagers tiptoe ever-so-quietly across the corner of our bedroom to reach the only safe toilet. Usually I sleep like a rock, but for some reason the back-and-forth activity was unsettling, and I had a rather fitful night’s sleep.

I called a plumber the next morning, and he arrived exactly when he was supposed to. He flushed the offending toilet several times without any mishap whatsoever. He asked me to take him to our “clean-out.” I felt stupid that I didn’t even know what he was talking about until it turned out that we don’t actually have one. Without a clean-out and without evidence of a clog in action, there was nothing he could do but hand me his card with instructions to call the moment a clog occurs, at which point, he said, he will return to augur.

I was unfamiliar with his usage of augur. I knew this word in a completely different context:

In Roman times, an augur was someone who foretold the future

 augur (v.) – to divine or predict, as from omens; prognosticate; to serve as an omen or promise of; foreshadow

So I looked it up. What I couldn’t tell from his speech was the spelling, which turned out to be auger:

auger (n.) – device consisting of a shaft with a broad helical flange rotating within a cylindrical casing to force bulk materials from one end to the other, also called a snake
 Being an editor I am all too used to people using nouns as verbs and vice versa, so I was not too thrown by the plumber’s use of this noun as a verb. For all I know, it’s a standard use of the word in his line of work.
But I am a little uneasy, knowing that at any moment, something horrible could, well, bubble up. I’m sure it’s a matter of when and not if. It’s almost as if there’s this dark cloud hanging over our house, foreshadowing imminent doom. Maybe there’s a connection between augur and auger after all…