Dear Erma

Posted Nov 08, 2022

Dear Erma,

I once met a woman whose #1 bucket list item was to see the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile in person. Tears streamed down her face as I snapped her photo in front of it. Some people might dream of living in Paris, or owning a 1965 Shelby Mustang, or doing the Lord’s work and opening an Olive Garden franchise. No dream is any more or less significant than another; anyone who says otherwise is full of B-O-L-O-G-N-A!

Winning the Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program was my Wienermobile. As a young girl I  fantasized  about living in a hotel. Eloise first sparked my interest. (I mean, the tippy-top floor of the Plaza in New York City!) Next there was The Shining –– creepy, but at least I wouldn’t have to share a room with my four siblings. Then there was Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, who somehow managed to make flossing strawberry seeds out of her teeth seem mysterious and sexy.

Normally in hotels, I’m sandwiched between two diagonally-sleeping children whose extra-curricular activities include parkour and tae kwon do, so you can imagine my excitement about having a king-sized bed all to myself! Most importantly, though, was having a peaceful environment in which to work on my manuscript. As keynote speaker, Adriana Trigiani, reminded us, this was my time, my calendar. Nothing would get in my way!

But suddenly, a youth soccer team arrived. They appeared out of nowhere, like aliens, migraines, natural disasters and Satan are sometimes known to do. I’d rather have a raunchy bachelorette party or the full cast of Riverdance be my neighbors than a bunch of 8-year olds, especially given they didn’t appear to be supervised by a parent, guardian, coach or parole officer.

The first day I was stuck in an elevator with them when one kid pushed the emergency call button for no reason! When the 911 dispatcher answered, the kid nonchalantly said,  “Oops, my bad.” As a taxpaying citizen, I was compelled to share my knowledge of how government services function. So I told them a fleet of fire trucks, with sirens blaring, would arrive shortly, along with Dayton’s chief of police and all the candidates running in Ohio’s gubernatorial election. And since they appeared to be orphans, social services would also be notified. Well, they trembled like Oscar Meyer wieners on a hot frying pan. “Run,” I said, “run away and never return.” I was like Scar trying to oust Simba from the Pride Lands.

Did it work? No. That night at 2 a.m. after listening to them score 19 goals on our shared wall, I pounded on it in hopes that they’d take a time out. Much to my surprise they pounded back! I banged again. They did, too! We were like the dueling banjos from Deliverance: knock knock knock  knock knock knock knock knock knock.

I don’t think the housekeeping staff were big fans, either. You should have seen all the empty Red Bull and Monster Energy cans strewn about the fourth floor! One poor cleaning gal was so frazzled she couldn’t even think coherently. I overheard her say that a famous author named Emma Bombeck was doing a book-signing and lots of old ladies came to meet her. I didn’t know what was most offensive; that she got your name wrong, she didn’t realize you had died 26 years ago, or that she called me old! I decided to forgive her, though, because I sure did enjoy getting my room cleaned. It was like living in The Elves and the Shoemaker, except instead of returning to my room to find bespoke footwear, there were fresh coffee packs, clean linens and an empty gratuity envelope.

So, Erma, that’s how my daily visits to Woodland Cemetery initially came about; it was an escape from a very unhappy relationship. The images of crosses and angels, I hoped, would balance out the evil I had witnessed. But then I realized how fun it was chatting with you so I kept coming back every day. I feel like we’ve become true friends. (Again, thank you for your honesty. You were right to say that although 14 days hiking those steep hills was indeed a good workout, I wasn’t quite ready to wear leggings as pants.)

I’m finally ready to tell you the reason I didn’t show up that one time. It’s embarrassing to admit, but after my morning omelettes I spent the next six hours spread out on my bed like the Vitruvian man. You once said, “If you can’t make it better, you can laugh at it.” And I tried, but it hurt my stomach too much. The sounds coming from my midsection were similar to the Titanic splitting in two. Fortunately no guests heard the spectacle on account of glass shattering in the hallway. Who knew that goal posts could be substituted with fire extinguishers? I swear, I don’t think fraternity row during pledge week and Kevin McCallister combined got into as many shenanigans as those wienies!

Anyway, my residency is coming to a close, so this is goodbye for now. After two weeks, it is time to get back to reality, especially given that my flat iron, makeup bag and bra have been spotted stomping down South Patterson Boulevard discussing abandonment issues.

It’s been a joy and honor to share this time with you, Erma, an absolute dream. I promise to stay in touch.

Yours truly,

— Jillian Van Hefty

Jillian Van Hefty is a writer from small-town Arkansas where she lives with her husband, two sons and emotional support Keurig. She is a 2022 winner of the A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program. Read about the experience of the three grand prize winners here.