November 2022 was notable not only for the unexpected results of the midterm elections, or the subversion of Twitter, or even despite the reports that although Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour sold over 2 million tickets, no one you know was able to purchase any – it was also notable because I was named “Humor Writer of the Month” by the esteemed Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
While you may not be familiar with the Workshop, you likely grew up reading Erma Bombeck’s newspaper columns and books (or hearing about them from your family’s elders). They were wildly popular for the decades during which Erma composed them, and to this day (which, as I’m writing, is a Thursday) she remains a revered and inspirational figure in the humor writing world. As, apparently, I would now become… at least, for one month. And while Erma had a lifetime to build her reputation, I’d been presented with a mere 30 days to validate mine.
The Workshop’s director, a charming and obviously perceptive individual, informed me of the forthcoming distinction in mid-October via an unsolicited but certainly not unwelcome email. While I was flattered by the selection, I had little time to flex my comedic muscles (which I mean both literally and figuratively; my physique is laughable) in order to hit the ground running as the #1 Humor Writer in the World (I inferred the global reach of the anointing) for the 30 days hath November.
(What does “hath” mean, anyway? What verb tense is it supposed to be – medieval?)
I kept track of how I spent my time on the throne (insert your own toilet allusion here); the following is a summary of my
capricious ambitious efforts:
WEEK 1 (NOV. 1-7): My month officially begins. I send a press release to all major and quite a few minor media outlets (such as the local Pennysaver, and Bill O’Reilly’s podcast), trumpeting my award. I set up a Google Alert in order to be notified the moment each of these designated concerns makes mention of this impressive accolade. (NOTE: still awaiting the first “ding” on my phone.)
WEEK 2 (NOV. 8-14): I receive the proof of my new book, The Best I Can Do, the release of which was the impetus behind naming me HWOTM, and find numerous grammatical errors besides the ones I deliberately sprinkled throughout the publication as part of my attempts to be “funny.” Yet, as hard as I try, I can’t keep straight when to use “i.e.” vs. “e.g.,” “who” vs. “whom,” or “effect” vs. “Affleck.”
Additionally, due to an error by the printing company, those attempting to pre-order the book see my name appearing in some online listings only as “Branning.” While, at first, it seems flattering to be included among an illustrious group of monomynous authors (Plato, Confucius, Aristotle, Collette and, of course, Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers), upon reflection I decide it would be more productive to be known by my full name. While the printing company eventually manages to add “John,” there is still a display snafu and so in order to resolve the matter I am in the process of legally changing my name to “Branning (comma) John.”
WEEK 3 (NOV. 15-21): I decide to capitalize on my fleeting fame by pursuing the humorist’s Holy Grail: being published in The New Yorker’s “Shouts & Murmurs” section. I work feverishly to complete a submission during my remaining time in the spotlight, fueled by copious amounts of Coke Zero and a suspect piece of leftover chicken I find in the back of the refrigerator that I quickly learn should never have been allowed to take up residence there. I email my piece to the editors and receive an automated reply stating it may take “up to six months” before I hear back regarding acceptance. I respond immediately to stress such a delay in their decision is untenable, explaining that I am HWOTM for just a few more days and must strike while the iron is still hot. I barely hit “Send” before receiving a response to my plea, from which I quote: “In that case: hard pass.”
WEEK 4 (NOV. 22-28): Thanksgiving is at the forefront of this last full week as Numero Uno, so my attentions are divided between menu planning and self-aggrandizement. My most significant (i.e. and/or e.g., only) responsibility to the holiday meal is preparing the turkey, which I tell my wife and son I plan to spatchcock and then dry-brine. It’s a sad state of affairs when my culinary endeavors generate bigger laughs within my family than my writing does.
FINAL TWO-SEVENTHS OF A WEEK (NOV. 29-30): Suddenly, it’s come down to my last days of trying to ascend Humor Mountain, and I feel like Sisyphus – only boulder. (Oh, God – I’ve resorted to puns as a last-gasp attempt at jocularity. This is just shameful.)
November has now come to an end and so I must relinquish my claim to the tribute bestowed upon me. Why, oh why couldn’t I have been selected during one of the months filled to the brim with thirty-one days? My efforts were just about to pay off bigly, I could feel it – another twenty-four hours would have made the difference, I keep telling myself.
Well, as it is said: “Enough is a feast.” In my case, not-nearly-enough still took the edge off my hunger for fame and fortune. I was flattered to be selected for this honor and will fondly look back at my all-too-brief time atop the humor heap. And I send
daggers with my eyes a virtual bouquet of roses to December’s HWOTM, the amazing Karen Chee.
UPDATE: I now see my name appears correctly in all those online book listings – *just* as I received my updated driver’s license and Social Security card. Hmm… I wonder if that other celebrated humor publication, The Wall Street Journal, would be interested in publishing this article: “How I Found It Impossible To Check My Credit History After Legally Changing My Name To ‘Branning (comma) John’.” If I hear anything from them in the next six months, I’ll let you know.