McSweeney’s Pieces

September 6, 2023

Read my latest humor pieces on McSweeney’s.

Emily Dickinson Goes Trick-or-Treating

September 21, 2021 | add comment

This piece was originally published on Little Old Lady Comedy.

I nipped from Whoppers’ hand
A slow and cautious bite
The Malted Milk above I felt
The whey became the light.

I knew not but the next
Would be my last Milk Ball—
My fingers wore a chocolate mask.
Prints left upon my shawl.


“Joy” is the thing with Almonds—
Perched in cocoa’s haul—
It sings of coconut, no words—
And never stops—at all—

I’ve heard it in the ghostly land—
And on the spectral Sea—
Yet, never, in Extremity
It asked a bite—of Me.


Candy Corn—Candy Corn!
Were I with thee
Candy Corn should be
Our luxury!

Futile—the shape—
The pyramid of fire—
Done with the wax—
Done with the spire!

Rowing on Hallow’s Eve—
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor—Tonight—
in your Cavity!


I taste a rainbow never brewed—
From Skittles dipped in wax—
Not all the vats upon the Rhine
Yield such a saccharine axe!

Inebriate of Air—am I—
And Debauchee of Grin—
Reeling—less than Two Percent
Of Tapioca Dextrin


To make a Child of Sour Patch, it takes Syrup of Corn and Red 40,
Syrup of Corn, and Red 40,
And reverie.
The reverie alone will do,
If Red 40 is few.


Such Wafer is divinest Taste—
To a chocolate bat—
Much Taste—the starkest Wafer—
‘Tis the sweet Kit Kat
In this, as All, prevail—
Bite—and you will clap—
Break—you’re straightway dangerous—
And handled with a Snap—


I cannot live with You, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—
It would be Life—
And Life is over there—
Behind the Shelf, by the Snickers

I could not die—with You, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup—
For One must wait
To shut the Other’s Gaze down—
You—could not—

So We must meet apart—
You there—I—here, by the Snickers—
With just the Door ajar
That Jack-O’-Lanterns are—and Prayer—

And that White Sustenance—


Tootsie Pop is a turtle.
Hard shell—
Chewy roll—
Ah, too, it has a soul.

15 Children’s Classics Updated for Quarantine Story Time

May 13, 2020 | add comment

1. Oh the Places You’ll Go, Pending Herd Immunity

2. Green Eggs and Ham and Other Instacart Disasters

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Is Hoarding Again

4. The Cat in the Hazmat

5. Little Red Riding Hood, I Swear to God DO NOT Visit Grandma Right Now

6. Frog and Toad, Alone Together and Thriving

7. The Berenstain Bears Hate Homeschool

8. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day He Thought He Had Coronavirus

9. Where the Wild Things Are: At Home, Silly

10. Upon Further Consideration, I Do Not Want My Hat Back

11. Winnie the Pooh, Wash Your Honey-Caked Paws, You Filthy, Sloppy Bear

12. Charlie and the Hand Sanitizer Factory

13. Go, Dog. Go! Get the Hell Away from Me.

14. Don’t You Dare Hop on Pop

15. Curious George…Just Stop. We Can’t.

Coronavirus, Explained By Dr. Seuss

April 30, 2020 | add comment

This piece was originally published on Little Old Lady Comedy.

Why is the Lorax Cloroxing a box?
And keeping six feet from his pal Fox in Socks? 

Why is Pop dressed like a bank robber? 
With a handkerchief over his mouth and nose slobber? 

Dear kid, be like them, and wash your hands too.
Ditch those germs that turn pink people blue. 

Tell that Cat in the Hat you do not wish to play.
Tell that Wocket in your pocket to stay far away. 

The zoo may be shut and the parks may be closed,
But you can have fun without getting exposed.

Your pantry, the pantry! There’s lots to explore.
Just head to the cabinet and unlatch the door. 

Count every bean can. Two hundred and three?
My goodness! TOOT, TOOT! Don’t hoard, you see.

Now take that toilet paper and roll it around.
Make a snake or a train or a Zizzer-Zazzer-Zound. 

But don’t waste a sheet, don’t crumple, don’t rip.
For if you do, dear mother will flip.

Wait, what is that on the very top shelf?
Not Thing 1, but Thing 2, sitting all by himself!

He is fluffy and splotchy and feverish too. 
Dear kid, shut that door, and seal it with glue!

Call for the doctor, crouch down on the floor.
Tell mother and father to Lysol each drawer.

Thing 2 has that virus, no question he does!
With yellow-purple spots and a most bizzy buzz.

Grab the phone and call up Thing 1.
Get him quarantined, say it’ll be fun. 

Just think, little one, how lucky are you?
Thing 2’s in the cabinet and not in your kazoo.

Time to play, off you go, stay healthy and strong.
Before you know it, this bug will be gone.

Berta’s Tap Room

October 14, 2009 | add comment

My grandpa Woody Berta owned a tavern in Ottawa, Illinois, across from the post office. He and his two brothers sold it ages ago (and he’s since passed on), but Berta’s continues on, with a pool table slightly askew and burgers on toasted buns.

In the Tap Room’s heyday, Woody and his brothers, Ray and Charlie, had a small flyer printed by the local Union boys. The front says “Berta’s TAP ROOM” and has a drawing of a bubbly martini glass. The lower right corner reads “Air Conditioned for Your Comfort.” The inside shows a map of the city limits. And the back has the poem printed below. When I asked my grandpa, he couldn’t remember who wrote it, but talk about atmosphere.

When you’re startin’ out some evening
And the night is cold and drear…
I’d suggest you stop at Berta’s
For a little “Atmosphere.”

Then next morning bright and early
When the “shakes” are getting’ near:
Yeah…you’re getting smarter, brother,
Woody fed ya too much beer.

When you’re reachin’ for the aspirin
’Cause your stomach’s feelin’ weak,
It’s ’cause Chuck was leanin’ heavy
On the bottle—so to speak.

Then you face the little woman
With those alibis galore…
When she’s finished in the bathroom—
Wipin’ Berta’s off the floor.

But you’re wrong, it isn’t whiskey
That’s got ya feelin’ queer—
Ray just poured an over-dose
Of Berta’s “ATMOSPHERE”!!