The Mona Schreiber Prize for 
Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction

Winners of the 2007 Mona Schreiber Prize
for Humorous Fiction and Nonfiction:

First Place:

1st Place, “Haute Cuisine in Marin County” by John Philipp, Sausalito, CA


Marin County has three kinds of restaurants: those which serve good old American food (I count three), ethnic restaurants, all from some part of Asia—except four from countries which have changed their names, borders or national flower at least twice since the 50s—and expensive gourmet restaurants in the thousands which serve “cuisine” in place of food. Cuisine means you can’t read the menu without a translator.


I rarely go to a cuisine restaurant unless I am on a date or an expense account, and I always order steak because, of the three high school French words I remember, only “boeuf”—meaning beef—is fit for mixed company. I would add the pronunciation but you can’t properly say “boeuf” unless you were born in France and were uncontaminated by the sounds of another language until you were eleven.


Twice, I tried the strategy of asking I’m-Your-Waiter-Maurice what he’d recommend but didn’t understand “I sou’jest froo-ee’ duh mare pro-vaughn’sal oh grat-tahn,” the last syllable requiring a sinus condition which comes with French genes at no extra cost. Rather than make Maurice look stupid in front of my date, or my expense account, I nodded my head and got the stuff boyhood friend Tommy Wilson dared me to stick my hand in at the House of Horrors. The second time, the waiter’s pick was a mystery mixture rejected by the producers of Fear Factor as too gross for prime time.


My “boeuf” strategy, however, is not without its own surprises, in the form of THE PRESENTATION, a resurrected Great Famine cooking style that requires the chef to take a small amount of food—say enough to keep a gerbil alive for four hours—and spread it around on a plate so it looks like a bargain at $98.89. There are two techniques chefs employ to achieve this price-value illusion: sculpture or abstract art.


With the sculpture approach, the chef uses culinary tweezers to tease 832 molecules of food into a three-dimensional representation of a tiny Smurf village, except blue is disallowed due to its high nausea quotient. As the eater, your task—not unlike in Pick-Up-Sticks—is to withdraw one piece at a time without collapsing the structure, using only the fork provided. If you fail, your bill is doubled.


The abstract approach uses less food but does require artistic talent at least at a kindergarten finger paint level. Three small islands of food are carefully positioned on the plate: the promised “boeuf,” a vegetable carved into a shape, making identification impossible, even by the secret CIA labs at 1234 Walling Road, Langley, Virginia, and a “wannabe” lettuce leaf cradling three round objects emitting color in the red light spectrum. There is a contest to identify these mystery “fruites.” The winning table gets their bill taxed at Nevada rates.


Once the key food items are in place, 93% of the white plate still shows. Your attention is diverted from this vision of emptiness by several curving lines of what looks like cake decoration except shinier. By the time you realize it doesn’t spell anything, you’ve forgotten you’re staring at an empty plate, a process known in psychological circles as “plate hypnosis.” This is similar to “misleading advertising,” only that must occur prior to purchase to be a jailable offense.


Looking like Jackson Pollock on a low paint day, this “food ribbon” is applied to the plate using a decorator tube and an arc welder, the very same technique bakers use to write “Happy 50th Birthday Bernice.” Except if you hold your plate up to a mirror, you will see it does spell something: “DO NOT EAT.”


The FDA has not yet certified this decorative material as a foodstuff, though it has been in the approval process since 1937. There are unsubstantiated rumors on the Internet that “ribbon food” features an exotic Central American psychedelic ingredient that will reveal the Mysteries of the Universe…and repeat more often than Boston baked beans. Teenagers have been observed snorting ribbon food off their plates with Shirley Temple straws when their parents aren’t looking.


I didn’t used to eat cuisine very often but since researching this article, I seem to have acquired a taste for it. You might see me cuisining in Marin some night. I’m the guy with the Crazy Straw.

Second Place:

2nd Place, “The Hermes Springer Show” by Laura Loomis, Pittsburg, CA

The set of a talk show. HERMES, ZEUS and HERA are seated under a logo of winged shoes.


HERMES: Welcome to the Hermes Springer Show, where we expose the seamy underbelly of life on Mount Olympus. Our topic today is gods who cheat and the goddesses who take revenge on them. Our guests are Zeus, thunderbolt-wielding king of the gods, and his faithful queen, Hera. (Applause.) Thanks for coming on the show. Now, Zeus, I understand you have a little trouble keeping it in your toga.


HERA: Oh boy, does he ever.


ZEUS: It’s an addiction, Hermes. I’m getting therapy from Asclepius, god of healing.


HERA: It’s not working.


ZEUS: No, really, I’m a changed deity. Instead of spending my evenings roaming the Earth looking for mortal women to seduce, I’m saving my thunderbolt for Hera.


HERMES: No doubt your wife’s legendary jealousy has been highly motivating there. Hera, I understand you turned Zeus’s mistress Io into a cow?


HERA: That is not true! That is a total distortion of what happened! Zeus, tell the man who really turned her into a cow.


ZEUS: I did, but only as a disguise. I was afraid Hera would hurt her.


HERMES: And Hera, did you hurt her?


HERA: Not at all. I simply removed her from the situation. She’s now wandering the Earth, being nudged along by a gadfly.


HERMES: Zeus, has Io commented on her view of the bovine life?


HERA: Sure. She said, “Moo!” (Boos from audience.) Hey, I didn’t tell her to shtupp a married immortal!


HERMES: Now, Zeus, about your mistress, Semele.


ZEUS: Hera killed her.


HERA: I did not! Zeus revealed himself to her in all his godly glory and the poor girl was completely incinerated. He knew what happens when you expose a mortal to divine radiance.


ZEUS: Hera tricked us into it! She convinced Semele that I wasn’t really who I claimed to be and had her insisting that I reveal myself to her.


HERA: And he fried her!


ZEUS: She made me do it!


HERA: You could have said no. So she wouldn’t have believed you were really Zeus. At least she’d be alive. It was all about your ego. Am I right, ladies? (Cheers from audience.)


HERMES: Moving on, what about Danae?


HERA: Who in Hades is Danae?


ZEUS: Uh, nobody. Never heard of her.


HERMES: Really? She’s backstage and she says you took the form of an aura of golden light to make love to her.


HERA: Golden light? You never did that for me!


HERMES: Danae says she has an immortal bun in the oven. Hera, it must be tough when many of these women have children with your husband. How do you react when you encounter them?


HERA: I try to remember it’s not the children’s fault.


ZEUS: Don’t believe her, Hermes! She sent a snake to attack my twins when they were born.


HERA: That’s all water under the Styx. I’ve made my peace with Apollo and Artemis.


HERMES: So if another of his love children showed up today, you wouldn’t—


ZEUS: Hermes, for Olympia’s sake, shut up!


HERA: Wait a minute, Hermes. You look an awful lot like my husband. Who are your parents?


HERMES: Uh, that’s all the time we have—


(Hera attacks Zeus. Furniture goes flying. A thunderbolt vaporizes the chair from underneath Hermes.)


HERMES: Join us tomorrow, when our guest will be Narcissus, to address the topic of self-esteem. Can there be too much of a good thing?

Third Place:

3rd Place, “Tribute to a Tall, Hairy Friend” by Leslie Mitchell, Pittsburgh, PA

Wherefore art thou, Bigfoot? I keep hoping you’ll appear

To make fools of nonbelievers who snivel, snide and sneer.

I need to see you, Bigfoot, in an upright stance,

Although your presence in the fur might make me wet my pants.


Science named you Gigantopithecus and sez you were defunct

About a billion years ago. Another myth debunked!

But those of us who see your face on every cable channel,

Stomp through the woods with muddy boots, wrapped up in cotton flannel.

We want to find you, shake your hand and take you out to lunch

And show the world you’re for real, not just some hairy hunch!


All all those Northwest trekkers who spot you every day

Can’t all be clueless dancers in this comic, bad ballet!

I go about my business but keep hoping you’ll appear

One day in New York City or out in the wild frontier.


But if you choose to hide amidst the trees and streams and peaks,

I hope and pray that you’re for real, despite the science geeks

Who seek to disillusion your most zealous, ardent fan.

Although there was a sighting just last week in Kyrgyzstan!


In closing, let me thank you for the years of jokes and mirth,

In all the legends, myths and dreams you’ve spawned upon this Earth.

I know not if you’re real or fake but maybe that’s all right,

Since mystery loves company, if you stay out of sight.


But I’ll still love you, Bigfoot, and maybe one fine day,

I’ll hear your thump upon my door and you’ll decide to stay.

But if you don’t, well, life goes on for skeptics and the faithful.

Bigfoot, I’ve enjoyed our time and for that, I’m grateful.