I meant to include a promise in my last post that this, my next one, would mark a return to my earlier, funnier efforts (cf. Allen v. Fan From Hell 1980).
At least, I hope some of them were funny. I once told a fellow contributor that my only real goal here was to write three decent laugh lines per post. (Jokes, if you will. If you won’t, go spoon a goose. I have no idea what “go spoon a goose” means, and neither does Google. But it sounds transgressive enough.)
“It’s like Seinfeld, only not as good,” I said. “I just start writing about whatever pops into my head and try to squeeze some yucks out of it.”
Material, I’d decided, would not be a problem. I’ve always had a healthy appreciation for the absurd (from the Latin absurdus, “not to be heard of,” understood by most of us to mean so clearly untrue or unreasonable as to be laughable or ridiculous).
Absurdity is a great comfort to me. I am absurd. The universe is absurd. I belong here! Life makes sense! In an unreasonable, laughable way, sure, but I’ll take it!
“Absurd” is such a great word. Did you know you can pronounce the “s” in absurd as an “s” or a “z” and it’s correct either way? (I’ve been looking all this up in my Joe Montana Dictionary. Actually, it’s a 1991 Webster’s New World Dictionary. It’s bound in red with gold lettering. It does not contain the word “Internet.” On the first page, under the Pronunciation Key and above the Foreign Sounds, a previous owner scrawled, in red ink, “Joe Montana 37” and a date, “6-11-93.” Joe Montana played quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, whose team colors are scarlet and gold. The Joe Montana Dictionary is, to me, as awesome as the Dead Sea Scrolls. I hope you have enjoyed this parenthetical aside. If you did not, go spoon a goose.)
That said, seriousness cannot be avoided. Seriousness has a way of showing up when we least expect it, often accompanied by flashing blue lights. I appreciate it when our law-enforcement officials display a lack of seriousness, like the county deputy who was checking IDs and insurance cards at a roadblock near my home.
I happened to be listening to the news on NPR. I turned the volume down, but not off. I handed the officer my license and proof of insurance, which, for some strange reason, were both valid (usually in these situations one or the other has expired).
He was in his thirties, of a military bearing. He looked at my documents and returned them. Then he stared at me for a long time. He was not smiling. I had the distinct feeling I would soon be dialing for help from the county jail …
Jailer: What’s the charge?
Deputy: Him? He’s absurd. Way over the limit.
I was prepared to go quietly. Finally, without breaking eye contact, he said, “You believe all that global warming stuff?”
He’d been listening to my radio, to an All Things Considered story about global warming.
I gave him a twitchy grin and said something about the jury still being out. (I think the jury has rendered its verdict and is now having a stiff drink at the club, but I wasn’t about to get into a climate debate with this guy.)
After being sent on my merry way, it hit me that the deputy had
just been having a good time. It was a joke. And he’d never broken character, not for one second during the entire encounter.
I respect that. I do. Had I not been paralyzed with irrational fear, I might have replied, “Just the warming part.”
But the witty riposte is never there for me when I need it. Give me 24 hours and a generous amount of caffeine and I can usually whip something up. But on the spot? Nope.
This explains why I write, I think. I desperately want to deliver the perfectly-timed zinger, but I’m too slow for life in real time.
There’s an exchange in Woody Allen’s Stardust Memories I’d like to share with you. Allen plays Sandy Bates, which is to say he plays the Woody Allen character, which is nice work if you can get it.
Bates is a world-weary director who’s lost his mojo. At one point in the film he converses with some visiting Martians, hoping they have the answers to the Big Questions.
Sandy Bates: Shouldn’t I stop making movies and do something that counts, like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?
Martian: Let me tell you, you’re not the missionary type. You’d never last. And incidentally, you’re also not Superman; you’re a comedian. You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes.
Yes, tell funnier jokes. Why isn’t this one of the Ten Commandments?
Maybe someone without a sense of humor chiseled it off the tablet.
John Hicks’ favorite comedian is Bob Johnson.