"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Thursday, August 20, 2015


We were idly watching TV while sipping our weekend morning coffee; a "Law & Order" rerun was on. Carol wanted to hop in the shower and asked me if I remembered how this one ended. I said, "Sure - with a verdict." She looked at me for a long, long time and finally said, "I don't know why you aren't slapped more often."

I get a lot of those kinds of stony silences from her; often with an implied if not overt threat of physical violence. I think her tolerance for my peculiar brand of humor (peculiar in her eyes, since virtually none of it strikes her as humorous) has dissipated. Perhaps that's yet another consequence of global warming -- the oceans are evaporating and sucking up all my funny with them.

Of course, I've just dated myself by using that outmoded term; we now refer to "climate change" so Ann Coulter can't point out the window while it's snowing and tell all the liberals, environmentalists and other sane people we're full of shit. My son had an elementary school teacher (this would be 20 years ago) who scoffed at the idea of "global warming," viewing it as some kind of left-wing conspiracy that would lead to the confiscation of guns while also draining the Christ out of Christmas. From this last sentence you can infer that was from when we lived in South Carolina.

I use humor to put myself at ease, particularly when I'm in a work meeting where I'm: A) intimidated by the corporate leadership in attendance or B) bored out of my mind. Much of the time it's A and B. I also use humor in the workplace to ingratiate myself with my professional peers while diverting them from any in-depth review of my credentials. I recall heading out with a bevy of co-workers one evening where I started cracking wise and only managed to amuse myself. The more I made myself laugh, the less coherent my train of thought became to everyone else and eventually I got to the point where I was just making random sounds and finding them hilarious as I sat alone. Alcohol may have been involved.

As Freud famously noted, "There is no such thing as a joke." At least, not the way I tell them. I prefer to think of myself as a raconteur, which I believe to be someone who tells amusing anecdotes in a skillful manner, but to the people for whom I am relating the tale may be perceived as someone telling a pointless story for entirely too long. I was on another work outing (this may be why I've changed jobs so often) and launched into a lengthy narrative that had a smashing punchline at the end of it. I had numerous peers surrounding me as I embraced my moment in the spotlight -- adopting accents, using illustrative hand gestures and body language, bringing others into my play-acting. After advancing for what was easily ten minutes toward the ne plus ultra of my story, I faced my audience with arms spread wide to deliver the payoff and... forgot the ending to the joke. My convivial grin froze painfully into a rictus; people eventually sensed my despair and shuffled away. Unfortunately, this took place on a boat and they couldn't shuffle very far. Alcohol may have again been involved.

Due to experiences like these, I've come to rely almost exclusively on a compact assortment of humorous asides which I know like the back of my hand. I keep careful track of the audiences who I've exposed to my canon and attempt not to repeat myself. I know I need to move on when I say, "Stop me if you've heard this one before..." and there is no pause before a chorus cries out "STOP!"

Last night we were preparing to sit down to dinner. Carol said, "We're out of napkins, if you'll get some more from the cabinet." To which I replied, "And if I don't, does that mean we're not out of napkins?"

I don't know why I'm not slapped more often.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Step Aside

Friends came for a recent visit with their two adorable daughters, ages 3 and 1.5, in tow. The kids were bright, energetic, charming and maddening -- usually all at once. While Carol and I are creeping up on our 60s (well, I am -- Carol appears to be holding steady at 35), we have a number of friends we consider "young marrieds," many of whom have children who are at or below kindergarten age. We love being referred to as "Aunt Carol" and "Uncle John" (if our friends weren't flattering us by encouraging the kids to call us by those titles, "Grandma Carol" and "Pa-Pa John" would be more accurate) and do our best to be the kind of up-for-anything and cuddly faux-relatives all youngsters should have in their lives.

Except when the kids do something to piss us off. Then the laughter and popsicles and gentle sing-song voices quickly disappear and we become crotchety and irritable. Books being read from are snapped shut. Smiles turn to scowls. Fun and games becomes "Law & Order." We try very hard to refrain from getting involved in disciplining other people's children -- that's their parents' job, and our various friends really do have a great handle on raising their kids with the right mix of encouragement, boundary setting and age-appropriate discipline. But sometimes something happens and we just... can't... help ourselves. Carol is big on table manners: "Don't play with your food," "No dessert until you eat your vegetables," that kind of thing. I exercised restraint during several parent-and-child standoffs until I ducked barefoot into our bathroom after coming in from the lake and stepped on some little person's turd.

"WHO WAS JUST IN THE BATHROOM?? WHO USED THE TOILET LAST??" I calmly inquired as I strode out, using just the heel of one foot. My questions were met by startled expressions and silence. "WHO WAS IN THERE BEFORE ME??" I rephrased. "I STEPPED ON A PIECE OF SHI... er, there was POOP ON THE FLOOR!!" If neither of the children had gone Number Two previously, they surely had a strong urge to now.

The younger one is still in diapers, so the only viable suspects were her older sister or one of our cats. The cats spent most of our friends' visit hiding under the beds upstairs, preferring to remain as far from the strangers in their house as the floor plan would allow. It was entirely possible one of the cats might have dragged a "deposit" from the litter box to another location. However, as a long-time cat owner, I have a pretty discriminating eye and can distinguish between human and feline scat. This was people-poop stuck to the arch of my right foot.

Inexplicably, both girls began to cry as though they'd been subjected to a grueling interrogation rather than simply asked to confirm their recent presence in the loo. Carol gave me her "See what you've done?" look while their parents exchanged embarrassed glances and rushed to check for soiled diapers and underwear along with any other evidence of errant excretions. While I felt my response had been quite temperate under the circumstances (hey -- do you speak in calm and measured tones after stepping in shit?), I tried to reset the tone by shouting merrily above the resulting fray, "WHO'S READY FOR SOME ICE CREAM?!"

Just that quickly, I'd stepped in it again.