Posted: October 19, 2010 in play
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Men chiefly miss the most important criteria for picking a wife — the thermal factor. Before marrying my wife, Linda, I checked her radiation level. They were high, so I proceeded toward the ceremony. Since the vows, I’ve only had warm nights.

My wife always keeps me cozy, and I usually try to keep her laughing. The two go well together.

In one season of our life, when I wasn’t coming home from work on time, I told her I had a solution. I would hire a husband named Brad to come home each night at five o’clock. He would say “hi,” listen to her day, pick up the house, do any dishes in the sink or any other small chore she asked him to do, and then he would slip out the back when I arrived. One rule – Brad wasn’t allowed upstairs in the bedroom.

I haven’t seen Brad lately. I think she fired him. I’m expected home again at night. It’s probably better.

I have a deeply held belief: laughing is esential to good living, and a husband and a father should do anything for a laugh. So I pretty much do.

When Linda and I first married I made her cry, once or maybe more. But I didn’t panic. When the tears came out, I took my fingers and gently pushed them back up toward her eyes. “Go back,” I commanded, and she laughed as she cried. Laughing and crying have actually gone together for us, in tandem so to speak, through our whole marriage.

I’ve worked at it. Trying is at least worth something.  If I want to convince one of my daughters to do something they don’t want to do, I often begin, “I read a study that said…” and they begin to holler and hoot. “I read a study that children who rub their father’s back, tended to live 10.5 years longer than those who don’t.” It doesn’t work, and yet it does. They laugh.

But it’s hard to be droll, all the time, so we got pets.

Last week, I kicked the small chip of ice that fell from my cup across the tile and into breakfast nook. It skidded along the floor like an ice hockey puck and came to a stop in the corner. Before it could even think about melting it was had.

Into the corner my black cat, Shanaynay, bounced. Up on to the wall she went with all four paws, off the wall she glanced, onto a second wall of the corner she bounced, then twisting in the air she landed facing and swatting the ice with a velvet paw. Nice!

Playful!  It is an excellent way to live. To fly through the air, to bounce off the walls, to spin on the way down, to swat at life between your paws, to have a little fun, to make someone else laugh – it’s good. Even the cats know that.

My daughter Laurel skyped me from Spain yesterday. She told me that she had a fine salad that day sitting at an outdoors café with a friend. The local feral cats provided the entertainment.  Two kittens wandered into the patio; the waiter threw one a wine cork, and the game was on with some skittering, some back arching, some stiff-legged bouncing and some super cute, kittenesque, mock fighting.

Nothing like a wine cork and a kitten to liven up the place. Who needs to have a home to have fun?

One makes the best of it pretty much everywhere, in Spain, in California, everywhere,  by some bouncing, swatting and a bit of jesting. I try to live a life of wit, but I’m not sure how I came by any skill in the therapeutic art of humor. I grew up in a home where jokes didn’t win many accolades. We were a bit of a serious crowd, we white, Germanic, Protestant, displaced Californian Haspers. There was a lot of religious devotion, hard work, serious book reading and a good bit of discipline, but not many witticisms in my family.

I only remember my father telling one joke. “What happened to the general who went in all directions?  A bomb hit him.” At the punch line my dad would burst out laughing, every time, just the same, as if it were the first time he’d heard this, and we would laugh too, at him, laughing at the exploding general.  If a person isn’t funny but they think they are, they are, a bit. Laugh, and at least part of the whole world might laugh at you.

A good family collects and stores humor. It is stored in the form of family stories, family jokes, famous family phrases, favorite movie quotes, favorite children’s books, family noises and family smells.

 It often begins with, “Remember the time when …”  The other day to my mom I  said, “Remember the time we went camping and the storm came up and we threw everything back in the trailer and it wasn’t properly hooked up to the car and it the tail tipped down to the ground from the weight and everything slid out in the mud.”

She remembered and we chuckled a little. While it was tragic at the time; later in the retelling, it has became part of our family’s comic history.

But there wasn’t enough of those comic moments for me within the context of family outings, so I went out on my own or with my two brothers for additional play and fun. We found a tree that had fallen down in the woods across the road from our house. It was lying on the ground but still alive, its branches now growing up vertically from the trunk. It became our fort, the “fallen tree fort.” There was something magical about walking on the trunk of the tree with ease, swinging around a branch strolling blissfully to the top of the tree and back. Adults didn’t know about it. It was our secret, and we acted out a fantasy life there in this hidden home.

 We found another tree closer to the house with a net of grape vines in the top. It was a crow’s nest of vines, and once up inside it, you could lay down, in the top of the tree, and no one walking by knew you were there. It was a safe spot, lying in the sky, peaceful, free from intrusion, a lazy boy’sworld. And so in this way, by means of trees, we achieved another world for ourselves, a playful, free, happy world away from adult concern with clean bodies, neat rooms, and finished homework.

It was a bunch of fooling around.

Growing up my brothers and I loved to fool around. We fooled around with clay and made red clay rocket ships and put little yellow clay men inside and then threw them against the floor with all our strengthm and then opened them up to see if the rocket men had survived the flight and the hard landing on Mars. We were thrilled when they were squished, and if they were not we threw them hard again until they either were or they achieved the status of hero for surviving so much.  Were were simply mimicking and expanding upon reality. On the morning of February 20, 1962, John Glen rocketed 100 miles into space in Friendship 7, a tiny 9 by 6 foot space capsule. I was twelve years old.

 Boyhood play is often just a bunch of reality-based fooling around.

We also fooled around with little plastic, green soldiers, WWII soldiers with green carbines and green bayonets and green grenades in their green hands. We built trenches in the dirt for them and little shacks of twigs and we posed them on their flat green bottoms in battle positions. Then we threw fire crackers in to the trenches, Black Cat firecrackers, and then like medics we went back down to the fields see the devastated huts and blackened little green men.

To us it was fun, it was play, it was reenactment, it was living the life of the men in of our time. My dad was in World War II. Play mimics reality, minus danger, sort of. I remember the day I picked up unexploded ordnance. It was curious, inspecting the thing, until it went off between my fingers. My fingers were still there, but they were so interesting at that point with the powder burns and the tingling tips.  But that was part of the fun; the play wasn’t entirely safe. In fact our  best fun never was entirely safe, jumping out of trees and riding our bikes crazy fast, like the day I hit a rock coming home on my bike and pitched hard over the handle bars and took a beating in the dirt and came away with some serious road rash. It was scary and painful and later, it was fun to recount.

Fooling around, I grew up with it, and then found it again as an adult when my wife brought home a brilliant children’s story from the library where she worked, How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen. In this story, Tom’s Aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong tires of young Tom’s fooling around and brings her friend Captain Najork and his hired sportsmen to challenge Tom to three rounds of womble, muck, and sneedball to teach him  a lesson. It’s great fun as Tom wins every contest against the serious adults by doing what he is best at — fooling around.

The story is full of good fodder for home fun. Like Tom, at home we like to do some fooling around, to “womble and muck” a bit, and tell each other at the table, like Tom’s Aunt commanded him, “Eat your greasy bloaters.”

It has always seemed to me, and it still does, that serious things go down smoothest with a joke wrapped around them. And it seems to me that when we are thinking at our best, we are laughing at our most. Horace Walpole got the sense of this when he wrote that, “The world is a tragedy for those who feel, but a comedy for those who think.”

I like a droll bit of sarcastic and insightful humor, sometimes. It’s great commentary on life.  Cats are like humans; they are both born blind, but different too; in a few weeks cats recover their sight.

Mr. Mark Twain was good at feline humor and dark sarcasm. In his notebook in 1894, he penned the memorable quip, “Of all God’s creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”  But if Mark Twain were crossed with a cat, it might improve the cat, a least it might come out witty-sarcastic.  I would like to have sat with Twain when he was alive and in good spirits and laughed a bit. We all need a wry friend.

One of my best friends in earlier years, Pat Chism, was Mark Twainian. He once told me, “Don’t do anything for your kids, then they won’t expect anything from you.” He could get away with this, because he was a pretty decent father. I used to tell him, “I like you; I’m my worst self around you.” He took it as a compliment. His humor was contagious, and I always caught it in his presence. At his funeral I was one of the speakers and I mostly told jokes, stuff from his life. This honored him and everyone knew it. I told him just before he died, “When you go, I want you to look back, like Elijah did on Elisha, and cast a double portion of humor upon me.” He either didn’t, or he did, and it bounced off.

Religion needn’t leave the laugh line out, for God himself is, I think, the grand jester. Someone told me recently, “I think that God is whatever we want him to be.” Shortly after hearing that, I am almost sure I also heard God’s characteristically contented and unflappable chuckle.

God has a sense of humor; consider the zebra, the baboon, the giraffe, the slime molds and all the jellies in the oceans. Consider you; what a crack up!

God thought up all the things that make us laugh – the physical humor found in all the ridiculous shapes, the hilarious ways of falling down, the cartoonish faces, the stiff legged mock fighting, the playful biting, the fake boxing. God invented all the verbal humor,  the endless plays on words, the syntactical ploys, the catchy punch lines, the unexpected juxtapositions. There is more fun from God. Consider sex, that fresh spring of a good deal of the humor of the world. God thought it up. It’s funny; jokes about it are pretty much universal.

Once, on a family outing to the San Diego Zoo, we walked up on a giraffe doing the unthinkable in public. He butted his wife in a place on her body that he really shouldn’t have been touching in public, and she let loose a steady stream, and he took a long sip as if from a drinking fountain, and then he raised his mouth and fashioned an expression that combined serious scientific analysis and pure, erotic ecstasy. It was a moment. Several families stopped and watched with us, in shocked embarrassment, and then we all snickered and muttered things like, “Stop it,” and “Don’t do it,” and “Hide the children’s eyes,” and “Wow, what was he thinking?” It was hilarious. I went home and googled it. Normal, for a giraffe; he was testing her fertility. In all actuality, God made him do it.

Jimmy Demarets remarked about our passions, “Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being good at.” Billy Crystal quipped, “Women need a reason to have sex. Men just need a place.” It goes on and on. I think God is laughing at it a good deal too.

Some religious men act like God is uptight about sex all the time, against it, not amused at our romantic antics. God must have a good laugh about that too. God doesn’t want sex misused, for harm, us going at it outside of marriage, but this is the same way any moral inventor wouldn’t want her or his invention to be turned to something that would damage the very people it was intended to benefit.  

Really, humor is a great protection. One can only survive being human and having religion, and going to church, by laughing a lot. Once Christmas Eve, during a candle light communion, I was passing the bread, a gold plate filled with broken crackers, the body of Christ, when the event happened. The music was playing softly, the candles flickering beautifully, and then a little, old lady near the end of the row, instead of taking a piece of cracker from the bread plate, instead dumped a whole fist full of change into it.  Her husband elbowed her and whispered, “It’s not the offering!”  But she was clueless. And after that, instead of receiving the body of Christ, people were picking dimes out of the communion plate all the way to the back of the church.

I just kept smiling; it was one of my favorite Christmas communions ever. She had the right idea. Christmas is best celebrated by giving. Whatever the reality for her, church is always a good place for laughing.

Truthfully, my favorite spot in church is either up front, making people laugh a little or sitting back with my wife doing some gentle quipping so as to make her laugh.  When we dabble in humor in a public setting, we refer to it as some “mocking and scorning,” but it’s really just some gentle punning to keep from being bored out of our minds.

For good mental health each institution of society should store up a repository of idiosyncratic humor, laughing at itself, laughing with itself in order to survive the boredom and even perhaps the toxic politics and dangerous personalities.

In one season at work I took to hiding my trash can from the janitor. He’d find it and then hide it from me. We got creative, the best spots above the dropped ceiling tiles and nested inside another trash can of the same size, with the bag over the top edge. Only by the weight, could you tell there were two. That was the best hide, and when my secretary and I found my can in another can, after weeks of looking, we had a good hoot over the whole thing. Survival, and fooling around – fun.

Work, home, family, church – they are all best served up with a laugh. This isn’t always possible, but I’ve come to think that as much as it’s possible we will do well to giggle, snort and guffaw as much as we can, and to fool around with reality the best we can.

We’ll be better for it. If not, we will have at least had some fun.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s