Friday, March 28, 2008

A Cry for Laughter

The only thing I really want anyone to think as they read my column is that something in it is funny. It doesn’t need to be “chuckle drolly to oneself” funny or even “obvious smile on the face” funny. I just want people to find the things I say amusing.
I have to admit I’d love to know I made someone spit their morning coffee across the breakfast table because they laughed so hard at something I wrote, which is the grown up equivalent of having milk come out your nose at the third grade table in the cafeteria because Tommy Belcher timed the hand-in-the-armpit noise perfectly with the P.E. teacher walking by.
I think I have always gravitated towards funny. Growing up my family laughed a lot. We would watch television together and when Tim Conway really got going on the Carol Burnett Show we would all laugh. When there were off-color jokes - which when I was a kid simply revolved around a subtle double entendre as opposed to now when the jokes are often only slightly less “adult” than a Lenny Bruce after midnight set, - anyway, when there was a grown up joke that I didn’t get I knew something about it was funny because my father’s stomach would make little up and down motions as he suppressed his laughter in front of the kids.
In my life there was no Bar Mitzvah to mark my passing into adulthood, nor any aboriginal ritual scarification to claim I was no longer a child. Which is good because if ritualistic scarification was what showed I had reached the age of independence I would still be living at home having my mother wash my socks because I am so not doing that. For me the validation for passing beyond childhood simply revolved around making adults laugh. I’m not talking about the laugh you get when you’re four and you mangle a knock knock joke beyond all recognition and everyone laughs because of the Salvador Dali surrealism of “Knock knock.” “Who’s there?” “Boo.” “Boo Who?” “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana!” I’m talking about a snappy turn of phrase which occurred in my own little brain at the opportune moment and everyone at the table genuinely laughed. That was my version of Rabbi Leibowitz saying “Now you are a man.”
This may explain a few things about my psyche. The first is probably the fact that I haven’t completely grown up. I wear Chuck Taylor high tops to work, I have Batman action figures on my desk, and I’d rather stick a pencil in my eye than fill out insurance forms. If I did stick a Ticonderoga #2 in my pupil I’d be filling out insurance forms all day for weeks, so I just grit my teeth and try to remember if my grandmother on my father’s side ever had high blood pressure or scurvy.
The other insight into my personality has to do with the fact I think I write what I write to make people like me (Pathetic? Maybe). Just like when I was little and getting my mom and dad to laugh validated me in my mind, making people laugh today helps me feel valuable. This is probably why the humor I prefer is not mean spirited. I would never be able to write material for Don Rickles.
I think the Mark Brothers are funny, but the Three Stooges aren’t. I think Bugs Bunny is funny, but Woody Woodpecker isn’t. I think making fun of powerful politicians is downright hysterical, but making fun of people who cannot fight back is reprehensible. To me humor should create, not tear down.
Laughter itself creates good things. It has been proven to have medicinally beneficial properties. The irrefutable source of Wikipedia (okay it is sorta refutable) says laughter has been shown to boost the body’s production of infection fighting antibodies. That is good. So if you laugh at my column you can send me five bucks and write it off as a medical expense. Two people happier, that’s positive.
On a final note, funny things are everywhere. Here is great example from a week ago. My oldest daughter and I were driving on a country road. There was a dead possum on the dirt shoulder. That is not intrinsically funny, but we made some comment about it might not be dead but just playing possum. That was slightly amusing. The real joke happened a couple days later. My daughter and I were driving down the same road and saw the same dead possum. My daughter said, “That possum has amazing work ethic.” Now that’s comedy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Beware the Ides of March Madness

“To invest absolutely everything in something that means absolutely nothing,” was a phrase I heard on ESPN Radio a while back. That is an accurate way to describe sports. Sports fans understand that it really doesn’t matter who wins the Super Bowl, the World Series, or the NCAA tournament. At least intellectually they do. This does not stop them from painting their bodies and wearing shorts to a Packers game in January. I don’t care how much cheese you eat, brass monkeys are putting on long johns in Wisconsin during the playoffs, Well Diggers Local #327 has special posterior polar fleece allowances in their contracts for this time of year, and Witches have…well, you get the idea…
A general sports fan watches the games for the competition and the athleticism. The fanatics make a particular team their most important emotional investment. When their team is playing they ignore spouses, kids, chores, nuclear threats, and half-naked swimsuit models, unless it is during a commercial. It reaches religious proportions. The gospel according to Vince Lombardi is quoted. The commandments of Coach K are espoused. The Curse of the Red Sox was exorcised with more prayer than Max von Sydow threw at Linda Blair. The trials and tribulations of a Chicago Cubs fan make Job look like a slacker. Okay, I overstate a bit, but that is what sports fans are: over the top.
There is a single question I can ask to see if you are a true sports fan. Do you own a small radio with a single earphone that you can inconspicuously wear on your body? If the answer is yes I am willing to bet that at some time you used this ingenious device to listen to the game at a family event. Most of us can get away with this for a while. The problem arises when it is a close game. Screaming “Alright, baby!” and leaping into the aisle to do a happy dance when your guy buries a three-pointer at the buzzer is frowned upon by most folks at the wedding. Except the father of the bride, who cannot believe his daughter scheduled her wedding in March, dancing there beside you.
The NCAA Tournament has started up and it is a huge thing these days. Car companies design sales around them. The words “March Madness” are used more often than the words “That is not what we meant when we said stay in touch with your constituents, Governor Spitzer” were said in New York recently. There are scientific studies proving the overall productivity of offices drops dramatically the Monday after the brackets are announced because the office pools take precedence over selling stocks, designing software, and even staying in touch with your constituents (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).
I have to admit I truly love this event. Where else can a person hear names like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Nikita Mescheriakov, Alexis Wangmene, and Longar Longar without having a United Nations security clearance? Where else will perfect strangers hug each other like reunited brothers returning from battle just because a guy with an overactive pituitary gland was able to shove a rubber spheroid through an iron ring (with authority). Where else can you hear professional broadcasters say things like: “He has been absolutely dominant at both ends.” or “The tip is controlled by the Trojans.”?
I am a Kansas Jayhawk fan and have been for quite a while. This means I have experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I know exactly where I was sitting as I watched Danny Manning get his 18th rebound as the clock went to triple zeros against the Oklahoma Sooners and win the championship in 1988. Also, I couldn’t sleep when Jacque, Jerod, Paul, Scot, and Raef got beat by Arizona in 1997. My wife and I still gauge the level of disappointment for anything which happens in our lives against that night.

Me: Well, honey, I didn’t get that promotion at work.
My Wife: Gee, I’m sorry. I know how much you wanted that job.
Me: I feel really horrible. I don’t know what I’m gonna do now.
My Wife: We may have to sell the car with gas prices being what they are.
Me: I know. That raise would have made a huge difference in our lives.
My Wife: Does this feel worse than when KU lost in ’97?
Me: Oh, no…no, no, no…heck no!

Christopher Pyle considers Bucknell a dirty word, and will not wear, or allow his wife to wear, any clothing bearing a Jayhawk image during gameday because of his belief that it jinxes the team. He can be reached at, but not until Monday.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Take Two Sips and Call Me in the Morning

Remember the old comic book plot in which the evil genius is scheming to drop some sort of nefarious chemical into the city’s water supply. His concoction will brainwash the population into following his every command, or the entire town contracts a horrible disease for which he alone holds the antidote, or it gives everyone a wicked case of the hiccups which makes them drink more water which gives them more hiccups. Holy involuntary spasms of the diaphragm, Batman!
An item in the news recently reported there are traces of dozens upon dozens of prescription drugs in the water supply for millions of people in the United States. It might be better if there was an evil genius. At least then there would be someone who knew how to counteract the tainted water. I do not want to be like those television reporters who relish striking fear into the hearts of the general public. You know the kind. “Is your pet plotting to kill you as you sleep? Tune in at ten to find out the alarming truth about your diabolical dog, your conniving kitty or even that heinous hamster.” In order not to be like that guy, I will say right up front that the scientific conclusions do not point to major concern over this discovery…yet. Okay, I’m a little bit like that reporter guy.
A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency was quoted as saying, “We recognize it is a growing concern and we’re taking it seriously.” The only reason I throw in this quote is not to show there is a crack team of scientists burning the midnight oil to make sure the water supply for the entire country is safe for babies and endangered species. Nope, I wanted to mention this because the man who said it is named Benjamin H. Grumbles. This is my new favorite name. It is just perfect for a curmudgeonly government spokesman. It is like having a pastry chef named John Dough, or a policeman named Michael Smith-Wesson, or a politician named Marvin Takerofbribes.
Back to the AP story about the drugs in the water supply, when a person takes a pill not all of the medication is absorbed into the body the rest is…um…well…deposited in the toilet and sent into the world to seek its fortune. The amounts are harder to find than a sea monkey in Lake Huron, but I still don’t like the idea of quenching my summertime thirst with a fine mix of Country Time lemonade and just a hint of an anti-convulsant.
Some of the findings made sense. The water supply for 18.5 million people in Southern California had anti-anxiety medicine in it. That would explain the number of people living there who are so laid-back they are prone. Remember these are the people who first used the word “dude” more frequently than any other noun, verb or adjective. There was a sex hormone detected in the drinking water of San Francisco. I don’t even need to write a joke for that. Each reader can make up his or her own gag, kind of like the home version of Wheel of Fortune. There were six different pharmaceuticals found in the Washington D.C. area. That explains a lot.
Actually, it occurs to me certain prescriptions in certain water supplies could possibly be a boon. I have worked in education for fifteen years. There are times of the year any classroom could use anti-hyper-activity medications for students and staff alike. Sodium Pentothal (a.k.a. truth serum) would be loads of fun before divorce proceedings in a courtroom or served to guests before they go on the Today Show (that would make the latest Matt Lauer interview of Alan Greeenspan a lot more entertaining). Or perhaps a mild sleeping powder insinuated into the systems of the casts of all those intensely bouncy Disney Channel television shows. Have you ever watched The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and not wanted to smack just one of them with a sock full of horse manure?
I have saved the most harrowing evidence of the dangers of pharmaceuticals running rampant in the water supply for last. It is not human pain and suffering we need to worry about now. Further down on the food chain shows the aftermath of man’s pollution. Male fish are becoming feminized. (It actually said this in the article I read.) Who wants to watch Roland Martin yank a six pound largemouth bass out of the lake and find it’s wearing lipstick and mother of pearl gill rings? It’s just not natural, Vern.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Becoming President is a Running Gag

I am not a political animal. If any of the readers out there remember my father, he was very aware and savvy about politics. My oldest brother, who shared the same name as my father, has been involved in covering politics as a newspaper guy for years and he eats the stuff up with a spoon. My interests lie more in the world of humor. Wait a minute; I guess we have more in common than I originally thought. Even without choosing sides you have to admit politics makes for strange bedfellows and fantastic fodder for ridicule.
John McCain clinched the Republican nomination. He had reached the number of required delegates through the primary process and his only remaining opponent dropped out of the race. The next day George W. Bush endorsed him for president. Way to get out in front of this issue Mr. President. Your choices were McCain, Obama, Clinton, or you could go off the board and bring Dan Quayle out of moth balls. This was a no-brainer (boy, that’s a straight line which is hard to resist). Oops, I forgot Ron Paul is still running for the Republican nomination, but everybody else has forgotten too. Who would vote for a 47 year old drag queen who gave us such hits as “Supermodel” and “Looking Good, Feeling Gorgeous”? Huh? Ohhh, that was RuPaul not Ron Paul, never mind.
Other than filling hour after hour of television programming, giving coffee shops throughout the land conversation starters, and making monologues easier for late night comedians the primary process seems unnecessary. Really, I went back and looked at the results for the first primary in New Hampshire on January 8th of this year. The winning Republican was John McCain. Two months, eleven caucuses, and twenty-eight primaries later the Republican nominee is…John McCain.
On the Democratic side Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were two percentage points apart with Mrs. Clinton coming out on top. Now in March, there are four percentage points separating the two candidates (when you do math using the number of delegates each has earned to this point) with Mr. Obama holding the advantage. John Edwards could have saved a fortune in haircut money if we had just let the New Hampshire-ites decide things.
The truly scary part is not the time spent and sheer number of political food fights which have taken place. The scary part, scary like coming face-to-face with Norman Bates while taking a shower, scary like coming face-to-face with a great white shark while swimming off Amity Island, scary like coming face-to-face with Joan Rivers when rolling over to turn off the alarm clock in the morning, is the amount of money spent on these campaigns. Come on, Tom Tancredo is listed by CNN as having spent $3,458,130 in order to drop out of the race before the first caucus, before the first primary and to never get closer to a delegate than to carry his bag into the hotel in Minneapolis during the national convention in September. I didn’t spend one thin dime and I can do that.
Once again using CNN’s website as my source, I used my handy calculator to figure the two parties have spent $683,438,239 on the campaign through February first. Let’s take a moment to digest that. That would cover 7.3% of the estimated national debt. That amount of money could build 11,390 Habitat for Humanity homes in the United States or 854,297 homes in some developing countries. We could send 3,745 students to Harvard, for four years. That money could be used to take the entire population of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado, Iowa and throw in both Dakotas, to McDonald’s for breakfast lunch and dinner, twice. (I actually did the math.)
Does anyone else out there remember when the conventions were not just weeklong infomercials for the candidates? I liked watching them when there was, at least on the surface, a modicum of suspense about who was going to be nominated. The best part was when the guy at the podium would call the roll of each individual state. Then the spokesperson for that state would launch into his three minutes of fame. “Mr. Chairman the great state of Wisconsin, the dairy land of the nation, the land of one point four million cows, the state capable of making enough cheese to cover an enchilada the size of Pangea, casts its votes for the next president of the United States of America, Eugene McCarthy.”