Funny Survives

They are a resilient lot, these kids of ours. They live in lockdown, and still they joke

Remember when life wasn’t quite so moody? Remember when November was resonant and filled with all your cozy hopes?

Still is, you know.

The biggest fear from election week was that the cities would go up in flames, or there would be standoffs between tanks and protesters. I was leery of the nut jobs on both sides.

Businesses boarded up the cafes and stores, as they do in banana republics. The media was highly partisan, as in revolutionary times. The election proved a cliffhanger, with questions about the count.

Welcome to Bolivia. Where’s my cigar and bandolier?

As one wit put it, it was the worst week in the history of weeks. Let me just say that the Electoral College remains – as intended — an incomprehensible safeguard against pure democracy. Long as I live, I’ll never quite understand it. It also has a pretty lousy football team.

As of this writing, none of my biggest election week fears came true, as to be expected. A pal joked the other day that 99% of the things he worried about never happened – “so it’s working!” he said.

I get his point, but my goal is to worry less, not more…to avoid a sense of blanket dread, which I think is a good definition of anxiety: blanket dread. It’s a neurotic’s favorite soup.

Age gifts you something quite vital – the wisdom to know when to worry. To realize that a general sense of fretfulness is a gigantic waste of time.

As adults, we are the sum total of a lot of factors, which is what makes life such a wonderful ride. Where we come from, how our parents behaved, whether we were lucky in love – or jinxed.

Did you have a dog growing up? Did your teachers care? Were they wise, or just smart? Were there role models? Who made you laugh? No one? Everyone?

Great teachers plant the first seeds of a functional society.

Quick, name a stand-up comedian. Where once there were great comics left and right, from Groucho to Letterman, I now have to scrape my brain to think of an amazing comic. Only Sarah Silverman jumps to mind. Maybe Kimmel. After that, a vast desert.

Group-think scrubs away a lot of humor. Social media is a snide, blasting-hot shooting gallery, staffed by bullies. Political correctness remains the enemy of free thought. Where’s George Carlin when you really need him?

“Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity,” Carlin once quipped of war.

It is the humorless who scare me the most. Humorless people are a little insane, and humorless societies are not really societies at all.

You can have an economy and a political system, without really having a society. In a society, people speak freely to each other, and when there’s an epidemic people pull together to wipe it out.

Not only do we not have a society right now, we have political parties that are 10 different things. I suppose all democracies are hot messes, but ours? We are Ariana Grande after a Percocet and a bathtub full of Costco Champagne.

If I had it to do all over again, I think I’d be a teacher.

In high school, I had a math teacher who might’ve been a Nazi war criminal. Starting 10 minutes before class, I’d get a knot in my gut.

This teacher’s head was the size of a Buick; she wore upholstery instead of clothes. She barked a Bavarian bark.

Her class was like the Battle of Narva. The ratta-tat-tat way she wrote on the chalkboard sounded like machine-gun fire. The only thing it lacked was paratroopers bursting through the ceiling.

Everything this teacher did was harsh—her glare, her language. Sure, I liked her well enough. Learned a little trig. She was different, but she cared.

In English, I had Mr. Gordon, an entirely different person. Mr. Gordon taught on his tip-toes, with joy in his eyes, as if in that moment in the classroom with 30 insolent teen-agers, he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.

Such glory in that, such lasting power, such a good and worthwhile life.

If I had to do it all over again, I think I’d be Mr. Gordon, the ultimate stand-up, a spirited god in the eyes of young people seeking a smidgeon of candor and hope.

Great teachers plant the first seeds of a functional society.

Speaking of teens, the other night, we had a small dinner for some of Smartacus’ teammates, outdoors, with masks and cheeseburgers and milkshakes.

I mean, what else do you need besides masks and milkshakes?

I watched my son Smartacus and his fellow ballplayers wiggle in their chairs, goof with each other, laugh.

They are a resilient lot, these kids. They live in lockdown, and still they joke. What they lack in comedians, they find on TikTok, spending hours a day watching silly skits on their phones.

Life changes. Funny survives.

I teased Smartacus the other day that he’d had kind of a crummy century: terrorism, long wars, school shootings, racial unrest and now COVID.

“The death of movies,” I added.

“Dad, not that again.”

I didn’t blame him personally for any of it, I just recognized what trying times he’d seen.

“It’ll get better,” I assured him.

“It will?”

“Guess we’ll see,” I said with a shrug.

Always does. Always will.

Till then, 2020 remains the year of lost things. Lost jobs. Lost holidays. Lost weddings. Lost lives.

But not lost ideals.

It is the year of realizing that an electorate is better than its leaders, whether here or in China or in Suriname…anywhere, really.

Elections reward bluster; they seldom honor integrity. For the most part, we are better than our leaders, more reliable, more moral.

As I recall, November is a good month for long, satisfying dinners.  We will soon dig out old recipes, on stained note cards. We will share a few laughs. Pass the potatoes and a funny story, please.

We wiggle in our chairs, in the company of Grandma’s ancient serving plates, around fancy tables that generate a light all their own.

Remember when this country was resonant and filled with all your cozy hopes?

Still is.

Our next Happy Hour Rose Bowl Hike is a sellout. If you were among the first 50 to respond, you will have received details by now. If you missed out, there will be a couple of other Rose Bowl hikes before the holidays. Also, stay tuned for the Gingle Bell Ball, our holiday gin bash Dec. 9. Details to come.

17 thoughts on “Funny Survives

  1. Thanks for the shout out to teachers. Next to health care workers, they are the greatest heroes of this pandemic. I know several who are struggling with depression over online learning and worries about what it is doing to their students. And still they get up and show up on the screen every day because they love those kids. Oh, and I think satirical, observational, whimsical comedians are our last line of defense against insanity. I vote for you and Colbert.

  2. I do miss the days when we could really be funny and nobody got upset by little things that really don’t matter in the grand plan of life. I do not let things where I have no input or control over worry me. I deal with whatever happens when it happens. In my 84 years I never saw people just coming unglued over events that have no reason to exist. Now these events are the headlines thrust upon us everywhere.

  3. “Death of movies”. So true. An old black and white film noir mystery, or any John Wayne or Alfred Hitchcock movie, man, nothing today compares. As far as today’s comedians, is anyone else on here a fan of Jake Johannsen? Not a household name, but he was on Letterman more than any other comedian. Well worth checking him out on Youtube. Another really funny guy…Bill Burr. Absolutely hilarious, and truthful. Unfortunately, a veteran, a great one, died not too long ago. Fred Willard. NO ONE made me laugh more than him.

  4. Another truly lovely post, with only one instance I could see where your crotchety old Midwestern “get off my lawn” neighbor side came out. No good comedians?? Jerry Seinfeld continues to honor and study the legacy of the great comics he so admires like the funniest talmudic student in schul. Chris Rock offers brilliant insights in a slightly softer version of the Richard Pryor…schul. Mike Birbiglia (how could you miss a guy with Chicago connections!?) offers a wonderful and at times remarkably touching commentary of modern life the calls to mind a white, far more neurotic and far less sexually predatory Bill Cosby, and John Mulaney is just damn funny.

    1. Hi Steve. Guess I should’ve said “fresh voices,” since stand-ups are like running backs, they are only at their prime for a little bit. Never much of a Chris Rock fan. I know right where he’s going every time. Pryor was full of danger and surprise. I’ll check out Birbiglia. I am very impressed by John Mulaney. I think Twitter and TikTok are the Steve Martin and Robin Williams of this era. Best to that girl you’re been seeing. Susan I think her name was. Will too.

  5. As always, you have succeeded in infusing your writing with humor, nostalgia, reminiscing and wry wit. 2020 has been a sorry year for millions , but ,’hope springs eternal’, I taught high school and my heart goes out to the teachers and students that have had to deal with this challenge. (My daughter is also a teacher ). But, ‘it is what it is’ I prefer my Latin translation, ‘Id est quod est’ , just a lesson from a civilization that teaches us that the world goes on, no matter what. Thanks for your insight.

  6. Well, since I’m writing this a few hours my cry happy over the Biden/Harris news,thank you for extending my cry happy moment to this afternoon. That you write this before you new the same news is testament to your optimism, granted tempered with a real-time based cynicism, but ultimately a believer in the human spirit. Thank you again Chris.

  7. Had a Latin teacher in 11th grade that was just as scary! I think other teachers feared her as well! But as you say, they must’ve cared in their own way.
    Check out Brian Regan on YouTube

  8. Your continuing resonance with the zeitgeist is the source of your power, and the reason we are with you. Granted, the writing is frizzy and witilly adept, the phrases turning corkscrews and doing wingovers in the turbulent sky of the mind. But what shines through the usual semantic haze
    is the acuity and lucid sense of self you bring to your recorded experience of the times. The writing god of Everyman you are, Chirs.

  9. Thanks Chris
    I really look forward to your truthful comments, they brighten up my day, & thanks to Luz Andrade whim I don’t know but loved what she forwarded of Sarah Silverman.

  10. Funny absolutely does survive. I don’t leave home without it. I’ve been finding the funny as long as I can remember. (Regional Superintendent from my county once asked me if I did stand up 😂 which did give me momentary pause to question if I lobbed too many quips out loud…lol) I think Erma Bombeck said,”when humor goes, there goes civilization.” I also tell my teen who is zooming her senior year away and super glued to Tik Tok as well, that it will get better. Because it will. Happy to report your book arrived and I’m enjoying it! 😊

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