Funny Stuff

I think of comedy as preventive medicine for the mind. Funny, how we nourish the body almost to the exclusion of the brain. The brain needs help too – a push start, a poem, a potato chip (few things bring me so much comfort).

This morning, I pulled out a couple of other elixirs that bring me comfort. First was watermelon. It’s not really summer till you’ve had a slice or two of watermelon. I consider it a gateway drug. To summer. To true and everlasting bliss.

I like a lot about summer — the sonics, the sights. I like the way wood boats knock about a dock, inadvertent cellos. I like the way a big wave explodes over a lone boulder on the beach.

Most of all, I like the way watermelon lies on a checkered tablecloth, pink as a good sunburn, alongside the potato salad and the burgers.

Summer food is the happiest food. Two words occurred to me this morning: “watermelon martinis.” I haven’t been the same since.

I’d serve them super icy. Bartenders call a martini “broken” when there are flecks of ice on it. By law, all watermelon martinis would be served broken, with tiny chips of ice canoeing across the top.

In fact, I’m thinking of having people over for watermelon martinis tonight, here in the height of summer, so we can howl a bit at the night sky. And maybe watch the women smoke cigars, as I dribble more watermelon juice in their drinks.

It will be my Gatsby moment, right before I trip over the garden hose and bust a knee.

Guests won’t panic. They’ll just nod knowingly: “Oh jeeeez, there he goes again. Buuuuurp.”

I also pulled out my old brandy-colored paperback copy of “The Princess Bride,” which many people think of only as a movie.

In fact, it started out as a novel by William Goldman, whom I could argue was the finest writer Hollywood has ever seen, given the range of his work – “Butch Cassidy” to “All the President’s Men” to “The Princess Bride.”

In the book world, when a writer achieves best-seller success, publishers begin to print his or her name in big block letters … bigger than the title. In movies, they only do that with directors. But they sure should’ve done it with the great William Goldman.

At a July Fourth party the other night, “The Princess Bride” happened to be on TV behind the patio bar. As people approached the bar, they swooned over the movie, the same way they swoon over “Love Actually,” which is a good movie too, yet not quite in the same league.

“The Princess Bride” might be my favorite movie of all.

It may also be my favorite novel — Goldman’s finest work, among so much.

Queen Bell was shaped like a gumdrop. And colored like a raspberry. She was easily the most beloved person in the kingdom, and had been married to the king long before he began mumbling.”

Like watermelon, The Princess Bride is almost uniformly delicious. It drips down your chin a little, and you don’t even notice, so charmed are you by Goldman’s world of sideways glances and heated human moments.

The year Buttercup was born, the most beautiful woman in the world was a French scullery maid named Annette. Annette worked in Paris for the Duke and Duchess de Guiche, and it did not escape the Duke’s attention that someone extraordinary was polishing the pewter.

I could sail the sea on words like that. I could also make major wampum if I could just channel Goldman’s smart sense of whimsy into this little screenplay I’ve been working on lately — pour it on the way Debussy poured on de piano, the way Da Vinci poured on da paint.

Then I’d have my funny masterpiece: Da Mona Lisa.

It’s a rogue and deviant world, though every new thing brings us hope: newborn babies, fresh ideas, new screenplays…watermelon martinis.

I have no idea what I’m doing in writing this silly screenplay. Yet I have a very solid idea of what I want.

Laughter is the byproduct of misery. More than love, laughter is a happiness money cannot buy. Poor people do laughter better than rich people. In many ways, it’s our only revenge.

The kids and I were sitting around the other evening, eating watermelon and telling jokes. Smartacus is far funnier than I am – they all are. But I want to be sure Smartacus is pre-loaded with jokes before he goes off to college and starts drinking beer with strangers. In those cases, when the conversation lags, it’s always good to have a few quips.

And it beats chasing women, which rarely turns out well.

I remember jokes according to the buddy who first told them. There’s Rhymer’s “Name a State Capital” joke, and Kimla’s “Anatomy for the Blind” joke (told in a hot Iowa bar on a cold Iowa day in 1976). I remember jokes the way other people remember the Oscars they won.

After the screenplay, I am tinkering with the idea of writing “Dad Jokes: Wonderfully Bad Jokes for Your Totally Worst Days.”

This book will be to laughter what the Old Testament is to moral transgression – sort of a how-to manual. Telling a joke is simple. All it takes is a lifetime of practice, which is why dad jokes are so famously wonderful.

Advance copies are on sale now. As you know, you get what you pay for. So, obviously, these will be free.

You know, I’m happy with how practical these columns have become. How there is always something of value here.

This morning, while walking White Fang and swearing to myself that I would never own another “rescue wolf” (“There’s a reason no one wanted you,” I told her), I came up with the idea for a grilled charcuterie tray.

Now, you probably know about charcuterie trays. The lovely and patient oldest daughter does epic versions, better than most restaurants — loaded with creamy cheeses and yummy Italian salami so tart that it bites you back.

Well, I am going to do a grilled version of that, with marinated flank steak, sausages, peppers and the usual assortment of creamy cheeses and almonds.

I think grilled charcuterie plates could be a thing, the evolution of a great idea into an even greater idea, crafted right here on the shores of the world’s deepest sea (kinda filmy lately what with all the sun screen).

Like I said, summer food is the happiest food. All I need are a few friends. Then I’ll have my Gatsby party.

Hey, Buttercup, keep a horse handy. And your calendar clean.

Thanks for the RSVPs to our Gin & Tonic Society Mid-Summer Backyard Bash, where I will be serving icy watermelon martinis. The guest list tops out at 25, and those who made it have already received details in an email. If you missed out, please keep the faith. Another reader has also offered her backyard, so we’ll hold another Gin & Tonic bash soon. Cheers!

9 thoughts on “Funny Stuff

  1. I could not agree more with you about Princess Bride. Up until now, I did not know it was first a book. I will definitely get a copy and read it while sipping a watermelon infused beverage. I love watermelon margaritas. Now you have me considering martinis too. I always learn so much from you! And I get to smile or laugh or both while doing so. Thanks!

  2. Chris: have you ever read the screenplay of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Except for Casablanca its the finest things I’ve ever read. Convinced me at different times to try screenwriting and to give it up.

  3. Watermelon and summer writing; screenplays. The deep, sonorous, almost unctuous pleasure of both is in the flesh: that explosive sweetness of water in the mouth, that sheen of pleasure you feel as you roll over a great keening line in your mind while reading in bed late on a quietly heat-stunned summer night, the silence somehow amplifying the surge of…yes, sweetness you feel. The visuals ? Swell; but not as much. Watermelon is, I agree, spectacular in its freckled summer sunburn of verities, and film can feel almost like making love. Don’t forget I said, almost. But the real pleasure of the best of both is often their flesh, and the script is the real flesh of a movie. all else the visual and aural narrative of its delights.You’ve nailed it, Chris. I wonder if the water hammer of those Summertini’s had anything to do with it. I would want to settle in on a steamer chair here on the deck early on a Summer evening, as the sun made its long lingering remember-me descent into the sea, Summertini in hand, and read that script. And don’t you know, as darkness swallowed the final words, I would have already seen the movie it could make, in my mind.
    Summer is the imagination of the seasons.

  4. I thought I invented watermelon juice! So good and now solid watermelon is sweet! Right up there with white corn on the cob. It might be summer but I’m still not wearing shorts. Haha!

  5. Princess Bride – a movie right up there with Young Frankenstein in my humble opinion. And so good to know it was a book first – I didn’t know that. And William Goldman! Known for his incredible way with words, brilliant screenplays and iconic utterance “no one knows anything.”
    Having worked for 25 years in film production and distribution, I’ve probably read and or covered several hundred screenplays. Ply me with martinis (watermelon or otherwise) on Friday at our “special place” and I’d be happy to share my observations with you. Like don’t ever share a screenplay with a development executive. All you’ll get is “script notes” (basically re-writing the whole story). If they ever told their bosses, “I got this screenplay submission, it’s perfect! camera ready,” they all live in fear their boss might reply, “so what do I need you for?”

  6. Each Christmas it’s a race between me and my 6 siblings to see who can use it in context first. “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.” Followed by the turkey getting slaughtered, the dog being put out in the rain, whatever. We’re savages.

  7. “Have fun stormin’ the castle!” (Been in the hospital with pneumonia, so that’s all I can manage! Great column, great book!)

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