Tag Archives: funny

Pun Without A Cause


If a dad joke gets cracked on a deserted street at five in the morning, does anybody groan?

I’m out for a run this morning. Five AM. Hazy moon floating behind the clouds. Hint of fog hanging in the air. Not a soul in sight.

I round a curve coming around the back of a shopping center, and there, in the middle of the road, a Dark Thing.

Dark Things always give me pause on the morning run — there are coyotes in the area, neighborhood dogs escaped from their backyards. At a distance, in the morning blackness, the shadowy shape could be anything. Usually it turns out to be roadkill, or a sad discarded sweatshirt. Sometimes it’s a stray cat or, in springtime, a rabbit, which bolts for cover long before I get close.

But as I drew closer, this Dark Thing resolved itself first into the suggestion of a shopping cart — which I resolved to move from the middle of the road — and then, when it began to move on its own, into a deer. What’s important is not how I mistook a deer for a shopping cart. What’s important is what I said.

“Oh, dear.”

I couldn’t help it. It just bubbled up and popped out, like a tooth-rattling belch after 76 ounces of diet soda. I was literally helpless.

The dad joke.

How I hated them in my youth. My dad has a bottomless supply of them and would let fly at the slightest provocation:

What time is it? Time to get a watch.

I need to take a shower. Where would you take it?

I’m getting a haircut. Really? Which one?

But in my adulthood, I have assimilated them, Borg-like. They come out as naturally as breathing.

I cringe inwardly when I say them — but I can’t help saying them. Now that I have kids, the part of my brain that would ordinarily stop me from saying these embarrassing, obvious jokes has shut itself down and boarded up the windows like the last man out of a dying mining town.

Why does the dad joke persist? Nobody likes a dad joke, except, perhaps, for the dad saying it. The joke exists, rather, for the sole purpose of irritation. The dad joke’s payoff is not in a delighted shock of laughter, but rather, in the rolling of the eyes, the put-upon sigh, the pained groan, or, best of all, the reflexive facepalm.

And here I am, all alone on the street at five in the morning, saying “oh dear” at the sight of a deer, as if to elicit such a response from the trees. And in the silence that followed? When I realized what I had just done — cracked a dad joke to nobody, apparently for the pure joy of it, for the sake of the joke itself like a truth that MUST be told, the future-seer shouting in the streets about impending calamity even as he knows nobody believes him — when it dawned on me that I have become this thing? That dad jokes are now a part of me?

The groan came after all.

It came from me.

Let the circle be unbroken.


Stupid House-Selling Stories: STAIRS


We have tons of strangers passing through our house lately. This leads to a strange sense of discomfort and ickiness in general. You come home to find a cabinet left open, or a light left on, or the cat flap locked. And you know that you dealt with those things before you left the house. (Seriously? Who locks the cat flap in a stranger’s house? Who even touches the cat flap? Who has any interaction with a cat flap beyond “oh, look, a cat flap”? But no, somebody bent down, poked at it, and locked it — on both sides, mind you??) Humans have a lot of built-in reality-denying responses (just talk to a Trump supporter), but that stuff is pretty hard to ignore — it reminds you that strangers have been in your home. Poking through your closets. Judging your choices in interior painting. Complaining about your floor plan.

Or, in our most recent encounter, whining about the stairs.

Realtors trade feedback all the time; it’s to their benefit to know what potential buyers think about a house so they can address that concern for future viewers, and it’s therefore also to their benefit to engage in a symbiosis to other realtors. You help me sell this one, I’ll help you sell that one. Makes natural enough sense — you become a positively contributing part of the ecosystem or you get left alone to fend for yourself.

And then we have the following exchange, via text message, which, in a fit of flabbergasteredness, our realtor relayed to my wife:

Our realtor: How did the showing go?

Other realtor: too many stairs

Our realtor: (after thirty minutes of uncomfortably waiting for any follow-ups) Okay, great! Thanks!

That’s it. No exchange of pleasantries. No constructive commentary or disclaimers. Not even a godforsaken capital letter or period.

Too many stairs.

Too many stairs.

My head is a pinball machine of dumbfounded responses. I can’t focus on one thought about this exchange before some other part of my brain lights up with an entirely new concern.

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Actual image of our staircase, as evidently envisioned by the most recent visitor to our home.

Too many stairs.

Our house is occupied. Which means you can’t just “drop in” with your realtor on a fly-by. Which means you need an appointment. You know, so that we can wrangle our two kids and our dumb dog and shoo at least some of the cats outside and spritz some air freshener about so that the house looks livable when you get to it. Which, further, means you had to look over the house on the internet, think to yourself, “yeah, that’s worth our time,” and confirm with your agent, who then confirmed with our agent, who then confirmed with us. All of which means, you had a general idea what you were getting before you set foot in the door. Okay? You didn’t know the state of the bathroom fixtures, for example, but you damn sure knew the house had a second floor, which — unless you’re living in caca-cuckoo land, means it bloody well has stairs.

Too many stairs.

You would have, perhaps, preferred less? I don’t know a whole lot about building codes or suburban planning, but I’m pretty sure stairs in houses are pretty universal when it comes to their rise over run. But, what? instead of the fourteen or so stairs up to the 2nd floor, you’d have preferred four HUGE blocks that you have to climb up like a toddler? Or perhaps, instead, an intricate series of ramps you could hike up in the evening at bedtime and slalom down to catch your morning coffee?

Too many stairs.

That’s literally all she said. I didn’t edit out the rest of the conversation. That was the beginning and the end of the interaction. Nothing about the weird floor plan. Nothing about the ivy-infested backyard. Nothing about the tacky paint jobs in our rooms obviously painted for young children which wouldn’t suit your needs even though you could easily re-paint. Literally not a word, positive or negative, about anything else in or around the house? Evidently they made it through the yard, opened the front door, walked into the foyer, ran smack into the staircase, said “NOPE” and walked right back out.

I mean, I guess if stairs are a sticking point, then once you see the stairs, all bets are off. But that brings me back around (like a tail-chasing dog) to the first thought: why are you looking at this house in the first place? If stairs are the deal-breaker, how did you make it past the listing? Then the pictures (which clearly show the staircase — FROM A MULTITUDE OF ANGLES)? Then the appointment? How did you not pull up to the curb, see that WELL IT’S TWO STORIES SO THERE MUST BE STAIRS, NEVER MIND, and drive back into your somehow stair-free existence?

Too many stairs.

Maybe I’m mischaracterizing the whole thing. Ours isn’t a simple straight-up staircase, it’s got a landing and doubles back on itself, which could conceivably present people with certain disabilities with legitimate problems. I’m sensitive to that. But there I go again — how did they make it to walking in the front door before they figured it out?

Or maybe there’s more to it. Maybe the client loved the house, loved the neighborhood, but just wasn’t wild about the stairs. A weird sticking point, but okay. In that case, the agent made the call to mention only the stairs. Well, that’s a big ol’ cup full of wtf. How about that symbiotic relationship I mentioned up above? A little goodwill, a little quid pro quo, a little bit of genuine help. Tell us, tell our realtor, something that we can use. Something actionable. Something that adds to the conversation. “We liked all the nice, open rooms, but we’re not so sure about the tile in the bathroom.” “We love the kitchen, but the pile of human skulls in the crawl space gave us pause.” You know, we can do something about the house in that case, or we can at least know what to warn people about. I can grind up the skulls. Not a big deal.

Too many stairs.

Seriously?


Scrub Up and Slice In


The revision process for a novel has a series of steps associated with it, much like the stages of grief.

First, you’re kind of enchanted with this thing you wrote, and you spend a lot of time patting yourself on the back: hey look at that neat character I wrote back then, boy that twist was kind of clever, and wow this might not actually be that bad to edit. (See also: my posts from about six weeks ago when I started the current edit.)

Then you begin to hate the thing you wrote, because the more flaws you come across, the more glaring they become and the more likely you are to see more flaws. A snowball rolling downhill, collecting more snow and branches and dead moose until it flattens a town.

Then, resignation: the thing is what it is, and no amount of unicorn-chasing denial or grizzly-bear-wrestling self-hate is going to change it, so with steely resolve, you go to work on it. Narrative Surgery. With no training, no qualifications, and no idea what you’re even supposed to be doing, you scrub up and dive in.

The problem is, like an insane spider’s web, every part of the thing is interconnected. There is no such thing as a “minor correction.” The hip-bone is connected to the leg-bone, but in this metaphor, it’s also connected to the patellar tendon, the lower intestines, one and a half lungs and the eye on the non-heart side (which — surprise! — is not the side you thought it was).

You go to make your incision, to correct that one little nagging issue in the third chapter, and blood starts leaking out of the character resolution in chapter eighteen. You try to tamp that down with a little narrative pressure, but that causes a backup in the side conflict while also necessitating the introduction of brand-new tissue in the opening chapters. You set to work rectifying all this, but because you also have a full-time job and for god’s sake you’re only human, your rectifications themselves are flawed and not as focused as they maybe should be because oh my god there’s inkblood everywhere.

surgery-676375_1280

Did I drop my keys in there? I think I dropped my keys in there.

Now you’ve got internal bleeding and contusions popping up under the skin all over the place, and you’re not actually any closer to fixing the problem you set out to fix in the first place, you’re just playing Whack-a-Mole with the fallout from your “fixes.” Worse still, you’re starting to see that the big problem you ignored in the first draft — the one you just stuck a post-it note to your future self on that read YOU DEAL WITH THIS ONE, GOOD LUCK (an actual comment I left for myself around the 1/3 mark of this particular draft) — has metastasized out of control. A broken bone repaired by interweaving itself with all the surrounding tissue. The hive in Aliens that has swollen and spilled over, and now threatens to consume the entire ship. Every blood vessel, every nerve ending, every plot line, every narrative thread seems to run through this one spot, this one tangle of viscera and scar tissue.

And you don’t want to do it. To go to work on this thing will throw the entire project into limbo. The bleeding will be massive, the repair work intensive, the recovery extensive. But that angry little knot, interspersing its evil tentacles through the heart and every extremity of your story, pulses defiantly. Taunting you. And that’s when you realize that you do want to do it, that despite the trauma and triage, despite the emotional and psychological fallout that will surely result, this thing can be saved. It can be made clean again.

So you slice into it.

And as the first gout of narrative blood stain your scrubs, you glance just a little bit further down the chest cavity… and you see another tumor.

Ahem.

So, you know. The edit’s going fine … just fine.

*screams internally*

*dies inside*

*animates self with a straight shot of caffeine to the pleasure center and sheer force of will*

*zombie self continues writing*

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


A Day of Shoeburyness and Lawn-Care Mutterings


If you have ever wanted to cut off your own piece of the bleeding edge of American literary greatness, this is your chance.

My house is for sale. The culmination of what feels like (and, by now, I guess actually is) months of cleaning and fixing and tearing down walls and repairing pipes and hauling off trash and more than once considering simply setting fire to the whole thing. But of course, the work isn’t over. Now that we have it clean and “show ready”, we have to keep it that way, which has us doing all sorts of things we would never do ordinarily, though my wife insists that normal people do these things all the time.

Taking the trash out once a day. Keeping the sink clear of dishes. Vacuuming the floors every day. Keeping laundry out of the floor. Mowing the yard at 8pm on a Friday because it’s literally the only chance we’ll have to do it.

Madness. My wife, somehow, has a reservoir of patience and sense for this sort of thing. I do not. While circling my yard with the mower last night, thoughts of murder circled in my head like swarming crows. What the hell am I doing out here? It’s getting dark, for crissakes. Primeval man survived for tens of thousands of years without mowing the damned grass. It’s all gonna grow back when global warming wipes us all out, and the kudzu will consume the country. Why fight it?

lawn-mower-938555_1280

I may have mentioned, here or there, that yard work is a dirty word with me. I’m not exaggerating. My mind goes to some dark places when I’m holding garden tools.

But it has to be done to keep the house show-ready, so mow I did. Just part of the deal of trying to sell the place.

Also part of selling the place? A sensation that I don’t have a word for: The vaguely disconcerting , slightly unsettling feeling of knowing there have been total strangers tromping through your house, peeking in your closets, judging your choices in counter-toppery.

Douglas Adams once wrote a book full of words like this, and I’m sorry to say that I have not yet read this book — The Meaning of Liff. But from the liner notes and offhanded comments found in The Salmon of Doubt, I know that within that text is a word that comes close: Shoeburyness, the uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.

This is stronger than that, but less extreme than the real discomfort and terror that, for example, my sister-in-law is experiencing, having been the recent victim of a break-in that did not apparently result in any theft — somebody just broke in and skulked around.

It’s somewhere in between those two extremes. Odd. Definitely not pleasant. But not actually disruptive or traumatic in any way.

Again: nothing to be done about it. Just part of the process. And, hopefully, the beginning of the end of the all-consuming task that selling our house has become. I don’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but I can’t see the light from where we entered either at this point. There’s a comfort in that — in seeing how far we’ve come — even though this mushy middle part is bleak.

At least I’m writing again. Words on the page. The concrete evidence of progress.

The light at the end of the tunnel has to be up there, somewhere.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Why Live Theatre is like Plinko


 

Working on a live show isn’t like working on a novel or a school project, outside of the fact that you break your back and your brain working to make it happen. The novel? The project? When they’re done, they’re done. You ship it out the door or turn it in, and it is what it is — nothing has the potential to change it, really.

A live show? Sure, we’re done working on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s finished. It’s never finished. It’s a living, breathing organism, powered by living, breathing humans susceptible to the nerves and emotions and follies and foibles that all humans — to say nothing of high school teenagers — are vulnerable to.

Every show will be different: new highs, new lows, new notes in the solos, new dead spots marking the missed cues, new pauses for laughter you weren’t expecting, new silence when you were expecting laughter.

When I was a kid, and I’d visit my grandmother’s house, we’d always watch the Price is Right together. Old school: the Bob Barker days. It was her daily ritual and my novelty: I think she loved vicariously watching a schmo from Lubbocksville, Nowhere go up on stage, win a game of skill and/or chance, and win a car or a vacation or a toaster. I just loved watching the colorful games, especially the one where the mountain climber hiked up the side of the mountain (and if the contestants overbid, he’d fall right off the side… man, it still brings a smile to my face!).

I still watch every now and then, though these days my greatest pleasure is watching the cynical, smarmy a-holes who, when they think everybody else has overbid, will smugly bid $1. (Even better, when that card gets played too early, the doubly cynical, triply smarmy SOB that bids $2.)

But my favorite game back then, without a doubt and bar none, was Plinko.

Image result for plinko board

I don’t know why. Of all the games on the show there was no game like it. All the other games either required some consumer savvy (which item costs more?), some physical ability (they had a minigolf game that I adored, because once upon a time I thought golf was cool, a misconception I am happy my life and my distaste for the pastimes of the especially affluent has cured me of), or some combination of the two, but not Plinko.

Here’s a game that gives you a handful of chips and says “good luck,” like a roulette wheel with a bad attitude. The goal is to get your chip to land in the $10,000 spot down there, or maybe the $1000 slot — and notice that the only way to win nothing is to almost win the big prize. So: the contestant climbs up the stairs to stand behind the board, agonizes deeply about where to place their chip, as if strategy would help them in the least, and then — lets it go.

Plink, plink, plink. The chip bounces down the board like that guy in Titanic who falls off the capsizing ship and clangs off a rail before spinning, spine shattered, into the deep. Sometimes it swerves this way and that, dancing a mad jig across the board before settling at the bottom; sometimes it beelines, as if guided by a nervy surgeon’s hands, to its destination. Sometimes the chip seems to hit every single peg on the board as it clatters home, sometimes it seems to get home without a single disruption.

Then the game is over, and the player goes home with either her winnings or her idiotic regret that she should’ve placed that last chip one slot to the left.

But it’s not the board’s fault, and it’s not the player’s fault, if the chip doesn’t land where you expect — it’s simply chance. (And air currents, and the microscopic imperfections in the surfaces of the chip and the peg, and the rotational forces you imparted when you dropped it, and the residual oil on your fingers, and the quantum particles that jumped in or out of existence on the plains of Africa while your chip was dancing madly toward the bottom.) The moment the chip leaves your hand, in other words, all you can do is watch and hope.

And a live show is like that. You do all the preparing you can, you hem and you haw over the minutiae — should that actor stand here or there as he delivers that line, should that set piece maybe be angled a bit more steeply, should I abandon the whole thing and go raise goats in New Zealand? — and then you make like Elsa and let it go.

And it’ll plink plink plink its way to the bottom, with wholly unexpected twists and turns some nights, and seemingly divine guidance on others, until it inevitably reaches the end of the line.

All you can do is hope to avoid the goose egg.

In other (possibly related) news, it’s show week — AKA hell week — for our musical. See you on the other side.


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