Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Appropriate Humor

“Don’t try anything funny.” This has got to be one of my favorite lines from television or movies. I figure just about everything I’ve ever tried was funny in some way. Not everyone appreciates a joke, though.

Take my first husband, please, with apologies to Henny Youngman. I figured that there had to be some common ground for us somewhere because he was a famous, no, more like notorious collector and teller of Polish jokes. He’s Polish, so it was hard to argue with self-deprecating humor.

After all, I’ve made short jokes (“I AM standing up,”) and blonde jokes, too many to cite, for years. So I figured that even though HUBS-1 was a Virgo with all the most retentive and compulsive needs for order, down to alphabetizing his socks, fer goodness’ sake, (“black comes before blue, left to right”), somehow my devil-may-care random housekeeping habits—OK, fine, sloth—could somehow be overlooked with well-placed jokes. So, we all know THAT didn’t work out. So much for the power of optimism: It will get you into things that can be really expensive to get out of.

Still, one of the things I actually liked about the guy was that he kept a visual gag prominently displayed in the living room. It looked like a crafts-class trophy at first glance until you realized it was a pole with a lock.

I figured someone with a good enough sense of humor to display such a trophy had to have some redeeming features in there somewhere, in spite of the tendency to wipe a gloved finger over the doorway trim to prove to me that, after a day’s diligent housekeeping on my part, the house was still dirty and we could not, after all, go to the movies. I reiterate: I only divorced him. For those of you who find these traits attractive, I think he’s remarried for the third time too and not available. Hail and farewell, I say. This isn’t kiss and tell; it’s dust and tell. He should see my dust-bunnies now!

When things are funny to you and you laugh, sometimes people think you have a sinister ulterior motive. One of my co-workers from our former employer was pulled over by a notorious Machiavellian reptilian and demanded the back story on yours truly.

“What’s Marcia’s game?” he whispered to her urgently with sidelong glances. It was a scene straight out of The Borgias.

My co-worker laughed out loud and told him that she had known me for years and as far as she could tell I didn’t have a game. I worked hard, was results-oriented, was a good manager and wanted everyone to win, genuinely. He wouldn’t buy it.

Art Postcard Tarot
(c) Copyright 2010 Marcia McCord
 How could I be The Fool and plan intelligently for successful outcomes, again and again? Plainly it’s a Fool reversed.

Comedian Bob Newhart had a routine that I thought encapsulated my predicament well. He was superb at his comedy routine where he let you hear just his side of a telephone conversation. He’s talking to his boss, apparently a stern authoritarian, when he says, “Yes, sir, I do have a sense of humor.” He pauses to listen to the imaginary telephone in his ear. “Yes, sir, I can keep it to myself.”

But sometimes, I have to laugh.

I agree, it’s not always helpful. For instance, I considered my biggest handicap when I was studying for a career  teaching junior high English to be my height. I had thought, in error, that I had half a chance of being taller than the little sweetums, but, no. Genetics and American nutritional standards have conspired so that there was no way on earth I could sit at a teacher’s desk and be Teacher and still see over the first row. I had to stand all day. My feet were like pizza at the end of each day. But what I really underestimated was the trouble I would have keeping a straight face. They were relentlessly funny, usually unintentionally, making the need for self-control all the more important. After all, I didn’t want them to think I was laughing at them and hurt their feelings. That would be horrifying.

I’m lucky enough to have had jobs in the corporate world that provided plenty of fodder for laughter. When the emergency phonecall starts out with the preamble, “First, I’ve gotta tell you that they did not fire this girl,” I had to sit down to laugh.

Then there are the corporate disasters I could only stand back and admire. The dress code violations and redefinitions by a particularly conservative company trying in vain to be hip were a constant source of amusement and anguish in the 90’s. As a manager, I had to translate and enforce whatever the latest definition of what a wardrobe malfunction was among a group of programmers who were more likely to come to work with their favorite Birkenstocks duct-taped together as the permanent fix. I sought assistance from my war-weary director.

“Just a few questions about the new dress code,” I ventured into her office.

“Oh, no. Now what?” She didn’t really want to know.

“So just as a point of clarification,” I went on. “Is khaki a color or a cloth?”

She groaned.

“And I know it says here that there will be no après ski wear. I consider myself to be, by choice, permanently pre-ski.”

She shook her head low over her desk.

“OK, you guys,” I chirped later in my team meeting with my lovable misfits, “you’ve all seen the new dress code, right?”

They rolled their eyes with the appropriate fervor and reverence as only people so rooted in logic can do. I looked around the table and nodded.

“Don’t make me talk to you about this stuff, OK?” I turned the sheet over and we moved on to more serious topics.

My favorite, however, was one experience at the hospital. John, “The Hubs”, The Only Good One, the Precious, was set to have a little patch-up job. With one too many serious abdominal surgeries in his youth, he had, as a mature man of action, an umbilical hernia. We joked together about it (viz., only good one) and I told him that I had dragged him up and down the stairs too many times like a teddy bear so that his bellybutton had fallen off. Now they were going to sew it back on. He was so relaxed about the whole thing that they had to wake him up to give him the sedative. I was more tightly wound.

The anesthesiologist, with her clipboard, started checking down the usual list of repetitive questions prior to surgery. She must have been a little tired. While at the top, she had read aloud, “umbilical hernia,” by the time she got to the bottom of the long form of questions, she looked up at us and asked, “Which side?”

I knew immediately that she’d grasped the hernia part without the navel feature but I could not help myself. Being tense before my sweetie’s surgery will do that to me. I broke my husband’s cardinal rule: Never, ever be funny in front of a doctor.

I placed my hand on top of his very relaxed tummy and looked up at the doc with all seriousness and answered.

“We prefer the front.” I blinked sincerely.

We all burst out laughing and I turned to John and said, “Well, THAT was close, huh? They might’ve sewn your bellybutton back on the WRONG SIDE!” Well, what if, you know?

Best wishes!

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