Monday, May 28, 2007

Now what will we do?

Guess. Who. Died: Charles Nelson Reilly.

Jude and I were at this vegan diner today having some stuff with chili piled on it, and watching all the people. We were saying how pleasant it is that we all like to entertain one another, with our hairdos, costumes, comedy routines and Big Speeches.

So, CNR is gone now. Did you know he won a Tony for "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying?" Me neither -- read it on CNN. I only ever saw him on Hollywood Squares. Anyway, thanks for everything, CNR.

Now, to entertain you, I've gathered some of CNR's classic Hollywood Squares moments here:

What are "dual-purpose cattle" good for that other cattle aren't?
CNR: They give milk... and cookies, but I don't recommend the cookies.

Jackie Gleason recently revealed that he firmly believes in them and has actually seen them on at least two occasions. What are they?
CNR: His feet.

According to Robert Mitchum, one thing has ruined more actors than drinking. What?
CNR: Not drinking.

Was Snow White a brunette or a blonde?
CNR: Only Walt Disney knew for sure.

You've heard of the phrase "A pig in a poke"...what's a "poke"?
CNR: It's when you're not really in love.

According to experts, the worst time for sex is right after...what?
CNR: Surgery.

True or false - a pea can last as long as 5,000 years.
CNR: Boy it sure seems that way sometimes.

Which of your five senses tends to diminish as you get older?
CNR: My sense of decency.

Back in the old days, when Great Grandpa put horseradish on his head, what was he trying to do?
CNR: Get it in his mouth.

Who stays pregnant for a longer period of time, your wife or your elephant?
CNR: Who told you about my elephant?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Meaning of Life

A couple of years ago I had a lunch conversation with a friend that still sticks with me. We were eating meatloaf sandwiches at the Airport CafĂ©, a few minutes from the shop where we both worked and we were talking about The Hottie, a woman he’d dated for a few weeks now. He didn’t even bother to tell me her name because he assumed she was too good for him and that, when she realized this, her name would disappear anyway, right along with her.

A few months earlier he’d bought a Porsche. He'd found it on and financed it with They FedEx’ed him a check. He credited that car with winning him his presumed-doomed Hottie relationship, and he was telling me they’d driven it down to Napa for a four-day weekend. He was routinely taking her to $400 dinners, buying $100 wines, $300 Coach bags … swimming pools, movie stars. And I asked him during that lunch whether all of this was sustainable. He said, “I don’t know. I doubt it.” But of course the answer had to be, “No.”

Right away, though, I wondered why I would ask such a stupid question. Was I just trying to knock him down? As somebody who professes to have practiced a little Buddhism, where do I come off asking if something is sustainable? So I apologized for being a killjoy.

He said, “No, I honestly don’t know how far I’m willing to take this thing if she doesn’t hurry up and dump me. I’ve actually thought about borrowing against my house.”

I said, “Jesus, I thought I was a romantic. What ever happened to just jumping off a cliff?”

“That’s after she dumps me.”

I’ve always tried to find meaning in life through relationships with other people and through projects. I don’t believe in God, but I do see value in service and sacrifice, and certainly in love. The connectedness that can come from a good conversation or from rigging up a good system is, for me, where all the poetry is. I’m excited by the idea of Great Things, but I’m also very, very pleased when I see a really good birdhouse. So here was my buddy, eating cold meatloaf, talking about burning through everything he had and calling it a candlelight dinner.

I thought: is it more beautiful to recklessly risk everything for love, or to cultivate wisdom and open-hearted exchange? Or is this like asking whether Spring blossoms are superior to Fall foliage?

On Memorial Day, and knowing only one person directly involved in a war, I think this: for those swallowed up by something so big as war, may they feel that life is rich.

Jude with Isaiah, Kailey, and Sammy,
whose Daddy is in Iraq.

And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?…

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

From “
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
T.S. Eliot

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Da-Da Mama

When it comes to joking & joshing, my four siblings and I all tend toward cheap and/or dark and/or salacious material. Back in the day, with all of us vying at the dinner table, we learned early to go in fast and low for the pun, the vicious taunt, the thinly-veiled breast reference. To this day I still like a thinly-veiled breast.

My father's always been a pretty quiet man but, still, he's got to be the one to blame for his children's ricochet, drive-by banter because, Mom?, she's no sardonic wit. She's an absurdist. Whenever my Mom reaches into the clever quiver, you can count on her pulling out the "got your nose!" arrow every time. Why, that's absurd! You don't have my nose, it's just your thumb! And I'm 40 years old, for pete's sake!

Once at dinner I was talking and I paused, saying, "lost my train of thought." Mom said, "Maybe the dog ate it."

Ridiculous, you see? No dog could eat a train of thought. Why would you even think of saying that? ("Maybe it was a gravy train of thought," said Dave, in my head just now.)

My brother Dave, with his "Gadzooks!" and his vaudevillian stage whispering, actually didn't fall too far from the tree, come to think of it. He's been using the same goofy punch lines for a very, very long time (he's a Dad). Brother Keith, while pretty quick with a line, is a master of the single entendre and often leaves you going, "what was that supposed to mean?" Steve keeps his powder dry but then, whammo!, he'll pull the rug right out from under you with some very high comedy. And Lisa's just an unpleasant, humorless woman.

"Piss off."

But Mom, man she loves those non-sequiturs. I'm trying to think of another example. If I could, you'd see right here exactly what I mean. I don't know why I can't think of one. An example would help a lot. That's too bad.

When Mom was the age that I am now, well, that was 1980. She and Dad had five kids, all in high school and junior high, each involved in at least one illegal hobby. But even so, we knew the house rules. We knew to ask permission, and we knew what time dinner was and that we'd damn sure better be there and that we'd eat what we were having and not something else. Mom was pretty strict! But that just made us a bunch of comedians because, let's face it, strict is funny. In addition to her Momming duties, she was a Psych Nurse at the hospital (also funny). And she was a den mother, or whatever they're called, for Lisa's troupe of angry, humorless Brownie scouts (hysterically funny in their little paramilitary getups -- out there every day, fighting the Boy). Through it all, Mom has loved to sing and talk and make those pretty little jokes like she's talking to a retarded child.

If something really gets us all laughing, though, Mom gets serious and steps in on behalf of moderation and sobriety with her best-known catch phrase, "You know, that's funny but it's not." And then goes on to explain how, when the fat lady fell on the ice she may have busted her sacroiliac, which is very painful and requires years of PT. Thanks for all the straight lines, Mom!

It's funny, but it's not.

Without us really even noticing, she kept us all dressed (badly), schooled, unjailed, overfed, and showing up back at the house every night by lights-out. Above all, she kept us feeling safe enough to go out into the world without a fear. That's pretty good. Here I am in 2007 and I can't even remember to feed the damn cat every day. Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother's Day. Thanks for all your really dumb jokes. I love you!

Look out! He's coming to get you! (Just kidding!)