Because I'm busy writing Creatures (finally, again), and because I appear to be sick as a dog (the thermometer doesn't lie), I'm posting something I wrote a couple of years ago for web site on which I was to be a regular columnist. Sadly, it never launched. I hope you enjoy. And now I'm going to make some tea.
I used to be funny. Actually, this might not be true. I may never have been particularly funny. You see, the key difference between me, twenty years ago and the me of now, is that the me of now spends much more of his waking life lucid. Now that I think about it, I spend much more of my life awake. What if I was not as funny as I thought? Oh heck, most 20 year-old guys think they are funny. At least that’s what the 20-year-old girls said back then. Therefore, by my very 20 year-old nature, I was funny. In any case, I digress.
Things seemed a lot funnier twenty years ago. Don’t get me wrong, though. Things are funny now. I laugh like a 12-year old boy when on Family Guy, I see Peter Griffin put on Stewie’s onesee to prove that if he’s fat, then little matricidal Stewie is also fat. Moreover, when Mr./Mrs. Garrison explains evolution on South Park, stating that, in conclusion, we are all descended from retarded monkey-fish-frogs, well, I laugh like a retarded monkey-fish-frog might. Nevertheless, the fact that I need to sit in front of a cartoon on TV in order to laugh like that is a leading indicator that laughter is more difficult to come by nowadays. Didn’t we used to just sit around, drinking Seagram’s 7, chasing it with Dr Pepper, cackling because we forgot what was so funny? It seemingly always started with Pink Floyd’s The Wall, or the Who’s Tommy, and a bottle of Seagram’s, or some cheap Vodka, but somewhere along the way, there was cackling laughter. I am certain of it.
So, what happened? Darned if I know, but I have some ideas. First came the whole “job” thing. Having to go to the same place, every day for most of the day kind of sucks the pleasure out of going to bed at four in the morning. Let’s face it people. Your only concern at that hour was, “Will I have enough Captain Crunch when I get up?” and “Idiot - Don’t forget to set the alarm clock for noon. You have classes starting at 2:45pm, Tuesday through Thursday, and tomorrow is – oh, it’s Friday. Turn off the alarm.”
Next, you get married. I do not believe the event itself has a huge immediate impact on how funny you are. However, after being married for several years, a couple of things are likely to happen. One is kids, and for those with young kids, we will assume you are reading this at work or you are home and it is after 10pm and you are just hanging on to consciousness. The other thing that happens is something I like to call “selective retention” and I will come back to it shortly.
The impact of having children cannot be overstated, unless you have only one. Let me say right now that, if you only have one, it does not count as having kids. It is not much different from having a dog. You need to feed it, give it shelter, let it crap on your lawn, express its anal glands every now and then, and groom it. Well, maybe not groom it. It is not that complicated and things do not get very challenging. Remember. This is relative. With one child, anything you find broken in your home was obviously broken by that child. With more than one child, I promise that without surveillance cameras in the house, you will never know which one did it. I am also convinced that if you did have cameras, they would figure out how to disable them just as soon as they learn to walk.
Now, for those with kids (plural), you may notice that you do not have a whole lot of time to be funny while you deal with the constant bickering. You will realize, that if these small, noisy creatures with flailing arms and legs that invariably find your balls were adults, they would be diagnosed as psychotic. Once you do realize this, you are right there with me. You may find humor in the creativeness your children show in being psychotic, but do not let them see you laugh. They will not stop trying to make you laugh, and believe me; their attempts are as funny as the knock-knock jokes they keep “inventing”. Your teeth will hurt just listening to iterations five through seven. We do love them though.
I also mentioned “Selective Retention”. This best describes a phenomenon I noticed that occurs after several years of marriage. Here is some background. I recall being more than just funny years ago. I once was useful. When we got married, I could cook. I could fix things. I could build things. Nothing complex, mind you, but I held my own. I also knew what plans we had for any given night or weekend. Well that’s all shot now. I hardly ever cook – maybe some pancakes or eggs for breakfast. I don’t fix or build things, at least in my own house. Not that I wouldn’t try, but I am not allowed to anymore, and this is probably wise. However, I can still build IKEA furniture with the best of them, and nobody can take that away from me. I can no longer keep track of where I am supposed to be, and who I’m supposed to be with. Which kid am I taking where? How long do I stay? Who do I give this thing to? The kid will point to the right parents? Cool. Heck, my selective retention even bleeds to my work life. Microsoft Outlook is, for better or worse, my eWife. She tells me where to go and when to get there. If she doesn’t know about it, then I don’t know about it. If the mail server is down… sorry, I’ll be in my office until someone comes and gets me. You may be wondering how this relates to being funny. Well it doesn’t, exactly, and I hope you don’t feel bad about having been led down this path. However “Selective Retention” is, in my mind, one of the many reasons why some of us are not what we once were.
Then of course, the world is a somewhat depressing place. We are all much more on edge and 9/11 was definitely a big reason. My kids were seven and two years old on 9/11, and, hundreds of miles away from me. My flight had landed in Boston’s Logan Airport about 30 minutes before the planes hit the towers. This was not funny. How do you protect your kids from things you cannot directly control? When I eventually got home, Comedy Central was not on the air. Was humor dead?
As the years have passed since that horrible day, I have noticed life rolling on, much as my children grow. They are relentless about that. There is humor and even though I’m not funny anymore, I can still recognize the kind of humor that makes me laugh. When I watch a Family Guy or South Park episode, and my wife comes in during one of those scenes that leave me choking with laughter on the sofa, she laughs too. Of course, she will only laugh the first time she sees it, but will also deny it ever happened. She might have mentioned that what she was really laughing at… was me. Well now -- maybe I am still funny.