Saturday, July 17, 2010

What Me Worry

Back in the days when there was no internet, the world was in black and white. Contrary to popular belief, discouraging words were sometimes heard on the range. Frequently when one was trying to get homework done. And some of the most discouraging words were "go look it up". There's two expressions I grew up with.

In the back room of our house, made bizarre for a long time because my grandmother died in her sleep there, was a wall of books from floor to ceiling. It seemed one could always go back in there when bored, expecting to find something of exceptional value, lost in the sea of time and knowledge, only to be rediscovered. Or just start climbing the shelves.

Rarely would one be disappointed with anything except the weird way the book would smell. Books on nature, the sciences, how-to books on drawing, building or whatever, great and not-so-great literature (all of the Harvard Classics were there, saved from the Great Cleansing by my son), books in foreign languages, and of course the World Book. Yes, the mother of all encyclopedias. There was even another, more crusty encyclopedia and several ridiculously heavy dictionaries because you can't believe everything you read, and maybe because my father in particular seemed to stockpile just about everything.

Perhaps the most glorious discovery was a 1955ish paperback book called "Utterly Mad". Alone amidst the tattered tomes, it was unlike anything I had ever seen! An actual book full of parody and satire, with graphics nothing like all of the comics I read "religiously". It was read and re-read a hundred times. For the next 7 years the majority of my hard-earned cash went to my MAD magazine subscription and collection of as many of the publications I could afford. Perhaps a sleeping giant was awakened that day. I had discovered my calling. I am a smart-ass.

In general this provided me with a cheery outlook on life. I was even convinced for some time the only real purpose of an education was so one could "get" more jokes. But I recognized my audience early when I learned the more high-brow the joke, the more fallow the field it would land in. Unfortunately a lot of the more appreciated jokes seem to be at the expense of others, even when no harm is intended. One can easily lose sight of this while being a smart-ass, and feelings have undoubtedly been stepped on. As Jacob Marley said, "These are the Chains I Forged in Life".

So if I get the chance, I'll try to make amends. I can't very well escape being a smart-ass at this point, and I pretty much refuse to stop looking for the comic relief in life. But I'm trying to be more sensitive of other's feelings, make sure there are no judgments embedded in the jokes, and to remember there's a lot more to laugh at if I just look at myself more often.

Oh and there was one other glorious thing that happened in that room: my brother and I watched the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. In black and white, of course.

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