I’m a mild-mannered, conservatively dressed female, only 5’ 3” tall. I don’t sport body piercings or carry a weapon. Still, some people consider me a menace.
I have no one but myself to blame for this conundrum. Years ago, completely by accident, I became a humor writer. By the time I realized that I was a humor writer, I had to hustle to find an ongoing cache of material. I searched for it everywhere, from the supermarket (an excellent source, especially after they installed talking, self-check out registers) to the dog park, where “human companions” talk to their dogs in dulcet tones that in more sensible times would have been reserved for children or lovers. Like a junkie, I began craving stronger hits of hilarity as grist for my humor mill. No place or person was safe from my quest to discover the absurd, the ironic, and the just plain funny things that happen in life.
A few friends became leery, as I learned one night while a guest at a sumptuous dinner. We were in the midst of a lively conversation when my host suddenly froze, his soup spoon poised halfway between the bowl and his mouth. “Is this dinner going to end up in one of your columns?” he asked.
“I certainly hope so!” I said, impatient for someone to commit a memorable faux pas. I detected a subtle grimace, as if his soup had lost its flavor.
Fortunately, most friends like it when I write about them. Years ago I hired a friend to help dig me out of my embarrassing clutter. My feeble excuse, “I’m not messy, I’m a genius!” held no water with her. As she forced color-coded labels and a novel concept called a “system” on me, I grappled with my feelings of inadequacy and shame by writing about the encounter. Even though I poked fun at her perfectly organized everything, including her car, briefcase, hair, and even her expertly painted, evenly grown nails, she was thrilled, handing out copies of the story to clients as a marketing tool. I realized too late, she should have paid me!
Trafficking in human foibles raises more suspicions among those who don’t know that I’m usually pretty nice. Once I was introduced to a couple at a public event, and the husband, recognizing my name, said, “You write about your kids a lot, don’t you?” It didn’t sound like a compliment. I fessed up, but proudly asserted that I was on good terms with all my kids, and not only when they need cash.
Few sights are sadder than a humor columnist without a family to exploit in plying the trade. A humorist who hit the big time with a bestseller about his family subsequently told me he was getting divorced. My heart sank for him. What in the world would he write about now? I wondered.
I am grateful that my family has gone along so sportingly with all of this, though they are often taken by surprise. My daughter was miffed to discover I had written about the time she baked a coffee cake and poured in an entire cup of instant coffee in the batter when the recipe called for a cup of coffee. She had warned me not to, but I couldn’t resist. Material like that doesn’t fall from the sky every day. However, this may also explain why all four kids have their bags packed for college within minutes of high school graduation, thousands of miles from my prying eyes and ears. I think it’s a darned shame to let kids leave home while they are still providing rich humor material just being their delightfully interesting selves.
Writing humor is a good thing, because it makes us look for the good even in life’s most trying situations. For example, when I discovered that my car had been mercilessly towed away exactly three minutes after the “no parking” time had begun, writing a column about it was cathartic. I have mined four columns out of our nightmarish bathroom remodel saga, perpetrated by a clan that would have made the Three Stooges look like engineering geniuses. Payment for those columns barely covered the cost of one letter written by my attorney to the Stooges, but writing was cheaper than therapy.
I’m unlikely to laugh all the way to the bank writing humor, but making people laugh, even if only for a few moments, is a small gift I can offer. Finding the funny in the frustrating helps us keep our perspective, because let’s face it, things could be always be worse. Besides, laughter isn’t a luxury – it’s a life tool to see us through the difficult moments, whether when bad contractors happen to good people, when the agents at the TSA confiscate your kosher eats before boarding a long flight; or when your husband makes the mistake of parading around in his wedding pants 25 years after the wedding to announce, “They still fit!”
So for those of you who fear me, please relax: I may be armed with an observant eye, but I’m not dangerous. Usually.
If you enjoyed this column, you’re sure to enjoy my books Till We Eat Again: A Second Helping and The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. And please show your support for this blog using the PayPal donation button to your right. You’ll be glad you did!