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by Lese Dunton
(Inspired by a vintage cartoon series from MAD magazine.)
When they say –
“Our staff has over 125 years of experience collectively,”
what they really mean is…
“We’re searching for new ways to sound like we know what we’re doing.”
“Well, there’s been a slight hiccup.”
Translation: “It’s a disaster, please don’t yell.”
“There is a bit of nuance in the legalese.”
Translation: “You might be able to get away with it.”
“Don’t worry, it will be a seamless transition,”
Translation: “Nothing will ever work right again.”
“We haven’t explored those particular hypotheticals.”
Translation: “We have no idea how to answer your question.”
Parenting from the Past
Parenting is not nearly as easy as it use to be. For example, when I was a youngster and asked a simple question like, “Dad, where do babies come from?” My dad gave me a perfectly logical explanation.
“Remember when I took you with me to the Plymouth dealer to buy a new car? We went out and test-drove a few models. You sat in the back seat and played with the windows while I haggled with the salesman. Then we went into an office and I had to sign a lot of papers and you kept asking if we could go home yet?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But where do babies come from?”
“Hospitals. Guys like us? We leave Mommy home, go to the car dealer and bring back a shiny new car. Mommies leave daddies home, go to the hospital and bring back a whiny new baby.”
It seemed reasonable enough. We didn’t have the world at our fingertips. We didn’t even have color TV. It’s different, today. When kids ask a parent a question, parents have to provide real answers. Children have the tools to answer all sorts of questions today, which means parents have to be smarter. There is no way for a parent to procrastinate on a question he, or she, does not know how to answer. So any self-respecting parent knows the answer to every question in the world is: “That’s a good question. Let’s look it up on the Internet.”
Today’s children have it all. In the 3rd grade, I had books to schlep home. Kids today have I-pads, laptops and smart-phones. They stop asking questions, because they possess the tools to answer them. So, I was really surprised when my son, for the first time in over a decade said, “Dad. I have to ask you a question.”
It scared me. I thought he was in some kind of trouble. He’s always using the Internet to find answers and even goes so far as to check on his sources. I wish he was that focused on his studies.
“What?” I finally asked.
“You know how every one always says, for Pete’s sake?”
“Well who’s Pete? I can’t for the life of me figure out who this guy Pete is.”
I was kind of dumbstruck. I had heard the expression all of my life and had never really thought about it.
“That’s a good question,” I said. “Let’s look it up on the Internet.”
But he already had. I sat up half the night thinking he must have missed something. In this technological age — everything has an answer, right?
The next morning at breakfast he asked if I had the answer.
I tore a page right out of my Dad’s shiny new Plymouth with those whiny new babies.
“Listen,” I said. “When you get into advanced European History you’ll learn all about this Russian Tsar. His name was Peter the Great. Everybody loved him. Everything that country accomplished, it was done for…”
# # #
From the “Basically Brooklyn Series” in The New Sun Newspaper.
Jon Simonds “had a paragraph in the Village Voice once,” and has appeared in New York Newsday, The Bangor Daily News, The Cortland Home Journal, and a host of other lesser known publications. His collection of short stories, Brooklyn Encounters is equally enjoyable. Jon can be reached at email@example.com.
Since I read my first two or three Kurt Vonnegut books he has been one of the authors on my “desert island” list along with Twain, Dickens, Jenkins, Follett and a few others.
I almost ran into him in a supermarket one day and, although there are a lot of well known folks in my neighborhood many of whom I’ve chatted with on the street or in Riverside Park, I was struck dumb by this encounter with a literary hero. I have kicked myself numerous times for that missed opportunity. But I digress…
In Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle each chapter begins with an aphorism and (even though I’m not at all religious) one of them instantly welded itself to my brain:
Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.
This has become one of the guiding principles of my life. As a freelance film production guy and video shooter/editor I’ve been offered many strange gigs. Some were obvious no-way-Joses but many were borderline. Those were the ones to which I usually applied Kurt’s advice. And more often than not they proved to be of value, some even great.
I saved that single quotation in a document I titled. “A Teaching to Live By”. This was at least thirty-five (maybe more) years ago and from time to time I’d pick up another bit of advice or insight and the list title was pluralized to “Teachings to Live By”.
For a while I was immersed in the books of Robert Anton Wilson (The Illuminatus! Trilogy) and from one of those volumes I saved this book title “written” by one of his characters:
Never whistle while you’re pissing. – Hagbard Celine (Robert Anton Wilson)
I took this to be counsel against what has become known as multi-tasking. I’m an advocate of doing one thing at a time although I sometimes do go against my own (and Hagbards’s) advice.
This next one I use occasionally with colleagues. Even though nowadays when I’m working on a production I’m usually the director and the producer I surround myself with the best people I can get and value their opinions. Whenever one of them suggests a different way of approaching a challenge and sort of apologizes for disagreeing with me I quote a man who knows more about making movies than I ever will, John Frankenheimer, who said:
When two people agree about everything one of them is unnecessary.
As we all know our best laid plans and strategies run into unexpected barriers and snags and go afoul of reality. Calder Willingham (in his Little Big Man screenplay) provided a comment for that eventuality. When the old Indian decides that, “Today is a good day to die”, wraps himself in his blanket and lies down on a mountain … then wakes the next morning very much alive he says:
Sometimes the Magic works and sometimes it doesn’t.
Wisdom seems to run in the Vonnegut family since Kurt’s uncle Alex Vonnegut has said that:
When things are going really well we should be sure to notice it.
As you might have expected I have added some observations of my own to this list.
My old friend Jeff Siggins and I while on a car trip, stopped at a roadside spot to get some coffee. The lad who served us had at least a dozen metal studs and dangling doo-dads stuck in his face (nose, eyebrows, lips even his tongue) and one of us quipped, “You must have a rough time in a lightening storm.” To this the boy replied, “Huh?” This experience prompted me to create the “Siggins/Bryant Postulate”:
The intelligence of a human is observed to be inversely proportional to the number of metal objects imbedded in his/her face and tongue.
Three more bits of advice from my personal experience which are self-explanatory:
Never freeze your mayonnaise. (It gets lumpy.)
Never put your glasses in a place where someone may sit.
And this most recent one (which prompted this essay) and nearly ended in grievous bodily injury:
Never try to remove your shorts while wearing flip-flops.
Then there are these others that require no stories.
If you follow the herd you’ll end up stepping in shit. – Wayne Dyer
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance. – Ric Masten
It’s never crowded along the extra mile. – Fortune Cookie
Training a gorilla to spit is not worth the trouble. – Jodi Carrigan, (Lead keeper of primates at Zoo Atlanta)
Most of this world’s misery is the fruit not, as priests tell us, of wickedness but of stupidity. – Raphael Sabatini Scaramouche
I am too old to be ruled by fear of the dumb people. – Aaron Sorkin/“Charlie” on Newsroom
Of all the things I’ve ever lost I miss my mind the most. – Steven Tyler
And finally: Assumption is the Mother of all Fuckups. – Anonymous
If you have any bits of wisdom that you think may deserve being added to my list, please share.
# # #
Ben is the author of a memoir trilogy about his eclectic life as a small town boy from the south who grew up to become a successful actor/singer then a film producer/director/editor. His books and blog can be found at entertainmentbooksbyben.com, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.