These are difficult times. More reason than ever to ease up and have a good laugh
By Clyde Edgerton
In a small town stands a stucco building with two signs out front, one large, one small.
The large sign: Juanita’s Veterinary and Taxidermy Shop.
The small sign: Either Way You Get Your Cat Back.
Humor sometimes is forced to the backseat during this age of monster hurricanes, deadly drugs, poverty, wasteful wealth, anxiety, senseless car deaths, gun deaths, higher suicide rates, declining lifespans … WHOA! STOP!
Are the times really that bad? Or are the times being covered in such depth with penetrating media platforms, social and otherwise, that we just think times are worse than ever?
I mean, we at least got past the Middle Ages.
Answer: The times really are that bad . . . and there may be small, smooth ways to move, in your head, against bad times. To find a kind of comfort, a kind of distance from the noise.
Humor lightens the load. In some cases, humor close to home, maybe in the neighborhood.
A man who happens to be blind stands on the corner at Market and Third. His Seeing Eye dog is peeing on his leg. The man is trying to feed his dog a Fig Newton. A woman across the street sees what’s happening, checks for traffic, walks over and says, “Excuse me, sir, did you know your dog was peeing on your leg?”
“Yep,” says the man.
“Well,” says the woman, “why are you trying to feed your dog a Fig Newton?”
The man says, “When I find his head, I’m gonna kick his ass.”
A small funny story (except to the dog, perhaps).
A different kind of entertainment tends to come from other places, from big obscene movie stories, for example — stories with blazing killer weapons and blatant blasts of blood. These movies seem to compete with our big crazy times, and maybe that’s why fans flock to them. These movies seem to say, “The world is getting crazier and uglier and more violent, and thus citizens deserve crazier and uglier and more violent movies. We are keeping up with the times.”
But crazy times also create the need for us to find more little stories from our own neighborhoods and communities. Sit on your front porch for a while. Watch. Listen. Talk to a neighbor.
Go buy some honey, see what happens.
Recently, a friend said he’d take me to a home where I could buy some good honey. He was a regular visitor. He knocks on the door to a sun porch. Somebody says, “Come in.” Inside, an elderly woman (about my age) is sitting at a small table, putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Her husband is sitting on a couch across the room. I and the couple are introduced, we shake hands. My friend and I take seats, and I ask about the puzzle — something to talk about before I buy some honey.
“Oh, yeah,” says the woman, “I do a lot of puzzles. I’ve probably done a hundred this year.”
I look at her husband, sitting quietly on the couch, and ask him, “Do you do puzzles, too?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, slowly. “If we didn’t have puzzles, we wouldn’t have nothing to do.”
That was not an answer I could make up or find in a joke book, but for me (as a writer) it was golden — a little local story I’ve been telling my friends and have now written down.
Put the news aside. Talk to a neighbor. Discover a joke, a little story. Fight the bad times that way. Dismiss the cellphone and computer and TV for hours at a time. Hang on to the humor. Put some peanut butter on a piece of toast, add a little honey, go sit on the porch. Watch, listen. Find a story.
Clyde Edgerton is the author of 10 novels, a memoir and most recently, Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers. He is the Thomas S. Kenan III Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at UNCW.