On the Periphery

Things change. Life throws us curves and changeups. It's good to have a place to vent.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

My writing students were appalled when I was grossly overcharged for some auto work. We got off track in class, and started trading stories about fixing cars (many of them are mechanics--it's a tech college), and they demanded I write the story about the time I "tucked in" my first car.

It was a very cold day in central Illinois, and my 1968 VW bug was chugging as I went to work. There, thinking to hold in whatever engine heat I could, I wrapped a big pink felt blanket over the engine and went in, confident my engine at least wouldn't freeze.

After work, I was supposed to be presiding over a local junior high school drama club, so I jumped in the car without thinking, started the engine, and began backing up. The car stopped dead.

I ran to see what was wrong and was greeted by the sight of my pink blanket, which had been sucked into the mechanism, woven throughout the engine. Thinking quickly (or really not thinking, as I was in shock--I had wrecked my engine!) I ran into my office and borrowed some tools from the custodian. I then proceeded to pull parts of the engine off, piece by piece, as I yanked out whatever blanket I could, snipping off bits at a time, working my way through the engine. I removed belts and pullies and whatever else looked like it could be easily dislodged. After I got the (now shredded) blanket completely out, I put everything back the way it was. (I had laid it all out on a towel in the snow in the order in which I had removed it.) I returned the tools, turned on my engine, and got to Drama Club just as the kids were giving up and leaving.

I ran the car for another two years after that--without any further engine work needing to be done. Needless to say, I never tucked in my engine again.

God, the good old days/cars! I wouldn't try that again! What is a fuel injector anyway?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I cannot tell a joke to save my life. In fact, no one in my family can--we are missing the gene that regulates the ability to set up and tell specific jokes. We invariably forget to give some vital detail, or mix up or telegraph the punchline. Or we forget everything but the punchline, or even the punchline itself! My mother, especially was famous for going on and on, painfully trying to reconstruct a joke's narrative, while we stood there, like gapers at an accident, appalled by the horror but unable to look away. Unfortunately, my husband's family also lacks this gene, and we have passed the ignoble trait on to our sons. And, as like attracts like, I'm afraid my daughter-in-law is cut from the same cloth. My future grandchildren are doomed.

But that's not to say we're not funny people--when we get together, we crack each other up. Constantly. We all have very sharp, yet very warped senses of humor, and our general conversation is filled with witticisms, puns, and hilarious retorts, all punctuated by raucous laughter.

Why is it so hard to tell a plain, ordinary joke? I have studied, taught, and participated in drama my entire life, and I understand the principles for effective joke-telling. I have directed comedies where I am able to pinpoint the timing and inflection necessary in funny lines and can instruct actors how to maximize their impact, yet I myself cannot tell a joke without sounding like my mind is oatmeal.

My great-uncle was a vaudeville comedian, telling jokes on the same circuit as his friend, Jack Benny. Benny once suggested to Uncle Ned that as a comedian, he was a great insurance salesman. He took the hint and left the stage behind. And he was a great insurance salesman. He made his clients laugh, he made his friends laugh, he made his family laugh, just by being who he was: a funny guy who couldn't tell a joke.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

It sucks to get old. This was brought home to me the other night in class. I'm taking this awesome (do people still say that? I'm so out of touch) class on Writing Humor, and a fellow classmate had turned it a hilarious essay about a game called Halo2. The game sounded so preposterous, I automatically assumed she was making it all up--after all, it was ridiculous, right? So we were critiquing, and everyone was talking about how she captured the feeling of the game--and I said, "Wait, you mean this is a real game? Seriously?" Everyone laughed, but the instructor (who is at least 10 years younger than I) made some comments about writing for an audience, and it was all good. Still, I felt ridiculous.

I think I got revenge this week, however. We are reading a piece on Keith Richards, and I am pretty sure most of the people in my class will either have to look him up or will miss some of the subtle references within the piece--references I get because I actually lived through the time, and Richards' memories are part of mine as well.

Yeah, it sucks to be old. Still, it all evens out in the end.