Take No Chances

Harry Drabik

Being amusing or at least somewhat entertaining was a childhood and youth survival strategy. If others thought you funny (odd counts) they might observe without ripping off your legs and arms; fate of many a daddy long legs. As patter and chatter becomes your friend it’s incorporated into your personality and can pop up suddenly and sometimes regrettably as in making jokes in a solemn situation. (Funny isn’t valued at a relative’s funeral until after the internment at a family gathering when relations, as mine did, got themselves well potted.)

Once connected to the comic habit you’ll make many a sorry jest; some will say those dominate. Devout followers of Ha-Ha are not stopped by failure and will march on thinking that someplace at some point in time someone will see hilarity in Henry VIII having six wives but only five letters. (I’m wrong, aren’t I?)  

I can attest it’s a minority of folk who are amused being led (I was titular boss so they had not much choice) at a July 02 luncheon in a remembrance of Amelia Earhart. I wasn’t present on July 02 37 either, but it was amusing to see a room full of people observe something for which none of us had much clue. That’s funny isn’t it? (Well could be wrong I suppose. But I believe a really bad joke can be extraordinarily funny.)  

Of course it’s nice if the victims laugh. In most of my vocational activities a stock of spirit lifting or tension relieving jests was essential. A goofy tale doesn’t make you feel any warmer during a chilly rain when all your canoes are beached, but it offers an improvement in mood.

But you, dear Reader readers, I hope sense the difficulty converting spoken humor into equal amusement in writing. Not long ago I had some persons (use of that term says something doesn’t it) suggest I write up some things. How kind of them to ask, and how easy. But it would make as much sense to say “Here’s metal and stuff, can you make an internal combustion engine for us/” I could but I won’t. Oral humor is better heard than read. That’s just the way it is.

Mark Twain came close as any I know to catching sound and putting it to paper. But facing a class of all knowing fifteen year olds it was necessary to repeatedly remind them to read Twain with their ears. The look on their faces is to be cherished.  

Oral history, tales, and jests all have voice. (I don’t think this comes across as clearly for those who write with their thumbs, but it’s entirely possible they hear a voice, too, as they produce.) Accent and ethnic characteristics are challenging to put on paper, especially knowing that in the wings are flocks of unseen dear ones waiting to come out prepared to feast on offense.

Seeing as humor is almost bound to offend there’s nothing for it but to go forward offending, and I don’t mean profanity, the big gun of the wit impaired who hope a shock tactic makes up for what’s not there. It doesn’t.

Loudly repeating profanity doesn’t add much either, no more than “very, very, very-very, VERY” does. Would a few more very be of help?  

Local color or character tales can be done in writing with attention given to the setting as a way of somewhat making up for the story’s voice. Maybe like this. – At the turn of the past century successful Americans often made a world tour, sometimes known as the grand tour, by ship. We have such a gentleman with wife and family on the other side of the globe when he’s given a telegram sent by radio from home. The telegram is from an undertaker informing him that Mrs. Smith, his mother in law has recently passed and the funeral home, knowing the family is unable to return any time soon, asks for instructions. Should Mrs. Smith be embalmed and buried or cremated? The gentleman’s telegram in reply gets to the point. “EMBALM, CREMATE, AND BURY. TAKE NO CHANCES.”  

Whether you appreciate the jest or not, a sense of time and place come across and I’m willing to bet you know the personal relationship between Mrs. Smith and the gentleman. I’d wager as well most of us don’t see the last three words until they hit. That’s a good thing in a joke. Of course it’s better when heard, but don’t call me to tell it, OK?  

Take no chances seems a fit theme for virus time when the wish for no risk (for safety) points the compass needle at an extreme pole. We can (I know I do) laugh at the gentleman because we each know about how easily levels rise to extremes. Forty years ago now I worked a place where head lice appeared.

I’d posit all our ancestors had these and many other forms of guest on and in them. But in 1980 head lice in a school came off like the Black Death. Groups of people stayed home. Braver ones wore shower caps. Personal distances of 10 feet were preferred based on the rumor our lice could jump that far, presumable hungry and steroid boosted. Taking no chances is a strategy, but near impossible to live because there’s ever a chance of something unexpected that can’t be prepared for. Are you ready for the worst? I’m not.  

Not being ready is par, something handled with a sense of humor about not being able to be THAT ready for come what may. Whether a dead in law or the common louse our species finds and has much to laugh over. I have Canadian friends who refused the cross the border after 2016. I don’t have to say why, do I? Seemingly reasonable folk can fear there’s something catchy in the wind. At least you and I don’t have to fret over breezes of human dumbness infecting us from the north.

Happily, I hope, we know dumb thinking recognizes no border, respects no age, sex, or ethnicity. Our stupidity is everywhere at all times, limitless as the universe; greater than gods, devils, genius, or technology.