After two stressful weeks for both of us, we ran away for two days and a night to a yurt in the Salinas Valley. We forgot our phones. Trouble seemed not to exist, or not to have followed us, like in these antique sentences from Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven: “The farmers at last lived prosperously and at peace. Their land was rich and easy to work. The fruits of their gardens were the finest produced in central California.”
He remembered he had a little pot on him, but it hardly seemed worth it. Every part of the landscape and sky—especially at night with stars multiplying and whining coyotes trotting somewhere in the distance—was like an outward expression of inner life.
While I shoot blanks and you age out, the complicated circus car chugs the ring, throwing up spare parts like ladies tossing underclothes over a boudoir screen.
In an epigram for you, my bride, my confidante, always the avid reader, Nabokov reminds us that the difference between the comic side of things and the cosmic side depends upon a single sibilant.
We’re standing in the aisles when our whey-faced planet, swathed in the Human Mop, goes whirring by, giving way to a gorilla named Peter the Great, his flatulent elephant filling the room after our planet’s sudden departure and, all but invisible to the naked eye, decked out in rococo tusks by happy-go-lucky prop men.
Soon the Buddhists are filing in and, in violation of the ground rules for any good walking meditation (silence!), talk about themselves in the third person.
Paul’s knocked off his mule on his way to Damascus and discovers God.
Because the comic side isn’t always funnier, flying men remind us, when we go through the air, to use our heads as a rudders.
Thank Steve I’m a funny writer; if not for him, my closest friend in life, I’d still be stuck in my old job, doctoring obits.
I can’t be funny.
On the road home, we train our gaze on the nighttime sky: Venus shines brightly just before the break of dawn, the Seven Sisters to close in on the red star Aldebaran.
Recounting to each other the death-defying acts we’ve witnessed, I joke that when I die you bury me with our ticket stubs.
Our old debate ensues: I say you’ll live longer and you remind me that mine are the genes of centenarians, and for the first time ever, you say in a way that reeks of codependence that you want to go first, because you can’t bear the thought of being alone.
If you do die first, I conjecture, it will be the most profound experience of my life.
Coming to light, the deep dark secret I might be happier on my own isn’t the only one I’m harboring: Every time the show gets over I never imagine the road home without you.
Some people enjoy the taste of Miracle Burgers. We speak now of the ahimsa crowd, who doesn’t wear a single strand of cow-leather, let alone cook a goose, swat a fly, or eat raw honey. A Miracle Burger is a meatless food item that tastes like venison. Its critics call it ‘an ultra-processed junk food.’ They wish to devalue, to de-popularize, and ultimately to drive it out of existence. They will do so, they claim, via a relentless word-of-mouth campaign. It doesn’t matter, though, if in fact it does taste like the real thing. If it’s delicious, nothing they can do will make a difference.
On opening day a boy much too young to be smoking tosses his half-smoked cigarette into a trashcan and enters the building. Once inside, he takes the elevator to the top floor, where everyone is waiting. When the elevator doors finally open, he heads straight for the stairwell and, running back down to where he came from, finds both the trashcan ablaze and the crowd he’d always imagined.
A mom and dad must take their son to New York for an experimental treatment for Ewing’s sarcoma. This big-tumor cancer has spread from his hip to his sinuses. The parents don’t know how to talk to him about his chances, and who can blame them? It’s the boy’s aunt with paint on her hands. She speaks to a blank canvas, soon a series of faces, soon a burgeoning picture called ‘Tell him and listen as he digests it.’
I do comedy because though I am rarely depressed I am always disappointed.
I do comedy because for my day job, a soul-less job, I manage a database.
I do comedy because my colorblindness causes mismatched outfits.
I do comedy because I am both avuncular and childless. Rather, my wife and I don’t have children, and I am uncle-like, and she is a hoarder.
I do comedy because my wife collects a lot of stuff but not enough for anyone to compare her to an installation artist like Robert Rauschenberg. She would first need to specialize in a medium like synthetic surfaces and then really put her mind to it.
I do comedy because on Saturday mornings, when my wife referees kids’ soccer games, she runs backwards with a whistle in her mouth as quickly as I can run forward.
I do comedy because my wife’s demand for a divorce is our in-joke. She doesn’t really want one. It’s just something she says. It’s funny. Freud tells us that a good joke reminds us of what we’re afraid of. I do comedy because my wife is an armchair Freudian.
I do comedy because I must clean the mirror in my bathroom every Saturday morning and again on a weekday. I sit on the toilet and, looking up from my book, say of every streak, ‘Not on my watch.’
I do comedy because I am horse-faced. One pokes fun at one’s own lantern jaws.
I do comedy because I suspect everyone of laughing at me. I respond to their laughter by getting out in front of it. Once you’re out in front of it, you can turn and face it head-on. You run backwards with it. You raise your hands as if in surrender and talk to it in forceful and lighthearted ways.
I do comedy because along with my colorblindness comes uncontrollable eye movements.
I do comedy because as a little boy and an older boy my mother couldn’t keep her hands off me until one day when I knocked her to the ground.
I do comedy because I see my mother once every other December.
I do comedy because I am incapable of keeping a secret. ‘Loose lips sink ships’ is the adage they used against me. It was always sexual to me. It was Helen of Troy and it wasn’t her mouth we were talking about.
I do comedy because my practice of prayer and meditation amounts to a few minutes of stillness followed like a kid by fidgeting.
I do comedy because as a child, before it was talked about, before social media provided virtual proving grounds to antagonists like mine, and before webinars showed parents and teachers true interventions, I was bullied. My bully, who shall remain nameless (Wexler), waits for me on the street corner I spend my energies circumnavigating. When he gets his hands on me, he will rub my face in the dirt. He will steal my money. He will call me a mamas’ boy and a faggot. He turns me into what they used to call a truant when, to stay in bed, you must convince your mother that you have a mysterious illness.
I do comedy because in middle age I wore braces. This is less about orthodontics and more about the poverty of my upbringing.
I do comedy because I cheat on my taxes. I cheat on my taxes because I’m not funny enough to be audited.
I do comedy because I am always on time and never a minute late. I have some serious questions for those who are always late.
I do comedy because I believe in angels. They arrive in time to help me with my punch lines. They are the source of my originality. In the guise of my sense of humor, they are my great defender.