Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Whistling while the world crumbles

   The Dow plunges 2,000 points. The scary new plague spreads. The president is still an idiot.
   So why do I feel like grabbing a bamboo cane, leaping up so quick the office chair shoots out from under me, holding the cane horizontal in both hands, smiling broadly and breaking into a little soft-shoe, whistling?
    Doo, tah-doo, tah-doodily-doo, tah-doo....
    Maybe it is the nature of the comedian. What else am I supposed to do? Issue stock advice? Buy low sell high. List sensible health precautions? Wash your hands for two minutes in hot lye. Identify and condemn specific presidential lies? There's one and there's one and there's one. Bad! Bad! Bad!
     No, this is a time for pratfalls and pies in the puss. Which can be hard to achieve on the written page. One seltzer bottle is worth a thousand words. But serious times call for unserious measures. Always have. Inmates did joke in Auschwitz, you know (not that they were particularly funny jokes; I've tracked them down. At least not funny today. Much dark political humor that's hard to scan, what with translation and the passage of time. Then again, comedy is always situation specific).
     And I say that, knowing that people are suffering. Which is okay, because I'm not making fun of them—those losing big bucks on the stock swoon (and even if I were, heck, I'm among them, so I get the victim's Get-Out-Jail Free card). And while I am not dying of coronavirus, it could yet happen. That could  be me in a few months, and I hope if that is the case, I have the presence of mind to pull the oxygen mask slightly away from my face, and rasp at my wife, "You know ... if you'd let me drink myself to death ... I could have been spared this agony."
     As for Trump, ridicule is pointless: it bounces off him, and merely puzzles his followers. If you are so lost to reason as to think "Donald Trump" is the answer to, well, anything at all, then what good is satire, high or low, going to do? Not much. It's like shouting Latin insults at plants.
     Yes, there is privilege floating around somewhere here. I am not poor, or sick, or directly harmed by Donald Trump, beyond the harm of seeing a nation that I love laid low and shamed, and my fellow citizens, whom I really do try to understand and respect, establish themselves as credulous dupes and groveling lackeys who'll let themselves be defrauded, eyes open, and betray their country if some demagogue throws their particular fixation a biscuit? Or even if he promises to do so then doesn't.
    So sure, I can smile at the world falling apart in big pieces, since none of those chunks have hit me yet. One glancing blow and all amusement will drain away. Grim-jawed, I'll join the candlelight vigil in Daley Plaza, wearing a sandwich sign declaring whatever particular wrong lodged itself under my fingernail. I guess that's human nature. 


  1. That's a good way to deal with things.

  2. I always thought it was Bert Lahr's recipe for getting off stage, but Mr. Google reminds me it was Chuckles the Clown, in the funniest episode in TV sitcom history: "A little song; a little dance; a little seltzer down your pants."


  3. Love the "...if you'd only let me drink myself to death." A lot of us would have been spared a great deal of agony had we been allowed to drink ourselves to death, an early death preferably.


  4. Timely EGD for me today. Had an unsatisfactory encounter with a Trump functionary yesterday and looked for relief on the web. A regular go-to, Rachel Price and Lake Street Dive failed to soothe. I needed something stronger. Denis Leary ripping off Bill Hicks seemed appropriate but only stoked my anger. Groucho and WC Fields didn't seem strong enough so I chose Jim Jeffries instead. A healthy dose of profanity and railing against religious dogma was just right and I slept soundly in my righteousness. Made the mistake this morning of starting to read Chris Hedges's "American Facists" and I am seeing dark clouds again in these Florida skies.

  5. Doo, tah-doo, tah-doodily-doo, tah-doo...

    Of course. The old soft shoe routine, done to the music of "Tea For Two." Recognized it right away. God, I'm SO old. That's why this virus scares me. If I were in my twenties or thirties, I'd shrug it off. But instead, I'm ready to start hoarding Spam and toilet paper, and cocoon with the TV and the computer for the duration, and try to keep calm while carrying on. England, 1940.

    "Sick" humor didn't start in the Fifties or the Sixties with Lenny Bruce. Nazi death-camp "jokes" must have put his "shtick" to shame. I imagine time has taken some of the "bite" out of that barracks humor, and they probably don't translate easily into English. Probably a lot more political humor than sarcasm. Not too many lines like "Nu, if you try to go out of the barracks to smoke, you'll end up BECOMING smoke." Or "Who's that in the ashtray?" humor. I have to imagine that their jokes wouldn't sell in book form, or travel well. Like the old line goes, I guess you had to be there.

    If I'm burnt toast by June or July, I hope I can remember to say "I could have avoided all this if I hadn't quit smoking cold turkey at 45." The old vaudeville troupers advised: "Always leave 'em laughing." And one of them also said "There are no new jokes--just new audiences."


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