I just ran across this essay in my documents folder on my computer. The create date says year 2011. It's now 2015. I don't recall writing it, and reading it was like listening to a fortune teller or astrologist as they reveal to you things about yourself and you say, "oh yes, mm hmm that's completely true, but I never thought of it before." (for the record, I don't believe in the aforementioned professions, but yes I've had "readings") I theorize that the inspiration to write it came after finding in a stack of old letters the "Chronicle" poems I'd written on the cardboard. Recently a cousin of mine told me that from knowing me as a kid, she never imagined then I'd turn out like I have. So it's not just my own perception that I changed. A change in the tone of my deeds soon matched the change of tone in my words. I can't imagine being anything other than I am now; I feel like I'm completely true to myself. But I wasn't always like this .....


Fifteen-Year Old Humor

I don’t know where this originally came from, some TV show or a magazine.  But when I was 15, I thought this was the absolute end-all of funniness.  There was nothing that could possibly be funnier:

“You may already be dead and not even know it.  Possible signs of death are:

1. Prolonged absence of physical activity.

2. Loss of appetite

3. Loss of sight and hearing

4. Relaxed attitudes about personal hygiene

5. Stiffness of joints and muscles

6. Inability to remember the first five signs

7. The unexplained presence of coins on your eyelids

Don’t be the last to know that you’re dead!  Read “So you’re dead.  Now what?”

Actually, I have to admit that #7 still makes me laugh.  I’m still giggling right now from having just typed it.  This might sound strange, but I don’t really remember having much of a sense of humor before I was 15.  It seems like that would be the kind of thing somewhat inherent in one’s personality from long before then.  But truly, I have no idea what kinds of things I thought were funny before that age, except for Pink Panther movies.  If I think of myself before 15, I come up with activities I did and friends I had and psychological pains I suffered, but nothing at all comes to mind about a sense of humor.  I’d only recently, at 15, gathered a real sense of fun at that time, or the sense of fun that I have now, anyway (which is generally considered by others to be extremely childish, very adventurous and high on the kooky scale).

I was, frankly, a blob.  There’s a song by They Might Be Giants which is approximately 8 seconds long with the lyrics:  “What’s that blue thing doing here?”  And I have a sense that before about age 15, anyone who discovered me standing in their midst was startled at suddenly seeing me there, and wondered, what’s that girlish thing doing here?  I was a very silent person.  The few people who wrote in my yearbooks until then all, almost without exception, wrote the same horridly sickening phrases, “You are so sweet.”  “You’re the sweetest person I know.”  “You are such a sweet thing.”  “You are a sweetie.”  Aack!  Like, gag me with a spoon.  Sweet is a euphemism for blob.  I.e., “you are so boring,” “you’re the vaguest person I know,” “you are a big blue blob,” “do I know you?”

Around age 15, I seem to have discovered just how much I like to laugh.  From then on, people wrote things like, “Your laughter is infectious.”  “Thanks for laughing at all of my dumb jokes.”  “Your joyful laughter …”  “I love the way you laugh.”  I used to have this particular sound I would make when I was in hysterics that put everyone else into hysterics.  I don’t have that sound anymore, I just get to where I can’t breathe and feel like I’m going to die.

So how and why did I rather suddenly acquire this light heart?  I was like the Grinch, whose heart grew two sizes in one day.  I started writing my own magazine when I was 12 or 13.  I had exactly two subscribers:  my mom and my dad.  They paid their subscription fees on time, and their issues of Sunrise to Sunset arrived on the kitchen table.  The articles were the fruits of my research into our set of encyclopedias or various magazines or library resources.  I did this completely for the heck of it, because I’m such a nerd that I read encyclopedias recreationally.  So the articles were all very informative, and then there would be one page where I made up crossword puzzles and word games for the subscribers to play.

But in the last 1984 issue (a few months yet before I turned 15), I published an article titled, “Food:  The Unknown Aliens.”  Now, I’m not necessarily claiming this is actually funny, but it marks the first time I can remember writing something to entertain myself humorously.  I remember sitting at the electric typewriter in the basement laughing and laughing, and my mom would come down and ask what I was laughing about and I’d say, “Oh, nothing.”  So here is an excerpt from this article:

“You thought refried beans were so good, and even nutritious.  Ha!  Food scienticians at Howes Food and Mouthwash Laboratory for food and mouthwash studies, have discovered the real truth.  These beans are really Neptunians who fled from the planet Neptune to Earth after the Bean Father died and the wicked Bean the II Father took over.  These beans meant to fly to Saturn because it was the Saturners who were to blame for the Bean Father’s death.  Somehow on their way to Saturn, where they planned to be food and give gas to the Saturners, they got a little off course and landed on Earth, which they thought was Saturn.”

So, OK, the humor is dubious.  In each of the next two issues of Sunrise to Sunset, there were follow-up articles.

“The scienticians have not yet succeeded in communicating with the Neptunians to tell them they are on the wrong planet.  And now, a new, shocking discovery has been discovered.  Lima beans, yes lima beans!  They have been discovered to be little Plutons from the planet Pluto!  They ride in their spaceships, which are hollowed out squashes, and shoot zucchini at the earth …”

“Now we have discovered the real truth in, yes, you always knew there was something wrong with it didn’t you, the dreaded – sauerkraut!  … Those nasty little strings of sauerkraut  are really no relation at all to cabbage, rather, they are Jupiterisms!  ‘No!’ you say.  Yes, the truth has just been revealed!  Stunning, ain’t it. … These little Jupiterisms are on a mission from the reigning king of Jupiter, Juperus.  They are being flown from their little airport in Jupiterite in their spaceships here to Earth.  Once here, they seek to destroy the human mind.  Their target:  food tasting senses.  The reason?  Well, it’s really an economic reason …”

The Jupiter piece was quite involved with a complex, crafty plot of blackmail by the Jupiterisms who were running short of money on their home planet.  I don’t know if you caught this, but there is a subtle growing of confidence in my humor, with the increase in melodramatic personal interjections.  In the first piece, my only comment is “Ha!”  In the next I take on a sort of parodied 1950s news-reporter tone with the likes of, “Lime beans, yes lima beans!”  And the last article is rife with my little melodramatic comments, made as if I know for a fact that the reader will find this all terribly amusing.

I wasn’t known for much before I was 15.  There were no escapades of infamy, no incidents so large that they became named “the such and such incident,” no references to “the year I did this or that.”  All that started when I stepped foot into high school as a sophomore.  The summer of that year, before school started, was the last backpacking trip that all of my family went on together—me, my brother, my dad and mom, and the dog.  We went to Mosquito Lake somewhere in the high mountains of Wyoming.  We got lost, and that was it for my mom.  She’d suffered along through the years for the sake of us kids and the family experience, but we were old enough then we didn’t need the family experience any more.  The rest of us continued through the years backpacking without her.  That was also it for the dog.  Our trusty family dog had died recently, and this was our new little sheltie.  He was a cute booger, but didn’t take to the trail at all like Pep did.  My brother, in great annoyance, had to pick the skittish dog up in his arms and carry him across the rivers.

So we got lost, but my dad came through as always.  It wasn’t really a big deal because we had a week’s worth of food and supplies even if we weren’t at the lake where we wanted to be.  But we found our way to the lake by nightfall anyway.  The whole time we were there, a number of days, it rained incessantly.  My dad and brother fished all day in vain, the fish just weren’t biting.  Those two can fish from sunup to sundown, but I tire of it after awhile.  And when I have to dig the hooks out myself, I actually become afraid of catching a fish, having to wrestle with its freezing cold, slimy, stinky, suffocating body.  If I get a bite, I yank up hard on the line hoping to pull it out of the fish’s mouth before the hook can imbed itself.  “I had a bite!” I’d yell over to my dad, “but she got away.”  And my dad would send across his genuine disappointment and condolences.

I found a little cave in the rockfall around the lake, made by the way several large boulders had fallen against each other.  I sat in there out of the rain all afternoon one day.  And I wrote poetry on the inside of a cardboard granola bar box with a half-sized pencil my dad found in his pack.  At the campfire that night I told the family that I’d spent the day composing poetry, and would they like to hear my compositions?  My mom and dad smiled perkily, why yes they would love to hear what I wrote.  They had high expectations, me being an A+ student in all of my English classes and breaking school records in science test scores, and writing my own magazines for kicks.  My brother looked gloomy, like he hoped a spark would jump the fire ring and burn off his ears. And so I began in a somber, Shakespearian tone:


The Rain Chronicles

Bad and Worse

Rain isn’t pleasant

Neither is the cold

But lima beans are worse

Especially if they’re old.


Too Bad

Plip plop pleep

Wet are my feet

Pitter patter plot

I have no dry sock.


A Psychological Look at the Effects of Rain on the Human Facial Network

Rain is falling down

And it makes me frown.


Clothes in the Rain

Mother’s socks are in the rain

Brother’s pant might have a stain

Father’s pancho is getting wet

I have a kitty for a pet.


I Have a Brain

I see a patch of snow

Do you know how I know?

I know ‘cause I can see,

I have that ability.

I can smell and taste and touch,

And hear when someone’s near,

‘Cause I was in the brain line

When brains were given out

Instead of getting a snout.


Rain

Rain, rain

Rain makes us wet

Rain makes the fur damp

On our family pet.


Perhaps it was the lack of all other forms of entertainment—with the cloud cover there weren’t even any stars to look at or satellites to track across the sky—but my family giggled and guffawed and slapped their knees.  The stupidity was hilarious to all of us. The laugh I remember most is my brother’s from the sheer surprise of it. Egged on, the next day I found another scrap of material to write on and continued.

 

The Fish Chronicles

Not Too Exciting

Here it’s not too exciting

‘Cause the fish in here aren’t biting.


Walter

There once was a fish we named Walter

Who hid under rocks in the water

We threw out our line

And each called “he’s mine”

But Walter just stayed under water.

We went to a lake with no bay

And tried to catch Walter one day

But Walter would die

Before biting our fly

So we let Walter get away.

See the clouds moving in the sky

See Walter and wonder why

He won’t bite our grub or fly.


Herb

Fish is a noun

Not biting is a verb

Big is an adjective

And that describes Herb.


Jim

There was a fish in a lake

Who wanted to try something new

So he bit the grub

On the line of you-know-who,

So Doug reeled him in

Then I named him Jim.

 

How much longer can I go on? you ask.  Well, I went on and on to the point where not only were the poems themselves the pinnacle of stupidity but the sheer volume of stupid poems was stupid in and of itself.

 

A Pet Gnat

The sky is blue

The grass is green

My favorite vegetable

Is not a bean.

And did you know

Jack Sprat’s wife would eat no lean?

I wonder why.

What could that mean?

But people are strange

And that’s a fact.

I once knew a guy who had a pet gnat.

Each day he’d dress it and take it for a walk

Until one day a piece of chalk

Killed his poor pet gnat.

Now no one knows where the old man’s at

But people say he got a new pet gnat

And is living happily with his uncle and aunt.


The Expected Last Line

I am sitting on a rock

By a warm and cozy fire,

I sit and watch the smoke

As is rises higher and higher.

Now in just a minute

I will eat some nice hot soup,

And after I am finished

I will probably have to ……

… pull a sweat jacket on.

 

Oh, we laughed and laughed.  There were many more poems than these.  After each one, the family seemed to expect that that was the end of the goofiness, that now I would read the real poems I wrote.  But every time it was something ridiculous, and it just became funnier and funnier.  That was the first thing I was really “known for”—the Rain Chronicles.  We all referred to me as the great poet.

So my first tangible sense of humor was the sense of silliness.  I began doing and saying things that were just plain silly with a genuine enjoyment in them.  It was a very innocent sort of humor.  I still have this sense of humor but I now also equally have a very dark sense of humor—I make and laugh at jokes about even the most brutal subjects.  God help me, I find South Park hilarious.

OK, but here’s the shtick of the whole thing –

**

 

That’s where the essay ends. Did it end there intentionally? I have no idea. I have no idea what I thought the shtick of the whole thing is (or if I was even being serious that there was one). It’s interesting to read an insight I had into myself at one point about which I have not thought of since. But it rings 100% true as I read it now. Maybe I’m the only one who finds this remotely interesting since it’s about me. A lot of people tell me they really like my “voice” on my travel blog. It’s just me spouting off the top of my head most of the time, with undoubtedly poor grammar; I don’t think of myself as having a particular voice (I think I have a particular style in writing literary essays, but that’s different than voice), but it seems that others do. Now that I’ve just watched the whole TV series of the adaptation of the books, Jeeves and Wooster, I will probably start interjecting a lot Jeeves-esque phrasing because I found it highly amusing. The only other thing I'll add is that coinciding with the words and deeds, I also began trying to overcome my debilitating shyness. It had been like a prison to me and I wanted to break free. I think, overall, I've done a pretty good job at tunneling into freedom.

*


Read more Stray Thoughts