Why I Would Rather Try To Find The Funny Than The Meaning Of Life

Sir Loin of Beef

Sir Loin of Beef

Some look at life’s journey as a pitched battle, and some as a noble quest. Either way, a smart knight should be prepared for the dragons he or she is bound to encounter along the way. My weapon of choice is a feather duster.

It has only snowed once so far this weird winter.  I took advantage of the unlooked for boon of ice-free roads here in the country last week and went for a walk.  My mood was somber as I set off down the road, well bundled against the bracing cold.  I needed the lift that nature always gives me because I felt lower than I have felt in a long time.

I was thinking about my dear cousin, Moe. She’s experimenting with multiple chemo treatments, locked in mortal combat with the cancer that has spread despite her efforts. We recently learned that her husband, Paul, a great guy and one of the funniest people I know, has been struck with a serious, as-yet-undiagnosed neuromuscular disease.

I thought about my beloved sister, Lib. She has been living with a brain tumor for more than 3 years and a couple of new, small spots showed up on her latest scan. She started a course of more aggressive chemo last month.

My mind raced ahead of my brisk steps as I grappled with this question: why do such things have to happen?  What does it all mean?

I saw a dark something at the side of the road up ahead at the turn off to a small, grassy lane. When I got close enough I could see that it was a puppy, and he was dead.

He was black with long legs and brown paws that looked too big for his body, gangly the way growing puppies get. He had no obvious injuries and was curled up in a ball as if asleep. I bent down and watched for long moments, hoping, but, no – he was dead. I don’t know if he had been hit by a car, if he froze to death, or if somebody tossed him to the side of the road. I suppose it didn’t matter.

It was too much. It was all too much, and I started to cry.

I straightened and walked away from the little dog, veering onto the side lane. “Why?” I cried out to the still, solitary fields around me. “Why does it have to be like this? Why is life so hard?” Tears filled my eyes and spilled down my icy cheeks. I was blinded as I lifted my face in anguish to the bright, cold sky. Then I tripped over a toilet.

This is not a metaphor.

Some nature lover had dumped a (presumably) used toilet at the side of the private lane, not 20 feet away from the puppy. It could have been the same dip-wad for all I knew.

The exquisite absurdity of the situation struck me as I lay on the frozen ground. Here I was, working myself up to the finale of A Grand Scene, played for an audience of none, full of I’m-ready-for-my-close-up-Mr.-DeMille high drama and instead, I get knocked on my bum. It seemed life had cast me, not as Norma Desmond, but as one of the Keystone Cops.

I started to snigger.

I thought about an incident Moe had related along with her latest, lousy medical news. How she and Paul had been talking quietly in bed about their problems and he turned to her solemnly and said, “Well, at least we still have our health.”

I started to laugh.

I thought about an inside joke that Lib and I have shared since her diagnosis, a recycled gag about what is funny and what’s not. We deliver the lines together in a sing-song voice: “Cancer… not funny. Dead puppies… not funny.”

That schtick ran through my head and the timing of it, the absolute rightness of it right here and now, set me off even more. I was still crying, but now the tears were from laughter.

I believe in God. I believe that this life is just a prelude to the next, and what happens to us there is determined by what we do here. Maybe you believe likewise – I hope you have the comfort of faith – but maybe you don’t.  Perhaps you figure that this go-round is all we get. Whatever you believe, my point is this:

We don’t get to know.

We ponder, we anguish, we reason, we work and we pray but in this life, on this earth, some things can’t be fixed, and we don’t get to know why or what it means.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try – Lord, no. I’m firmly behind the seekers, the dreamers and doers looking for answers in medicine, theology and other fields, even if much of that effort turns out to be tilting at windmills.

I’m not smart enough to contribute anything to such noble quests.  One thing I can do, however, is laugh. It helps.

Everyone has a cross to bear in life.  Some are obvious, and some are hidden, but everyone carries one.   A smile, a giggle, or a deep, belly laugh is a little bit of grace that lightens the load, if only a smidgen, if only for a short while. I believe that sharing that grace, helping other people to find the funny, is a noble thing.  Yes, I said that. It’s sappy and schmaltzy and I mean it.   Humor, if not at someone else’s expense, is a good thing and the world needs a whole, hell of a lot more of it.

Let’s lighten up.  Let’s give ourselves permission to laugh, even when times are tough, and let’s pass it on. We’ll never know when a shared smile will come just in the nick of time for someone else whose burden has become too heavy.

Life is full of fire-breathing dragons. We can’t slay them all, but maybe we can tickle some of them into submission.

Posted in Cancer Schmancer, General Ramblings | Tagged , , , , , , | 437 Comments

Last Minute Gift Ideas To Keep You From Being Ebenezer Screwed

Christmas time is here again.  Tis the season for celebrating old traditions.  Around this blog, that means dusting off posts of Christmas past, posts that are staler than re-gifted fruitcake.  Enjoy. 

Bah humbug!

Bah humbug!

Christmas is only a couple of days away.  The cards are written, the presents are bought, wrapped and under the tree, and now everyone can sit back and enjoy the season.

Everyone except you.

You haven’t done anything to get ready.  You have no presents, no ideas and no money again this year.   You’re basically screwed, right?


Don’t despair!  You don’t have have to spend Christmas in the doghouse, just because you’re lazy and broke.  Borrow some of these last minute gift ideas:

1)      For the book lover:  Does someone on your gift list always have his or her nose in a book?  Have you priced hardcovers lately?  They can be $30 and up – ridiculous!  Trot down to the local library, check out the newest bestseller and wrap it up.  When the recipient opens your gift and looks bewildered, start on a long-winded diatribe about what an outrageous assault on the environment it is to cut down defenseless trees for books, and the importance of sharing resources.  Add a bit about the great history of Carnegie libraries in America and by the end of your presentation the book lover will be feeling vaguely guilty for ever having bought one.  Be a Christmas angel and remind the recipient they’ll incur overdue fines after 2 weeks, so they should read fast!

2)      For the wine lover:  With your Annie Green Springs tastes, you have neither the budget nor the knowledge to please a true wine connoisseur.  Don’t even try.  Take a card and write, “Here’s a little something to toast the season”.  Wrap up a box containing …2 pieces of dry toast.  I suggest using whole wheat bread since wine snobs also tend to be health food snobs.  They’ll look like poor sports if they even hint that they would prefer a real gift to your clever gag. (Thrifty suggestion: Cut a square of wrapping paper, fold in half and use this as a card.  You can write on the inside and it matches the package for an expensive, coordinated look.)

3)      For that special woman:  Is there anything a woman loves more than a truly spectacular piece of expensive jewelry?  Since THAT’s not going to happen this Christmas, you can still score points by hitting her other hot button: a love of schmaltzy romance.  Just write in a card, “You own the key to my heart.”  Wrap up a small, jewelry-sized box in which you’ve placed…a key.  Any old key will do –could be the key to your locker at the gym.   Make sure it’s not your car key, though, as it might be awkward to have to ask for it back at the end of the evening.

4)      For your kid:  Every parent has experienced this.  You get your kid a Suzy Homemaker kitchen, or Little Tykes workbench and they run right by the big, expensive toy to play with the box.  Encourage their creative spirit with an Imagination Kit: an assortment of cardboard boxes, rolling paper and toilet paper tubes, rubber bands and other stuff that you have around the house.  Pontificate about the importance of creative play, developing building and imagination skills and getting back to basics.  This will confuse the in-laws so they can’t be sure if you really believe all that stuff, or you’re just a cheap Scrooge.

5)      For the kid’s teacher:  Teachers get so much lame junk: ornaments, bubble bath and candles, they could open a gift store.  What do they really, really want?  Some relief from the unrelenting torment of having little monsters like your kid in their class.  Make up several coupons “Good for one day without Johnny”.  On days when your offspring has been acting even more like the spawn of Satan than usual, Teacher can send one of the coupons home with the kid.  You promise to keep him home “sick” the next day, thereby giving Teacher a much-needed break.  Be careful not to give so many coupons that all his days off catch the attention of the health department or truancy officer.

6)      For the brother-in-law:  Your lush of a brother-in-law is always getting in trouble with the po-lice.  What a hoot when he opens your gift in front of the whole family to reveal a stack of “get out of jail free” cards, taken from a Monopoly game.  Even funnier if you could be be there when he tries to use one when he gets stopped, weaving down the road on the way home from the family party.

7)      For your pets:  What dog doesn’t love a rousing game of “fetch”?  Simply gather up a couple of sticks (not too fat), about 1-1/2 feet long, and tie them up with a jaunty, red ribbon.   For the cat, smush a page from the Sunday funnies into a ball, wrap in twine or rubber bands, and you’re ready for hours of pouncing play.  (These also make thoughtful gifts for the dog or cat lover on your list.)

With my helpful hints, a little bit of cleverness can take the place of true thoughtfulness, money and any real effort on your part.

Merry Christmas, and good luck!

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Wal-Mart, The Christmas Play

Christmas time is here again.  Tis the season for celebrating old traditions.  Around this blog, that means dusting off posts of Christmas past, posts that are staler than re-gifted fruitcake.  Enjoy. 

The Wal-Mart Christmas Musical

Thanks to People of Wal-Mart for the raw footage.

The entire play takes place in a Super Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon during the busy, holiday shopping season.  Here’s the story in a nutshell:

Our heroine is a young ingenue who looks almost exactly like me.    She has been sprinkled with holiday cheer fairy-dust and sent on a quest in the Land of Wal-Mart.  She must find another strand of the same brand of lights she bought last year, to finish the string dangling 1 foot short of the bottom of her half-finished Christmas tree.  Then she must get through the check-out and back to her car before the fairy dust wears off and she turns into a mean, bitchy old crone.

The show opened with Miley Cyrus’ spiritual performance of “I’d Rather Be Naughty, So $&%# You, Santa!”  In honor of the season, she updated her usual bra-and-panty costume with a sprig of mistletoe, strategically placed.  As for Miley’s dance routine, let’s just say I will never look at a humble candy-cane the same way again.

Next up, one of the female leads softly crooned a simple ballad to the 5 ragged children gathered around her cart.  She was imaginatively costumed in skin-tight black stretch pants and a leopard-print shirt cut low enough to reveal a pair of angels tattooed on the upper slopes of her absolutely ginormous, er, charms.  The song was ” I TOLD You 20 Times!”  and the chorus went something like this:

“I TOLD you 20 times you gotta be 8 years old before Santa will bring you “Call of Duty, Black Ops.”  I’m going to have your daddy (Rodney, that guy who’s staying with us and kinda like your daddy) WHUP YOUR A** if you ask me ONE more time!”

I wasn’t the only one who left the show humming THAT moving tune.

The children’s choir almost stole the show with their rousing hit, “I Want THAT!”   The lyric was not complicated – only “I Want THAT”, over and over – but the performance elevated the words to art.  The volume of their childish cries built and built to a mighty crescendo.  The number ended with the whole choir falling to the floor in the aisles, kicking its collective heels.  Unforgettable.

The Greeter’s Gospel Choir’s  a-Capella rendition of “Go Tell It On The Mountain (The Holidays Are Here)” had everyone clapping along.   The reworked lyrics explained in an uplifting, catchy way how if the store employees said “Merry Christmas” at the door, it would be the same as forcing shoppers to join a church and submit to full-immersion baptism just to get in the store.  Entertaining and really thought provoking.

But the showstopper was the big production number finale.

I took a couple of dance classes as a kid, so I’m familiar with steps like the flap-ball-change.  But I’ve never seen the moves the Wal-Mart Shoppers Dance Troupe perfected for this extravaganza, a routine they call the Oblivious Shuffle.

Each shopper/dancer leaned on his or her cart and pushed it slowly, oh so slowly, back and forth across the stage.  Their shuffling gate kept one shoe (or house slipper, as the case may be) on the floor at all times.  The shuffling feet made a “shush, shush” sound that underscored the “squeak, squeak” of their unoiled cart wheels.  The occasional crash of colliding carts played like cymbals in the composition.

About half of the dancers had cell phones pressed to their ears.  One at a time, each burst into song with lyrics like “…so that witch my baby-daddy is with now said they couldn’t take the kids on Christmas Eve and I told HER, if you think I’m going to pick them up on HIS weekend, you can just tell that &%$#…” Their solos were incomprehensible, one-sided conversations when taken by themselves.  Together, they wove a timeless Christmas story.

The dancers went through their movements with vacant, glassy stares that gave the illusion that they were totally unaware of everyone else around them.

Think of Night of the Living Dead as a ballet.

Meanwhile, the young ingenue wove her cart skillfully in and out of the shuffling throng, trying to get to the registers.   The checkers each turned their lights off as she approached, crying “price check on 10″, “change needed on 5″, “register frozen on 8“ in a surprisingly harmonious medley.  The audience held their breath when a determined shopper with 2 carts piled high cut in front of our heroine in the “15 items or less” lane, but there was no crash – it was all part of the show.

I don’t want to give away the ending in case you decide to see the show.  Suffice it to say our ingenue looked a lot like the apple-wielding hag in Snow White as she trudged to the car with her packages at the end.

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Little Red Hen’s Christmas Joy

Christmas time is here again.  Tis the season for celebrating old traditions.  Around this blog, that means dusting off posts of Christmas past, posts that are more stale than re-gifted fruitcake.  Enjoy. 

Little Red Hen taking care of Christmas business.


Once upon a time,  Little Red Hen lived in a cozy little coop with her happy little family.  It was Christmas time and she thought some decorations would add to their holiday joy.

So Little Red Hen bought some eggnog and cookies, got her favorite Bing Crosby Christmas CD a-playin’ and settled in for some holiday memory-making.

“Who will help me set up the tree?” she asked.

“Not I”, said the rooster.
“Not I”, said the first chickee.
“Not I”, said the second chickee.

“Then I will do it myself,” said Little Red Hen.  And so she did.

Amidst a considerable amount of swearing.  Little Red Hen developed tree burns and little cuts on her wings from wrestling the 9-foot tall, artificial tree out the box, putting it all together and fluffing the scratchy branches.

“Who will help me put all the lights on the tree?” she asked.

“Not I”, said the rooster.

“Not I”, said the first chickee.
“Not I”, said the second chickee.

“Then I will do it myself,” said Little Red Hen.  And so she did.

With nobody to hand the strings of lights to, she was up and down the ladder at least 26 times.  All the lights worked when she tested them, but half of the strands went out as soon as they were all plugged together.

“Who will help me put all the ornaments on the tree?” she asked.

“Not I” said the rooster.
“Not I”, said the first chickee.
“Not I”, said the second chickee.

“If you think I’m doing any more decorating without any help from you selfish, lazy slobs” said Little Red Hen, “you’re crazy!”  She burst into tears and took off for the mall with a squeal of tires.

The rooster and the 2 little chickees turned off the Bing Crosby CD and finished off all the cookies and eggnog while watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

And the half-decorated tree and 3 big boxes full of ornaments are still sitting in the middle of the living room floor to this very day.

The End.

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A Toilet Paper Roll-er Coaster Ride Through My Brain

It’s time again for a thrill-a-minute roller coaster ride through my brain.  Hang on.


Men and women do not see the same world.

Men tend to be linear thinkers who concentrate on one job until it is done.  Women multitask to the point that we’re like a pack of hamsters on speed in a room full of running wheels.

I’m not saying one vision is better than the other – they’re just different.  I also don’t pretend to represent every woman Nonetheless, I suspect this will sound familiar to many of the double-X-chromosomed.

Now that we’ve got the disclaimers out of the way…

The following is a true and faithful account of an actual event, experienced by me and my brain, while spending quality time in my bathroom.









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Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Public Transportation Needs

Behavioral scientists use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a model to explain just about everything in life.  The theory goes something like this: a person’s most basic needs must be met (food and shelter) before they can afford the luxury of contemplating higher matters (does a career in actuarial science really satisfy their soul.)  This theory is handily summarized by a layered triangle image.  The most basic or minimal need is on the bottom tier, ranging to the most complex or optimal at the top.

Let’s apply the model to public transportation.

Riding a bus or train is a crap-shoot.  As anyone who takes public transportation regularly will tell you, the rider’s misery level is dependent on the seating options.

maslow5May all your journeys be at the top of the pyramid.

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Are You An Optimist Or A Pessimist?

Know Thyself

 Little Billy wanted a pony for Christmas. It was all he talked about for months. When Christmas morning arrived, he ran outside and saw…a huge pile of poop. Little Billy clapped his hands for joy and started shoveling.

“Why are you so happy?” his mom asked, perplexed.

“Because,” Little Billy laughed “With all that poop, there has to be a pony under here somewhere!”

Little Billy is a dewy-eyed optimist. How about you?

Take this simple test to determine where you fall on the Optopessimistometer.

A) You see a glass that is partially filled with liquid. You think:

1) the glass is half full.
2) the glass is half empty.
3) who left that damn glass there, and why is it always MY job to clean up around here?

B) The direction our country is heading in is troubling. You:

1) are confident that opposing parties can reach across the aisle to solve the nation’s problems.
2) figure that all politicians are for sale.
3) are willing to reach across the aisle to the opposing party to solve the nation’s problems…if the price is right.

C) You come upon a car accident. You:

1) rush to see if you can help, hoping nobody was hurt.
2) think, “Thank goodness I didn’t come through here two minutes earlier; that would have been me.”
3) say, “Get that ambulance out of the road – some of us have places to go!”

D) Your friend needs a transplant. You:

1) immediately get tested to be a donor, praying that you will be a match.
2) share the statistics that even if the operation is successful, there’s a 50-50 chance he’ll die from organ rejection, infection or sponges left in during surgery.
3) start a black-market business to exploit the untapped need for body parts.

E) Spring has sprung. Soon:

1) colorful flowers will burst into bloom after their long winter’s nap.
2) your car will need daily washing because of all the mud.
3) you won’t be able to get into a grocery store on a Saturday without shoving aside Little Leaguers, cheerleaders, and blind kids who are all trying to shake you down with overpriced candy.

Add up each answer’s allotted points and check your score against this handy classification guide:

  • 5- 7 points: Pollyanna: You are a classic optimist. Your “every cloud has a silver lining” attitude makes people want to vomit. Take off those rose-colored glasses before you run into something.
  • 8-11 points: Eeyore: You are a classic pessimist. In other words, a realist. Your “it’ll never work” attitude will save you from a lifetime of disappointment
  • 12-15 point: Grinch: You are a self-absorbed, anti-social, uber-pessimist. Your “what’s in it for me” attitude makes you a natural for public office.
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