—From the Fool—
I almost got hit by a truck. Not really a truck, a pickup really, but he thought he was a truck. I had the Walk sign but he ran the red. White pickups are the ones to watch out for.
Fools get no free passes. I jumped out of the way and said some words under my breath. The First Amendment says you can say what you want, and the Second says it better not be too loud.
But I wondered why did he do that? Red means you stop. Even if just for a Fool. And pedestrians have the right of way. And God said, Thou shalt not kill. We take exception to that if there are oil fields involved, but I don’t even have a car.
I came up with a number of possibilities, in terms of the driver’s primal urges:
- He didn’t see the light, or he was colorblind, or he hated the color red because his grandma wore ruby red lipstick along after it was appropriate.
- He felt traffic laws restricted his Constitutional rights, given that his pickup was just as deadly as a shotgun. Plus, the Constitution says nothing about traffic lights.
- Red was communist.
- His dog—part mastiff, part German shepherd—was running 30 mph in the back of the pickup to keep up with it, and couldn’t stop in time.
- I looked like a Democrat.
- His girlfriend had left him and he wanted to kill anything that moved.
- If he scored, the YouTube video might go viral, fragments of Fool flying into the distance, and if that happened his whole life would change. He didn’t care how.
My friend Ernie said, “Maybe he’s just a dickhead asleep at the wheel.” That’s possible, but I don’t like to think bad of people.
Several weeks ago I heard an interview with a stand-up comic, and realized I might learn some things about writing from an immersion in study of this form. And so I’ve viewed a half dozen comedy specials, with more to come. And indeed, there’s much to study: exposition, setup of the premise, the rhythms of phrasing, word choice, transition, surprise, and what comprises the performer’s unique “voice.”
What strikes me so strongly, though, is what they all (four men, two women) have in common: dick jokes, pussy jokes, and unbridled rage at life’s most trivial irritations. Nothing entirely unique in that: Aristophanes, Rabelais, and Shakespeare gave us a healthy dose of each, though perhaps in different proportions. Lenny Bruce was relatively unbridled, but I don’t recall any ten-minute riffs on the finer points of butt-fucking or wiping babies’ asses. I wonder if their Netflix contracts specify a specific number of minutes on specific topics.
Comedy has always been heavily based in transgression, and as mores change, the bar goes higher, until at last it’s like trying to squeeze the last blurt out of the toothpaste tube. In a different storytelling medium, Cormac McCarthy faces the task of one-upping himself progressively over 300 pages of human degradation, but once he gets to the halfwit eating turds, there’s not that much further he can go. He does manage, mostly, to make it cohere, to make the atrocities relevant.
But my problem with the dick and pussy jokes I’ve been hearing is that they just aren’t funny. Well, they’re funny in the sense that in junior high just saying “dick” or “pussy” was funny, but I’m somewhat past that. I’ve noticed in these specials an editing technique: at intervals, when the comic goes to the most “transgressive” feces-in-pussy jokes, the editor cuts to audience response, groups of pretty girls laughing uproariously. I guess it gives us permission to laugh at pre-puberty stuff: Well, they think it’s funny, so it must be.
Or maybe my response goes deeper. For someone to get up and rattle at me for an hour, I need to feel they believe what they’re saying—or at least playing a credible character who believes it. That they have a genuine stake in what their subject. With these people, mostly, whether they’re riffing on their girlfriend’s quirks or the challenge of single-ply toilet paper, I just get the feeling that they’d rather be talking about other stuff, but this is what sells to thirty-somethings who’d like to be back in high school.
Much more to be said, and I need to think a lot more about the “rage” component, as a lot of my own joking stems from a firm-rooted rage. What occurs to me at the moment is a sense that “Know what you laugh at” is a pathway to “Know thyself.”
We have feral cats, in varying numbers. In 2000, when we finally got into this house, we didn’t know we had feral cats, but it soon became obvious that somebody who lived under our backyard deck was devoting herself to producing kittens. We subsequently named her the Momcat.
By early 2003 we had succeeded in live-trapping two successive litters and availing ourselves of the local free spay-neuter program, but the Momcat was still untouched and still resolutely fertile. She could con any trap we put out, until the day when I jury-rigged the trap’s trigger and ran a cord through the window of the back bedroom. I provided sardines, went to the window, hunkered down, and waited.
It was a marvel to watch. It took her fifteen minutes to do a ninja sneak into the cage and past the trigger-pedal, and when the last inch of her tail was inside I yanked the cord, watched the gate slam shut, and let out a steam-whistle yahoo that could be heard in Cotati. She got fixed, grumbled and swore, and went back to living under the deck. We now had a tribe of six neutered females, and that’s the way it stayed for years.
Since then, we’ve lost the Momcat and all but two of her immediate descendants. However, a sleek and arrogant black ex-tom has moved in—whom we named His Majesty—and finally came The Nemesis.
From her long-haired gray fur I surmised that she’d probably come from the Momcat, but she has a unique personality. I would have named her Passive Aggressive, but The Nemesis was easier to say. His Majesty wanted to rule the roost at the common food bowl, and everybody else kept their distance.
Not the Nemesis. She would come sit Sphinx-style six feet away, paws folded, totally passive, and look at him. He couldn’t stand it, but there was nothing he could do. He’d lunge and scrap, and five minutes later, she was calmly hunkered down, looking at him. Eventually it got so bad that I’d see her literally a foot away, and he’d pretend not to notice. I loved her style.
Lately, I thought we’d lost her, because she’d looked really arthritic and debilitated and then disappeared, but here she is again. What remarkable recuperative powers. I have seen her with a big patch of her flank torn back, as big as the palm of my hand (raccoon fight?), and watched as she reassembled herself.
Feral animals do that. They survive hideous calamities and heal themselves without our help. I relate to that nowadays. I rest and tend my incision and let time take its course, and without my instructing or managing anything, my body calmly repairs the massive invasions that have enabled my two hip replacements. I don’t have to tell it what to do.
I wish we could understand that Gaia is the source of the Momcat, and that left to her own devices, she could heal herself. Instead, we declare ourselves the masters of How It Works, and fiddle, often with dire results.
However, my body is healing itself, and I am holding out hope for Gaia.
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