Worry, Be Silly
man behind the counter at Ambition was mixing up some raspberry-chocolate-inflected
coffee drink for my daughter, Madeleine. Suddenly he looked
suspiciously at the antique phone booth in the restaurant.
you hear that?” he asked. “That clicking?”
did,” I said, because I had.
the phone booth,” he said, stirring, but nodding over at the
far wall. “It really gives me the creeps when it does that.”
it a working phone booth?” I asked, even though it was apparent
it wasn’t. I wanted him to be the one hearing things,
It doesn’t work,” he said.
Homeland Security,” I said.
place is bugged. For your own protection.”
I could tell he wasn’t sure whether or not I was serious.
know, to root out any possible terrorists that come in here
and plot the overthrow of Jay Street.”
he got the joke then—and developed a mock-furrowed brow.
know,” he said, “I’ve been making cappuccinos for years when
all of a sudden the other day, after I put the steamed milk
on, I put my ear close and I heard all this cracking and clicking.
. . .” He paused for dramatic effect. “And then I discovered—it
was the steamed milk!”
I said, because what else can you say when someone tells you
they have started listening to their beverages? “Sounds just
like Snap, Crackle and Pop.”
It’s always a risk to make reference to important cultural
artifacts, such as Jell-O 1-2-3, because you never know if
the person you’re talking to will remember them. I mean, are
Snap, Crackle and Pop still hawking Rice Krispies or have
they gone the way of the Red Rose Tea band?
he nodded vigorously, “Exactly. There are these foods around
that you can listen to. Rice Krispies. Cappuccinos. And then
there’s champagne, too.”
a whole new dimension to eating,” I agreed.
Now, I’m not sure what you think of a person who thinks like
this, but I thought it was great. People like this really
right there, kind of like the opposite of attention
Of course, it’s a little kooky, too. But Madeleine and I walked
down the Jay Street mall sipping our regrettably silent coffees
and mused that more people ought to see the world in such
I mean, I love Dennis Miller, but anyone who scored reasonably
well on their SATs can be an irony-powered wiseass. Irony
is a kind of coping mechanism for dealing with life’s various
and rampant miseries: riffing as a means to manage existential
angst. Maybe Sartre did stand-up for Simone de Beauvoir.
But there is something so spontaneous and shameless about
a truly cockeyed sense of humor. It sidesteps life’s miseries
altogether in favor of the playful lunacy that is maybe one
of life’s most redemptive aspects.
Plus, it’s a more risk-taking sense of humor. I love to imagine
Martin Short inventing his insanely goofy Ed Grimley character.
In my mind’s eye he comes out of the bathroom wearing Ed’s
signature chest-high pants and Kewpie-doll hairlick for the
first time and tries his new character out on his unsuspecting
wife. Or fancy what it was like to have lived with him through
the development of his character, Franc, from Father of
the Bride, I and II. Shopping must have been a blast.
There really is something more honest about humor that risks
making yourself look a little foolish.
Complete strangers can make wise-guy comments in grocery checkout
lines. There will be shared chuckles, with no risk of embarrassment.
But true goofiness brings out a gleam in people’s eyes, a
nudge to the ribs, a sense that either genius or idiocy or
both are alive and well and animating the shared space.
I was on a local talk show once and we spent an hour making
wry and witty comments about yoga and fitness, while managing
to maintain a polite distance. But driving home in the car
we got talking about favorite movies. Discovering that Best
in Show and What About Bob?—movies of undeniable
silliness—were front-running, all-time favorites suddenly
created a bond: We weren’t witty strangers bantering on the
airwaves, we were chums with hidden goofy streaks.
I used to think that if you scratched the surface of anyone
long enough, beneath a veneer of wittiness was a silly person
waiting to giggle.
I don’t think that anymore because I’ve known enough people
who live and die by the dryness of their wit—which to my way
of thinking is like going to a smorgasbord and only eating
the salty foods.
Because the world is truly a weird and funny place. There’s
a brotherhood and a sisterhood that gets created in laughing
together at stupid puns. Or your sister’s badly butchered
jokes. Or the stories you make up with your kid when you people-spy
in a park. Or your nephew’s brilliant alter-ego, Tito.
Under certain circumstances I’ve been known to do some pretty
inspired impersonations of vegetables myself, and my girls
have sworn me to secrecy about some of their more outlandish
creations—but suffice it to say, ours is a house full of laughter.
So when someone hints to me that he has begun to listen to
his food, I figure, hey, why not?
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