I am delivering a large basket of items to our local Laundromat.
(NOTE: If you are ever in the vicinity and are of need of such services, the Laundromat is located on the north side of Highway 12, just across from a spectacular ice cream parlor and yogurt emporium called Oink’s.)
After my order has been recorded on a computer and I am handed my receipt, I ask the attendant if I am required to present that receipt when I came back, to which she replies,
“No. If you remember your name, you can pick up your laundry.”
I looked deeply into her face, searching for a conspiratorial twinkle in her eye or an ironic curl of her upper lip. There was nothing to be seen. The attendant was deadly serious.
If you remembered your name…
You could pick up your laundry.
That was all there was to it.
Taking this in, it occurred to me, although hardly for the first time…
Indiana people are different.
Let me emphatically acknowledge that it would be a screaming stereotype to assert that Indianans do not have a sense of humor. David Letterman, anyone? And a brilliant low-key comedian from the fifties named Herb Shriner? To name just two great comedic practitioners, and I am certain my Indiana readers will overwhelm me with others.
What I am saying is that, judging from a random and admittedly far from statistically significant sampling, my most recent excursion to the Hoosier State indicates that, among the list of regionally associated personal attributes, “Number One” being the ability to look at a field and know immediately that what is growing there is corn – the possession of a sharply-honed sense of humor appears to rank somewhere…not that close to the top.
(Again, Indiana readers, feel free to set me straight on the matter.)
Arriving somewhat in advance for a one-thirty show-time – two-thirty “Michigan Time” – I become startlingly aware, looking around, that with the exception of myself, there was nobody else in the theater. Wandering back into the lobby, I facetiously remark,
“I am the only one in the theater. Do you think you could start early?”
To which, the no-nonsense teenager behind the cash register replies,
“I’m sorry, sir. We can’t do that.”
She was right, of course. They couldn’t. But, you know, would a little smile have killed her?
Later, patronizing the aforementioned Oink’s, the young man behind the counter asks me what size serving I wanted. Concerned with the excessive calories, I reply,
“I want something that would be appropriate for a two year-old.”
Not a chuckle. Not a ‘Ha.’ A dutiful nod. And a single-scoop serving of coconut-almond-fudge.
Some days afterwards at a local convenience store, I alerted the proprietor than somebody had lifted the front section of The New York Times.
“How much for the rest of it?” I inquired.
This gets me thinking.
What is going on with this state!
Hadn’t they heard about it? I’m a funny guy! I mean, I did the warm-ups for Taxi, for heaven sakes!
All right, this one was “pushing it” – I could feel it when it came out. But I couldn’t help myself. I was striking out all over town. A Mid-western municipality was engendering “flop sweat.”
We were lunching at the “Shoreline Tavern”, whose signature offering had recently been awarded First Prize for being “The Best Hamburger In Northern Indiana.” (I myself ordered the quinoa burger, which, because no other restaurant in Northern Indiana prepared quinoa burgers, was summarily excluded from the competition.)
Five minutes after delivering our menus, which we were still perusing, the youthful waitress sidles up to our table and asks,
“Would you like some more time?”
To which, I immediately shoot back,
“Come back on the last day of my life and ask me that. ‘Would you like some more time?’ ‘Yes, please.’” (I know. It’s lame. And a truly0 pathetic “stretch.”)
Let me tell you. There is only one thing worse than saying something you think is funny and receiving a stony stare in response. It’s getting a laugh whose tone and timbre clearly indicate that it is entirely insincere.
This fake laugh was a loud one, making things substantially worse, as it announced that insincerity throughout the restaurant, trumpeting to every patron on the premises that, “This fool thinks he is funny but he most definitely is not!”
The only exception to this blanket rejection of my award-winning humorosity came from a skillful and companionable massage therapist named Alex (a woman) who laughed at virtually everything I said. (In truth, it was no an actual laugh. When I said something funny she responded by expelling air forcefully out of her nose. Hardly a belly laugh, but at that point, I was ready to take anything.)
It is possible, however, that Alex was not actually laughing at my witty comments and observations but at my spectacularly muscle-free physiognomy – which at that point was on open and examinable display – timing her responses to make it sound like she was laughing at my jokes when she was actually convulsed by my body.
I choose to believe it was the jokes.
Though you would have to ask Alex.
Lesson Of The Day:
A sensible mentality is the Kryptonite of comedy. The insistently levelheaded perceive comedic inspiration as mere puerile silliness.
There is nothing I can do about that.