How to Not Be Funny

For the few people who read my blog regularly, you may know that I try to be funny. I haven’t blogged a lot lately because I’ve been working on a novel, but my resolution this year was to be more consistent with humorous writing, especially over at my other web site, Dying Is Easy. Comedy Is Hard. One might think that I’d learned a thing or two from my preachings here about learning from my mistakes, but I gave myself another chance to learn. It was one of my more embarrassing literary moments.

I wrote an article last week that I thought was very funny. It was a homage to “Game of Thrones,” the fantasy epic on HBO. I love that show. I love it the way Seth Bullock loved Alma Garrett on the HBO series “Deadwood.” I love that show the way Finn loves Princess Bubblegum on “Adventure Time.” Sometimes love like that skews your judgement.

Love, I have come to learn, messes with your brain. It’s for a good cause, and I don’t regret a minute of it. I forgive myself for any transgressions committed while in love. However, in the case of this article about “Game of Thrones”, what I did is as close to unforgiveable as I care to go.

It was not funny. It was not funny the way M.A.S.H. was not funny after Henry left the show. My article was not funny the way any sitcom starring Tony Danza was not funny after Tony Danza left “Taxi.” My supposed-to-be-funny article jumped the proverbial shark somewhere around the first sentence and didn’t have the decency to be eaten by the shark.

I write unfunny things all the time, even when I try to be funny. There is no sin in not being funny (if it is a sin then my wife is doomed in the afterlife). My lack of humor could have been forgiven except for the fact that I submitted it to the New Yorker for their section called “Shouts and Murmurs”.

“Shouts and Murmurs” is where Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and David Sedaris publish when they feel like writing something funny. I wanted very much to be like them, and I was convinced that I had truly hit upon something funny. But the rejection letter informed me otherwise. It said: “We don’t feel this piece is appropriate for Shouts and Murmurs. Shouts and Murmurs are supposed to be humorous.”

I get it. That was a joke. A joke at my expense. I didn’t think it was very funny.

Flooded Car

I had to deal with a flooded car today, something I haven’t done in decades. I thought the widespread inclusion of fuel injected engines made flooded cars a thing of the past. I learned how to fix them, and this article explains it all.

But first, some background:

I grew up surrounded by some real shit cars. My old man had a thing for American Motors–he was a Rambler man. If you are not familiar, AMC owned the low end of personal transportation in the 1960s and 1970s. The Rambler made a Dodge Dart look like a Chrysler New Yorker. The Rambler made the Ford Falcon look like a Lincoln Town Car. It came in four-cylinder and six-cylinder models, but you really couldn’t tell which was which when driving it.

The trick to a Rambler was getting it started on a cold morning. My older brother became expert in popping the hood, removing the air filter housing from the carburetor and jamming his comb in the choke. We kept a can of ether in the glove box and he would spray it in the carb to get it started. Those were the days.

From those inauspicious beginnings I drove a series of troublesome cars. I had a Ford Fiesta. That little twinkie of a car was the Rambler of its day.  Then I went to the opposite end of the scale and drove a Ford LTD, which was about two tons of difficult to start road glory. They both were susceptible to flooding. I became an expert in starting flooded cars, even if it meant I went back in my apartment and watched crappy morning television until the excess fuel dried up.

By the way, that’s what flooding the engine means: you gave it too much gas for it to start, because the mix of fuel and air is shot until the fuel dries up.

One of the techniques to start it is to floor the gas pedal which would open up the choke on the carb, allowing more air in, and try to start it. The other technique is to go back in your house and wait half an hour before trying again.

Here is the secret to starting a modern, fuel-injected car that is flooded: you press the gas pedal to the floor and start it. Works like a charm.

Off The On Ramp

Michigan has had its share of road rage and highway shootings over the years. Traffic circles were introduced partially in response to that, and have three simple rules: yield to any car already in the circle, drive in the same direction as the other cars, and enter at your own risk. The number of deaths in traffic circles is much lower than the rest of Michigan roadways, but, then, it’s a lot more difficult to shoot a moving target.

One traffic element that is free from debate is that highway on-ramps are for entering the highway, not exiting. There should be no question about which way a car is going on an on-ramp. When you vomit, you project stuff out of your mouth, not take it in. I would understand if someone was shot going the wrong way on an on-ramp. They could argue it was a form of public service, the way deer hunting thins the herd, or NASCAR helps keep rednecks occupied for a few hours each week.

In a Detroit suburb, I confused myself as I navigated a triple traffic circle — that’s three in a row with roads connecting to each one the way Spock the Vulcan has three hearts with veins and arteries hither and yon — and I accidently ended up on the on-ramp to I-23 when that was the last place I wanted to be. To go further south on I-23 meant I’d miss an appointment, and would have to reschedule and return here some other day when traffic might be even worse. I did not want to miss the appointment. In a panic, I stopped the car short of the highway, but a very long way along the on-ramp, and pointed in the wrong direction.

Cars swerved to avoid me as I sat in may car on the on-ramp. I decided to reverse off of the on-ramp. I couldn’t have been more at risk for a rear-ending unless I bent over to pick up my soap in the men’s shower at the YMCA after the Zumba class let out. Cars honked as they swerved around me, but I made it.

I then had to reverse into the traffic circle, entering in the wrong direction from a place no one would expect me to be, and also would have to shift gears to join the traffic flow, all while twisting to look out the rear window. Only Mitt Romney trying to seem like a typical American would have a stranger path to follow, but having reversed myself off the on-ramp, why not continue?

I made it onto the traffic circle. For a moment I thought that people were courteous and understanding, but I know that’s a lie; then I thought that everyone else is a good enough driver to adjust, but I know that people suck at driving; I have settled on two possible explanations: either everyone assumed I was crazy enough to also have a loaded gun, or everyone else is a bigger sap than I am. My money is on the former; only the biggest sap in the country would risk his life so as not to miss an appointment.

The Mos Eisley Cantina in the Pirate City of Kalamazoo on the Planet Michigan

I recently went to a Meijer’s grocery store near Kalamazoo, Michigan. If you’re not familiar, Meijer’s is notorious for carrying everything–it’s a super store with all manner of goods and groceries–and for low prices. It’s also notorious for the clientele it attracts, but they are not all bad. Now I think I’m one of the bad ones.

My wife once went into a Meijer’s on the south side of Lansing, Michigan, and as she loaded our infant son into a shopping cart, two young men burst into the store in a sprint. Two policemen chased them into the grocery section, and out the side door.

I once stopped at a Meijer’s around 1:00 am and, as I walked inside, watched as a limousine pulled up to the front door and two young ladies staggered out of the limo and vomited in the parking lot.

This past Saturday, I went to Meijer’s because I hungered for ice cream. I was running errands, and decided to buy myself a half gallon of ice cream and eat it in the parking lot. It was a painfully hot day in the high nineties, and the ice cream had begun to melt before I found a plastic spoon in my glove box.  I leaned against my car and spooned my face full of Neapolitan, thoroughly enjoying the experience.

A woman pushed a cart full of groceries past me and said, “You are as bad as my daughter.” Judging from this woman’s looks, I thought her daughter might be around my age. (I’m in my forties, but sometimes look younger than that.)

“Maybe she and I would make a nice pair,” I said. “You should introduce us.”

She shook her head. “My daughter is eleven.”

I nodded. “Have her call me in four years.”

* * *

My mistake was that, in truth, I did not say that last line. It didn’t occur to me until several minutes later. I had merely muttered, “Never mind,” and avoided eye contact with the woman.

Thanks For Being You, America

July 4th is the day we set aside to celebrate the birth of our nation, but our nation wasn’t born that day so much as it was conceived. The embryonic nation gestated during the Revolutionary War, underwent difficult labor during the Articles of Confederation, and was born, finally, with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The early years of the nation were like a child growing up, with the Louisiana Purchase its first steps, the War of 1812 being bullied during middle school, and the Civil War an angry adolescent trying to figure itself out.  Any father worth his salt knows that all children have issues and that they are, at best, a work in progress. After a century of fighting, we expect that the best is yet to come.

America, you have a lot of fine attributes, and here is a short list of my favorites:

  • ample opportunity for self-expression
  • lively debate during elections
  • robust commerce that gainfully employs so very many
  • abundant resources that provide a relatively luxurious lifestyle

It is easy at times to criticize American policies and processes. The elected leaders often prove to be fallible, gullible, and ignoble. And the wealthy elitists more often than not act like selfish children intent on eating all the cake. But I’m taking this moment to acknowledge the many good things this nation does for so very many people, and to wish you, America, all the best in all of your endeavors with the hope that our children, and our children’s children will enjoy peace and prosperity even as they find ways to make their nation an even better place to live.