Saturday, June 4, 2016

"THE GREATEST" RABBIT PUNCH


             
     This is another true story, but I want to be clear: that’s not the reason I’m including it.  Not all true stories should be told.  Some, in fact, should be snugged into a shoebox like a long-loved rabbit and buried in the back yard of childhood.
            Oh, it’s okay to place its last-nibbled carrot in there alongside it.  It’s okay to do it unceremoniously, alone.  It’s okay to even leave a marker that has temporary lawnmower immunity.  But, a generation later, there should be nothing left for passers-by but a little depression in the ground where the shoebox collapsed.
            This isn’t one of those stories.
        It happened at one of those rare moments in history, when all the airy tumblers of a single thunderclap fell into place, never to strike just that way, at just that place, ever again.
            The world’s then greatest boxer was once invited to receive an honorary degree from a college I was attending. He was renowned for his singular skill in the art of formal human pummeling, but he’d also often demonstrated his virtuosity as an impromptu poet.  That day was no exception:
            “I like your school; I like your style, but I don’t like your pay; I won’t be back for a while,” he’d said later at the press conference.  Celebrated dead poets everywhere no doubt turned a little in their graves, but who cared about them.  They were dead.
            And, I’d like to see Carl Sandburg rope-a-dope with a stanza, dead or alive. 
            For my money, “Hog Butcher for the world” could never go the distance with “I can drown the drink of water, and kill a dead tree.  Wait till you see Muhammad Ali.”
            I’ll see your Chicago and raise you a lightning-fast jab, Carl.
            That morning, my four-year old daughter was with me.  I can’t remember why, except that maybe it was my weekend to have her.  Perhaps it was Liberal Arts Father-Visitor Daughter Day.  Lucky for us, though, it was the same day the world’s greatest rhyming boxer was to receive his publicity sheepskin.
            Let’s face it:  giving an honorary college degree to a high-profile notable is a two-way street.  Yes, the honoree is pleased to be post-secondarily validated without ever having to sit through an un-elective, but it also doesn’t hurt the school’s image.
            Sometimes, the trustees later voted to stick up a statue near the athletic field.  In my mind, I can’t look at a statue without thinking about a favorite Vincent Price movie, but I might feel differently if it was me standing up there as a pigeon-shit depository.  That’s more than most of us ever achieve.
            We arrived early, and I took her hand the best I could as she three-limb pinwheeled alongside me across a large open field to the reception house.  To this day, I wish I’d pinwheeled along with her, but I was too distracted by the fear of having to return a daughter to a mother any less intact than how I’d received her.
            I needn’t have worried.  Four-year olds are either indestructible or delicate as a feather, and she’d been delivered to me in full indestructible mode.
            Today, I couldn’t do a pinwheel if you stapled me to a windmill.
            By the time we reached the reception house, she’d settled down into mere hop-a-long pull-toy mode, and I’d survived.
            We went inside, and there, like a stop-motioned bolt of lightning, sat the man.   The room was empty except for him, and he sat slumped on a couch, unmoving, staring at us.  Impossible, but lightning is like that.
            He immediately straightened up, smiled broadly and opened his arms toward us.  Toward her.
              “Hello, girl!” he said.  I thought my daughter would do the natural thing, having never seen this big dark hulk of a man before, and immediately switch to snake mode around my leg.
            Instead, she showed me how much fathers know about such things, and went right over to him in fearless kangaroo mode.
            He picked her up and hugged her close as I stood across the room in abandoned lighthouse mode.
             He opened his eyes wide in mock surprise and did the sitting version of a complementing pinwheel.  She giggled and bobbled and matched him, twirl for playful twirl.
            For my part, ships were going aground on the rocks over there by the dozens, and I couldn’t move.
            Soon, other people began entering the room.  Statue-erectors and grown-up dead rabbit internors crowded in -- the usual media blitz – and daughter and I were reduced to those subtle variations that you can never quite find in a picture puzzle.
            I retrieved her from his arms like a reinstated lighthouse with a good excuse, no questions asked.  When I moved in close to them, I saw that his face was bruised and swollen from a recent close fight.  I was glad that she was still too caught up in child mode to notice this, or to know why if she had.
            He returned her to me like a child alone placing a beloved pet in a shoebox.
         Today, forty years later in her life’s back yard, he has passed into the eternal ring, but I hope she still remembers and loves why the ground is shaped like that.

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Copyright 2016 by B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved.  Adapted from a story in B. Elwin Sherman's book: "In Watermelon Salt: "The Lost Richard Brautigan."  Used here with permission.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"DEAR WITBONES" --- Vegetable Sex

  "Dear Witbones" -- Ask A Humorist! is B. Elwin Sherman's agony uncle advice column for the laughlorn. Today's Witboner:
 "Vegetable Sex."  

     DEAR WITBONES:
     “I was going to write to ‘Dear Abby’ with my problem, but your name came up at a cocktail party by someone who swore that you helped her AND made her laugh. Right now I could use some of both, and here’s why: my boyfriend has just told me that he’s gay. I thought something was up because of how he’d been treating me lately (and NOT treating me) in bed. Now, is this my fault? I’ve always been there for him, in every way. What didn’t I do? What should I do now???  --- SEXLESS IN SWANSBORO

                   Dear SEXLESS: First, I’m flattered (and a little nervous) that I was the chit-chat subject at a party where people assemble to drink, but you didn’t mention what I allegedly did to help and amuse your friend. (Was she from Telluride? Did she have red hair and an old Volvo?  Never mind.)
Next, your boyfriend’s sexual orientation is what it is because of who he is and what he does, not because of who you are and what you don’t do.
Let me try that again:
He isn’t what he isn’t because of who he isn’t and what he doesn’t do, not because of who you aren’t and what you do do.
One more time:
He’s gay. You’re not.
Okay … last attempt.  Let's use food:
I don’t like Lima beans. I’ve never liked Lima beans. I don’t know why, and I’ve never worried about it.
I do, however, like peas. In fact, I love peas. I’ve always loved peas. I don’t know why, and I’ve never worried about it.
It’s just the way I’ve always lived with legumes, because most legumes are vegetables, but not all vegetables are legumes. You might start by living like food.
        Thanks for WITBONING, and please keep me posted.
* * * * *
Copyright 2016 by B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Questions for his agony uncle “DEAR WITBONES" -- Ask A Humorist! column may be submitted to: WITBONES, c/o B. Elwin Sherman, P.O. Box 300, Bethlehem, NH, 03574. Or, you may e-mail Elwin via his Witbones.com blog.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

"DEAR WITBONES" --- Lost It In The Sun

  "Dear Witbones" -- Ask A Humorist! is B. Elwin Sherman's agony uncle advice column for the laughlorn. Today's Witboner:
 "Lost It In The Sun." 

     DEAR WITBONES:
    "I saw a story about a guy in North Carolina who is worried about solar panels installed in his town ‘sucking all the energy out of the sun.’ I laughed at first, but then I thought about it a while. I know that you’re no scientist, and it’s clear that I’m not one either, but is there ANY reason to fear that we could go too far with solar power? --- SUN BELIEVER IN BANGOR

        Dear SUN BELIEVER: As an energy-seeking species, we went through something similar a few decades ago, when people worried that if we built too many tidal power stations, the resulting water friction would slow down the earth’s rotation.
        I’m married to a scientist, and she informs me that yes, in fact, harnessing the power of the ocean does put the brakes on our big blue marble, but the effect is so negligible that we’ll be okay for the next few hundred million years or so. She explains this by telling me all about “angular momentum” and “rotational kinetic energy.”
        Yowza! I don’t know why I find it so sexy, but it's always a turn-on when she talks science-y to me. Sometimes I’ll ask her things like why we all don’t have identical fingerprints or why no two snowflakes are exactly alike, just to hear her whisper sweet somethings like ‘volar pad regressions’ and ‘deuterium atoms’. That kind of pillow talk keeps the spice in our love life.
        I did ask her about your life-sucking sun anxiety, and she told me to assure you that you needn’t worry. We can’t deplete the sun’s energy simply by redirecting it after it gets here. She then went on talking “parabolic troughs” and “heliostat power towers” and I’m now ready to jump her bones.
        Thanks for Witboning, and please keep me posted.

* * * * *
Copyright 2016 by B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Questions for his agony uncle “DEAR WITBONES" -- Ask A Humorist! column may be submitted to: WITBONES, c/o B. Elwin Sherman, P.O. Box 300, Bethlehem, NH, 03574. Or, you may e-mail Elwin via his Witbones.com blog.

Friday, December 18, 2015

"DEAR WITBONES" --- Christmas Holiday Unmentionables

            "Dear Witbones" -- Ask A Humorist! is B. Elwin Sherman's agony uncle advice column for the laughlorn. Today's Witboner:
 "Christmas Holiday Unmentionables." 

        DEAR WITBONES:
     Here we are again, rockin’ around the “holiday” versus “Christmas” politically correct tree, and I’ve about had enough of this nonsense. If I say “Merry Christmas,” I’m being insensitive to non-Christians, but if I say “Happy Holiday,” I feel like I’m being denied my religious freedom. What can I do to keep everyone happy, beginning with me? And, please, no jokes about my home town. --- CONFUSED IN CORPUS CHRISTI

     Dear CONFUSED:  A long time ago, when I began writing humor as means of insuring a substandard living wage, I swore to never write about religion or politics.  Both have now morphed into what the Urban Dictionary calls “Religitics,” so I’ve given up on that oath.
       I’d never make jokes about your home town. Its name translates from the Latin as “Body of Christ,” but you’ll have to sort that out for yourself. I write from Bethlehem, NH, so I’m really not one to talk. People travel to our post office from far and away at this time of year just to get this little town’s postmark on their Christmas holiday cards and packages. Well, one person’s Holy validation is another’s non-fragile, non-liquid, non-hazardous, non-perishable priority mail, I always say.
       Yesterday, I was speaking with a cashier in the checkout line at a department store. In the true spirit of remaining seasonably religitical, I will not name either of them here. When she handed me my Tums and eggnog, she blurted out “Merry Christmas,” but quickly corrected herself: “I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to say that,” she apologized.
      “Not to worry,” I said. “I forgive you.”
       I think Jesus would’ve given me an attaboy.
   Funny you should mention rockin’ around the tree, prompting this seriocomic historical footnote: let’s not forget that Christmas trees in this country were once deemed symbols of “pagan mockery and heathen traditions” by our Puritan forebears. And because I’m a big fan of history (after all, it’s the birthplace of some of our best facts), I hold with H.L. Mencken’s definition of a Puritan, which still rings true today as the model for too many blowhard holdouts from the good ol’ 17th Century: “A Puritan is one who suspects somewhere someone is having a good time.”
       My Grandma had a great leveler for anyone caught in your moral dilemma. She’d tell you: “Whatever flips your skirt.”
       So, why not, whatever your madcap persuasion, if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas, just thank them, give it right back and Merrily move on? If they hope you have a Happy Holiday, let your secular light shine and fire off your best Happy Ditto in their direction. No different if you get hit with a Kwanzaa, or a Hanukkah, or even a Pancha Ganapati --- "Hey, much appreciated and same to you, buddy!"
       Now, what should YOU say this time of year, if you find yourself greeting someone first? Best to just go with “How about those Red Sox?”
       Trust me, this will even work in Texas, generating some good will and world peace before you part company. 
       Thanks for Witboning, and keep me posted.


* * * * *
Copyright 2015 by B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Questions for his agony uncle “DEAR WITBONES" -- Ask A Humorist! column may be submitted to: WITBONES, c/o B. Elwin Sherman, P.O. Box 300, Bethlehem, NH, 03574. Or, you may e-mail Elwin via his Witbones.com blog.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"DEAR WITBONES" --- Pink Flamingoes In The Naked Skies

            
"Dear Witbones" -- Ask A Humorist! is B. Elwin Sherman's agony uncle advice column for the laughlorn. Today's Witboner:
 "Pink Flamingoes In The Naked Skies." 


DEAR WITBONES:  
     I'm what you might call a nature lover, and I enjoy back yard sunbathing in my altogether. Trouble is, I'm now a victim of 21st Century technology, because lately I've seen those little drones flying around when I'm naked out there.  Should I worry that one of these days I'm going to be famous on YouTube for the wrong reason?  How can I protect myself from these prying eyes in the sky?  What can I do to keep my life (and my airspace!) private?  BARE IN SANTA BARBARA

     Dear BARE:   As a Californian, you'll  be encouraged to know that your Governor recently signed a bill prohibiting paparazzi from using drones to photograph celebrities on private properties at an altitude below 350 feet. It was designed to keep those prying eyes you cite from becoming high-tech peeping Tom profiteers. Thus, your first line of defense is to avoid becoming a celebrity and remain at sea level.
     Not becoming a celebrity, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. These days, it takes so little to become famous, we have to work at remaining anonymous (or in your case, just another naked Golden Stater).
     You must also be aware that today we all have so little privacy no matter where we go, clothed or in the buff. By the end of any average day in public, all of us have been videoed at least half a dozen times -- at banks, department stores, town halls, fast-food drive-thrus, hospitals, health clubs -- and I won't even mention Google Maps until the next paragraph.
     Because you sent me your street address, I can, e.g. look up your house (all wordplay intended) follow along in street view, and see where you live.  I'm doing it now. Yep, there it is. Hey, nice porch, cool wind chimes, but I'm not a big fan of pink flamingo lawn ornaments. Now, let's see, if I switch to satellite view, I can see ... YIKES!
     Right about here, I'd suggest a backyard beach umbrella.
Thanks for Witboning, and keep me posted.
* * * * *
Copyright 2015 by B. Elwin Sherman. All rights reserved. Questions for his agony uncle “DEAR WITBONES" -- Ask A Humorist! column may be submitted to: WITBONES, c/o B. Elwin Sherman, P.O. Box 300, Bethlehem, NH, 03574. Or, you may e-mail Elwin via his Witbones.com blog. His latest book is:  Walk Tall And Carry A Big Watering Can.    

Friday, November 27, 2015

LIVE FREE OR CUT BAIT

(A readers' favorite, first published in NH Magazine February 2012)

There I was: a New Hampshire traveling male nurse working temporarily in Arizona and visiting Aldo, a brusque, nonagenarian male patient living permanently in a ramshackle house trailer outside Tucson.

A "nonagenarian" is a person who has reached 90-plus years of age. He was brusque because it's impossible to pass nine decades in this life without some crusty in your character, and Aldo was so crusty that if he'd been 10 years older or younger, he'd have looked the same.

We argued all things indigenous to his Grand Canyon State and to my Granite one.They weren't really arguments. One doesn't win arguments with a 94-year old man, not if one is as smart as one thinks one is.

When I arrived he was hunched over on his front porch, sitting on two stacked milk crates, cleaning catfish and dropping the innards into buckets, sorting them by their edible hierarchy. Fish heads here. Fish guts there. Plop. Plop.

My 97-year-old great-grandfather was born and brusquely died in the same Belmont, NH, bed, and spent many of his catfish-cleaning days on such a porch.

The next day I skipped his vital signs and we instead went fishing and brusquely argued all things free, bait and alive.

Before I checked Aldo's vital signs (which he always thought foolish: "When I'm dead, you'll know it; I'll be paying more attention to you"), I challenged him about his buckets of piecemealed catfish:

"Say, Aldo, whereinheck do you get catfish in a desert? I know where to get them in New Hampshire, but out here?"

"Don't be an idiot," he said, ending the argument.

Fact is, and because he made it clear that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, there was indeed a nearby desert lake where catfish roamed free, which prompted my next series of losing arguments:

"Well, Aldo, in New Hampshire, when I hike up Mt. Washington, I pass the tree line and come out on top of rocks. Here, when you climb Mt. Lemmon, you go up past rocks and come out in the trees."

"Nature's way," he said, plopping a skin into its designated pail. "Don't be an idiot."

Undaunted, and a little smarter, I pressed on: "I do miss the seasons back home. Out here, it must be hard to tell one from another."

"Only if you look at 'em from back there," he plopped. "Don't be an ---"

Daunted, and a little dumber, I stopped him and tried one more time:

"Now, wait a minute, Aldo. In New Hampshire we take great pride in our state motto, 'Live Free or Die'. It's not just a slogan for a license plate; it's a way of life."

"How's that?" he asked, glancing at my truck.

Plop.

"Well, we work hard, our winters are the harsh flipside version of your summers, and we live free."

"You think you're free?" he admonished, wagging the last head of his cut-up catch at my truck. "Try driving back there without that license plate."

Plop.

The next day I skipped his vital signs and we instead went fishing and brusquely argued all things free, bait and alive.

* * * * *
Senior Wire News Service syndicated humor columnist B. Elwin Sherman writes from Bethlehem, NH. His new book, “Walk Tall And Carry A BigWatering Can,” is now available.  You may contact him via his blog at witbones.com. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. Used here with permission.