Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It Was One Of Those Days

A couple weeks ago I had “one of those days” that easily could have been the reason why Murphy invented his law.

First of all, at 10 o’clock in the morning, I, in my flannel pajamas and hair curlers, was eating cereal when company arrived from New York…three hours early. I had planned, after breakfast, to dust and vacuum so everything would be freshly sparkling for their arrival. Instead, my guests were able to doodle their names in the dust on my coffee table.

After the New York visitors left, the cable repairman arrived. “You have dogs!” he said in an accusing tone when I opened the door. All I could see was his nose, which was poking around the edge of the door frame. “Lock them up in a room or I’m not coming in!”

“But they’re outside in the yard,” I said.

“If you don’t lock them up, I’m leaving,” he said. “I have been terrified of dogs ever since…the incident.”

I was going to suggest that his particular line of work might not be suitable for someone who was so dog-aphobic, but I did as he asked and called my dogs inside, then locked them in the bedroom. I returned to the front door and opened it. The cable guy was hiding on the porch. “You can come in now,” I said.

“Are you sure it’s safe?” He didn’t move.

“The dogs are locked in the bedroom,” I assured him.

Once again, he allowed only his nose to peek around the corner. “Are you positive they can’t open the bedroom door?”

“My dogs aren’t even coordinated enough to walk down the stairs without tripping, so I’m pretty sure they can’t figure out how to turn a doorknob.”

The cable guy finally came inside and checked out the cable box, but the entire time, he kept casting wary glances at the bedroom door. He was beginning to make me feel as if I had two rabid, drooling werewolves locked in there. Heck, even after he left, I still didn’t dare let my dogs out of the bedroom, he’d made me so paranoid.

After dinner that night, I figured that I’d finally be able to sit back and relax. That’s when my husband, who was stretched out in his recliner, casually said, “I have this weird bruise on my stomach that I noticed today. Can you take a look at it?”

I shrugged, wondering what could be so weird about a bruise. “Sure.”

He lifted his shirt to reveal the Queen Mother of all bruises. It was dark purple, nearly black, and was larger than a dinner plate. The scariest part was that as I was looking at it, it continued to grow. I grabbed a ruler and measured it. It was nine inches across...and still growing.

A half-hour later, we walked into the hospital emergency room. The place was so mobbed, there wasn’t a single seat available anywhere. We were greeted by an irate man who loudly told us that he’d been waiting for over two hours, that no one cared if he dropped dead, and that the woman at the admitting desk was a real witch (actually, he used more colorful language than that, but I’m trying to keep this G-rated).

“I think I’m feeling fine now,” my husband whispered to me. “Let’s go home.”

The woman at the admitting desk interrupted and asked us to have a seat so she could get some information. After she found out why we were there, she said, “I’m bumping you up to the top of the list.”

At that point, Mr. Angry in the waiting room got even angrier and started kicking things (like doors and chairs, and perhaps even a shin or two) and shouting about discrimination and contacting the head of the state’s medical board.

“Uh, it’s okay,” my husband said nervously. “I’m in no hurry. Why don’t you take care of that guy first?”

“Oh, I’ll take care of him, all right,” the woman said. “Security is on its way to pay him a little visit.”

We were escorted into an examining room where my husband’s bruise became a tourist attraction, with several doctors, nurses and even some guy who looked like the custodian coming in to look at it. The general comment seemed to be, “Hmmmm.”

At 1:30 that morning, we finally were headed back home. The verdict? That my husband was fine, didn’t need any treatment, and the bruise would fade in about a week or so. I guess the cause of the humongous, hideous thing forever will remain a mystery.

Maybe the two rabid werewolves in our bedroom had something to do with it.

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Humor Writing 101

Before I started writing my own humor column over 10 years ago, I studied, with rapt interest, the styles of other humor writers. I wanted to see if there might be some common thread or a specific writing technique that made them funny…and then I wanted to steal it and use it myself.

Well, it has taken years of research and the agony of laughter-induced stomach pains, but I think I’ve finally figured out five basic writing techniques that most humor writers share.

First of all, there is what I call the “Double As” technique, where the word “as” is used twice in a sentence: “He was as hungry as a toothless man in an apple orchard.” “She was as dumb as Lois Lane never figuring out that Clark Kent was Superman.”

Then there is the “so” technique that Johnny Carson was famous for: “It was SO hot out, chickens were lining up in front of Kentucky Fried Chicken and begging to be plucked!” “His hair was SO greasy, head lice were seen bobsledding down the part in it.”

Another popular technique is to write a serious-sounding sentence, but to make it humorous by adding a comment in parenthesis: “The secret to my quick weight-loss is that I drank 10 glasses of water every day (and then my bladder fell out).” “Our son, who always was in trouble in his younger days, is now in the medical profession (as a cadaver).”

The most popular technique, I have discovered, is exaggeration. I haven’t found a humor writer yet who doesn’t exaggerate, though some really go hog wild with it, while others incorporate it more subtly.

Using the exaggeration technique, humor writers have written about squadrons of hawk-sized mosquitoes wearing army helmets and flying in V-formation, preparing to attack, and about houses so large, the occupants had to hire a taxi just to go to the bathroom. And humorist Dave Barry wrote that his baby daughter had so much gas one night, if he hadn’t been holding her firmly at the time of one especially loud, bloomer-inflating blast, she would have propelled herself, missile style, right through the ceiling.

Then there is the opposite of exaggeration, which is the “understatement” or “shrinking” technique. This technique describes things as much smaller and less significant than they actually are: “A puddle of spit was bigger than the lake where we rented our summer cabin.” “The guy who painted our house charged by the hour and used a brush that had only two hairs on it.”

There are other techniques, but these five definitely seem to be the most popular.

I’ve noticed that titles are pretty important, too. Granted, the titles of most newspaper columns are written by the editors, but humor writers who are submitting articles to magazines or even books to publishers, should be able to let the editors know, just by the title alone, that what they are about to read is humorous (or is supposed to be).

For example, “My Handyman is Clumsy” might be funnier as, “Meet Thumbless Joe, my Handyman.” Or, “I Hate Housework” could become, “My Roommate is a Giant Dust Ball.”

So now I will attempt to use all five of the aforementioned techniques in one paragraph:

“It was raining so hard the night we went to the restaurant, Carnival Cruise Lines pulled up next to us in the parking lot. We were greeted by our waitress, Lyla, who was so voluptuous, she looked as if she were smuggling two bowling balls underneath her uniform. We were seated at a table that was no bigger than a deck of cards and it was so close to the table behind us, when I reached up to scratch my head, I scratched the guy’s head behind me and panicked, thinking I’d suddenly gone bald. Everything on the menu looked delicious (especially the blob of gravy stuck on the front and the smear of mashed potatoes on the back). We finally ordered the chicken dinner. When our food arrived, not only was it as cold as a snowman’s butt, the portion was so small, it looked as if a hummingbird had died on the plate. After our meal, which we downed in 1.5 seconds, we ordered dessert. My chocolate cake was so sweet, my teeth continued to ache even after I took them out for the night.”

Okay, so maybe all five techniques don’t work very well when you clump them together instead of spreading them out here and there, but I think you get the idea.

And now I am going to head off to my dental appointment…or should I say, “My Afternoon with Attila the Driller.”