Wednesday, March 26, 2008

If a Joke Falls in the Drugstore ...

Sometimes I tell a joke to no one, as when, reaching into the seafood freezer at Wal-Mart one day, dropping my box of Gorton's beer-battered fish -- which cartwheeled and rattled then slapped to the floor -- I quipped into the rush of ice-cold steam, "Now that's what I call battered fish!"

Sometimes I joke to a stranger standing next to me in line somewhere, but it may as well be to no one. For example, waiting in a long line to check out at our local drugstore, a twelve-pack of beer under one arm and two bottles of wine under the other (do I really want to be telling you this?), I turned to the man next to me, who was struggling to keep his own case of beer aloft, and said, "We can really hold our liquor!" The man replied nothing, just kept staring straight ahead, probably wondering when the line would get moving so he could escape the drunk lady lamely trying to pick him up.

I always wonder about these instances. Had the stranger heard me at all? (And if not -- well, the old tree-in-the-forest thing....) Or had I simply "bombed"? I prefer to believe the former, as my own little impromptu jokes certainly make me laugh....

And laugh I did this morning when, while walking the dogs, I stopped to ask my neighbor the name of his ornamental grass I always admire, and whether he thought his new, young plant would grow larger and wider. In his gentle and earnest voice (if you closed your eyes, you would swear it was Mr. Rogers), my neighbor surveyed his garden, smiled and said, "Everything gets larger and wider!"

There are so many opportunities for jokes in this life, and, Mr. Rogers or not, I try to take as many as possible.... "Including us!" I said and laughed, despite the fact that he has always been quite trim. I was still laughing by myself (although I thought I detected a subtle upward curling of my dog Cookie's lip) as he waved and left for work.

My sister, the neuropsychologist, informed us on vacation this summer that studies have shown that people laugh much more at their own remarks than those of others, and didn't hesitate to point this out, interjecting as we chatted on the cabin deck, "See -- you laughed just now. There -- you did it again." Though I felt like an egotistical slug, I have to admit she was right -- everyone in our group chuckled or laughed heartily after almost everything he or she said.

I'm not sure I really wanted to know this about myself and other humans, but at least when I find myself laughing alone at my own jokes, I'll know I'm not really alone after all, that I was always my best audience anyways when I'm bending into the meat-case, blurting my next one-liner to the stiff and silent porkchops.

written Summer 2007

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