I don’t have a “bucket list” …
… I don’t even like to use the phrase, “bucket list.” I am becoming ever-more convinced that along with all the other things that are making Americans dumber, resorting to the same ubiquitous banalities that everyone and their dog uses to communicate a thought is swamping whatever those little grey cells there are that keep a brain fresh and agile in a brackish brine of stale clichés—i.e., “think outside the box,” “it’s been a real rollercoaster ride,” “checking off one’s bucket list,” and yes, I admit it, “doing what everyone and their dog does.”
With that said, I do have a thing or two I want to accomplish before I croak, and one of those things is to get a humor piece published in The New Yorker. There is a feature in that prestigious periodical—named “Shouts and Murmers” for reasons I have never heard explained—that every week presents a page of frivolity … or whatever they call it in New York … by a variety of writers. Calvin Trillin shows up there from time to time. David Sedaris, too. And others you may have heard of, along with others you haven’t.
About two years ago, I committed myself to—if not actually get something published in the “Shouts and Murmers” feature, then to go to my grave trying. My first attempt was a speculative piece about what might happen should characters from “The Walking Dead” find themselves on the grounds of “Downton Abbey.” The second was a tutorial on how to pick the right sweat pants for every social occasion. The editorial staff of “Shouts and Murmers” found neither of them as funny as I did.
Nor did they think my latest stab was up to New Yorker snuff. I received the rejection last week. The good news is, now I can publish it here in Mr. Cope’s Cave. You, too, might not think it’s as funny as I do, but if nothing else, it runs to 738 words, and not a fucking one of them is “Trump.”
* * *
First Thing in the Morning with the Senior Citizens’ Comedy Writing Team
“Here’s the setup, see? That bratty kid next door is outside throwing one of those things around. You know the thing I mean.”
“A ball?” asks Wilma.
“No no! Not a ball. I know what a damn ball is. I mean one of those other things.” Wally had shushed us all up as soon as we’d taken our places at the table, insisting he’d thought of a killer episode-six opener. It came to him the night before as he drifted off to sleep—which would have made it somewhere around 7:30. “You know? … one of those flat things.”
“A Frisbee?” I offer.
“No, dammit! You don’t think I know what a damn Frisbee is?” Wally would eventually come up with the word he was looking for, we all knew that. But if we stopped cold every time he went rummaging through his bean to remember some actor’s name, what he’d ordered for lunch yesterday, or where he’d left his reading glasses, we’d still be writing the pilot from three seasons ago.
Arnie spreads a deck of index cards out on the table. “So while we’re waiting for that bird to land, I got a few one-liners we need to find a place for.” Arnie is there when we get to work, always, every morning, pounding out gags on his old Remington. He can’t sleep past five, so he pulls on his sweats, comes in and writes while he’s waiting for the rest of us.
“Not a bunch of prostate zingers again, I hope,” Wilma groans.
“Not all of ’em,” Arnie bristles. Wilma insists there’s nothing funny about a fella having to pee four times an hour, but the rest of us beg to differ. As old Bernard used to say before he passed—Ya’ gotta laugh, or ya’ cry. Savvy?
“There’re only seven prostate zingers, that’s all,” Arnie says. “Then I got a couple of Medicare copay zingers, a few having-the-volume-set-too-high-on-Jiggs’-hearing-aid zingers, and a talking-on-the-phone-to-a-tech-support-guy-from-India zinger.”
Sid, still gnawing on his breakfast bagel, perks up. “I told you about the time I went to India with Red Skelton, didn’t I?”
“Only nine-hundred times,” sneers Arnie. “Now, this one is where I have Maggie griping to Jiggs how he wakes her up every time he gets out of bed to take a leak, and he tells her … “
Wilma snorts, “That’s what I mean! There’s not a woman in the world who’s going to think there’s anything funny about getting woken up six times a night whenever … “
“A boomerang!” shrieks Wally.
“Oooooh. A boomerang,” we say.
“Yeah. A boomerang. And the bratty kid next door is outside throwing it around, see? And it goes bouncing off a tree limb, flies over the hedge and hits one of those birdhouses Jiggs has been building since he retired. Then … “
I interrupt. “Wally, is this going to end with Jiggs yelling ‘Get off of my lawn!’ again?’“
Wally puffs up like he might cry and pouts. “People love that. They expect it, dammit! It’s Jiggs’ catch line. It’s like when Henny used to say, ‘Take my wife … pleeeese,’ or when that other guy, uuuuuh … “
“Bob Hope?” asks Wilma. She started her career as a script girl for Hope, and she never lets us forget it.
“No. Not Hope. I know who Bob Hope is, dammit! I mean that other guy. The short guy.
“George Burns?” I suggest.
“No, no! You don’t think I know who George Burns is? No, I mean … uuuh … “
Sid stops gnawing his bagel long enough to say, “I told you about how I wrote a bit for George Burns once, didn’t I?”
“Only nine hundred times,” Arnie spits. “Now listen, Jiggs comes back from the can and Maggie says, ‘We need to get either twin beds, or a divorce.’ And Jiggs says to her … “
“Buddy Hackett!” Wally gurgles.
“Oooooh, Buddy Hackett,” we say.
Sid examines his bagel as though he’s looking for age spots. “Say, Wilma? You got any saran wrap in your purse? I think I’ll save the rest for tomorrow.”
“That’s damned optimistic of you, Sid,” Arnie says, and we all giggle. Like old Bernard used to say—Ya’ gotta laugh, or ya’ cry …