People often ask what got me started as a humorist. And to be honest, I really don’t know. I always enjoyed making people smile, and laughter is a smile with a stronger level of commitment, so I guess it was a natural transition.
I do remember the day I began writing humor. It was almost unintentional, as if something or someone were guiding my thoughts and I was just along for the ride. But it was a fun ride, so I decided to stay on for a while. And fifteen years later, I can’t imagine life without it.
It was a miserable night. My wife had gone to work at her third-shift job, and I was home with our two daughters. The roads were covered in ice, and I was hoping she’d made it to work okay. She couldn’t call – the phone had been disconnected. Our business had failed a few months earlier, and everybody was holding their hand out for money. Every time the lights flickered, my heart stopped because I knew the electric bill was way past due. That was the reality we faced every day until the bank told us to move out.
Yet something happened that night, something that changed my life forever. I sat down at the computer, opened a beer, and began to write. I had no idea where I was going with it, but as the words began to appear on the screen, I realized I was writing the introduction to a book about my life. Not the life of a failed entrepreneur who was facing inevitable foreclosure. But the life of me, the dad. Sounds exciting, huh?
As I wrote, it got funnier and funnier. I began with a description of the life I had envisioned back when dreams still meant something. I was supposed to be a rock star, playing on stages around the world with thousands of women screaming my name. I would live in a three-story mansion with my yacht docked out back. I’d own no less than ten fine automobiles and pilot my own private jet. Life would be grand.
Then I made a comparison to how life really turned out. I never got that recording contract, but I spent my life surrounded by women – my wife and two daughters. The only time they screamed my name was when the toilet was clogged or one of the cats brought in a small animal. I did live in a three-story house, if you include the basement and the attic bedroom. And by that point, I’d owned at least ten cars, though none were what you’d really call an “automobile”. The yacht was still a dream – at that point, I’d have settled for a rubber dinghy. And I never flew a jet, though I did almost crash-land a Cessna. Does that count?
Anyway, that was the night that I accepted my life and learned to laugh in the face of distress. I never did finish that book, though the premise carried through to a lot of the columns I wrote. And as I hammered out a new column each week, I learned more and more to look beneath the surface of reality and find the humor that lies within.
But to really trace my roots in this business, I have to look to my mom. She was the one who taught me to laugh. Yes, laughter is a natural instinct, something we can do without any special instruction. But as we grow older, external forces attempt to stifle that emotion and squash our sense of humor. We’re taught to be serious – after all, life isn’t just fun and games!
But Mom taught me never to take anything in life too seriously, least of all myself. She taught me that it’s okay to laugh. She taught me that it’s good to occasionally take one on the chin. And she taught me that a little well-placed mischief could turn the most mundane situation into a moment of uncontrollable laughter. We learned to stay on our toes when Mom got that twinkle in her eye. Because you just never knew.
That’s the way it was one night when we were sitting at the table, just talking. Dad was asleep on the couch behind us, oblivious to the TV show he’d been watching. Mom reached into the window ledge behind her and picked up a firecracker. I have no earthly idea why it was there – I guess she was saving it for a special occasion.
As she thoughtfully twirled the firecracker in one hand, she picked up her cigarette in the other. Then her eyes lit up. “Dare me?” We were stunned. “You wouldn’t!” Famous last words. Before anybody could stop her, she touched the fuse to the end of her cigarette and the sparks began to fly. She casually tossed the firecracker onto the ceramic tile floor and plugged her ears with an ornery grin.
POW!!! I’ve never seen my dad move so fast. I can only imagine what was going through his mind as he woke to the sound and smell of gunfire, only to find us all laughing hysterically at the table. He said a few words I can’t repeat here, but I think he was entitled. In fact, I’m pretty sure God was laughing, too. As I recall, that was sometime before his heart attack. Coincidence?
Yes, Mom loved a good prank. And she could take it as easily as she could dish it out. Well, most times. When we were younger, Dad bought a boat, a four-seat runabout. Launching the boat was always a chore, because Dad didn’t want to back the trailer too far into the water. The ramp was steep and the water was deep. Need I say more?
Dad’s job was to push from the front while Mom tugged on the stern rope until the boat settled into the water. It was a precarious arrangement that worked pretty well. Most times. On this particular day, the water was cold – really cold. Dad was in up to his knees as Mom reminded him that the ropes were getting frayed and needed to be replaced. Dad wasn’t in the mood for a lecture. “The ropes are fine! Can you pull a little harder? This water is cold!”
Well, the fiery country girl in Mom came to the surface, and she gave a mighty tug, hoping to move the boat so fast that Dad would fall face-first into the cold water. But the laws of physics took over and the rope snapped, launching Mom about ten feet off the end of the dock.
She swam back to the dock, climbed the ladder, and stormed to the car without a single word. Her sweater sleeves hung almost to her knees, and I still remember the squish-squish as she walked past. We didn’t laugh. We didn’t say a word. I don’t even think Dad asked if she was okay. As she climbed into the car, she pointed at the boat and said, “Move it or lose it.”
I remember us trolling around in circles off the end of the ramp, asking Dad “Is she coming back?” She did, and by that time the tension had eased and we were able to laugh about it, just a little. But over the years, Mom told that story with more energy and more passion each time. It was truly one of the highlights of her life. And as she lay in bed with terminal cancer, knowing that her days were just about over, we laughed about that day again.
I guess for most people, humor is just something that’s always been there and they really can’t point to a certain event or person that helped bring it to the surface. But I think we all have those influences, something or someone that drives us to challenge the boring realities of life and make it just a little more enjoyable.
The trick is to listen to those voices, to embrace the message they bring. Don’t forget to dream a little on the way. It’s a nice escape. And trust me – reality will still be there when you come back.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon