Monday, March 29, 2010

Economy


It used to be called Pic 'N Pay way back when I walked without a limp and thought no more of taking a shit than I did of running as fast as I could run. Brad and I would have foot races for absolutely no reason at all down Union Ave. Just walking down the road, "Race you to that stop sign. Ready....Go!"
That was a long time ago and if I have to cross the street fast now I'm winded for ten minutes.

Anyway, this is one supermarket that I can honestly say I never stole anything from. Unlike the nonexistent A&P market that is now a convention center. I stole a pack of gum once from them. Probably cost a $0.25 more than I had at the time. It really is laughable how magnified those childhood moments are when compared to the crimes adults commit. Don't steal a pack of gum, but later on your country will call on you to bomb a village. It doesn't add up. And I guess it doesn't have to for a society to survive. We try to teach kids to be honest and peaceful. We try. And when we fail they become survivalists like us. I decided that laws are how we punish ourselves for failing as parents.

Pic N Pay changed its name to Hannafords back in the early '90s. I wonder if they sponsor a little league team. Anyone know? Pic 'N Pay is immortalized in my book Memorabilia because they sponsored the team that Mack Wynter played for. Mack's memorial water fountain is over at the little league field as we speak. Pic 'N Pay made that possible. I think the brand name was a sign of the times as smaller stores had to choose loyalties and it was either Shaws or Walmart or Hannafords who would get the title. It's nothing personal. Under any name it does less damage to my wallet.

I've been reading about the nature of the economy in The Wealth of Nations summation by P.J. O'Rourke. On one side it's as simple as this: One guy sharpens a spear, one guy uses the spear to kill a deer, one guy butchers the deer and they all divide the meat up. But it gets pretty complicated after that. I'm told they have whole classes on it in college.

P.J. O'Rourke is, for those who don't know, a thinking man's Dave Barry. He's pure comedy but with language and concepts like Norman Mailer. Dave Barry writes about standing in the check out line and counting how many items the person in front of him has (to see if he's under the limit for the express lane). It's funny but pretty superficial. O'Rourke on the other hand tosses out quips like this, "If Money doesn't mean anything, why was Alan Greenspan such a big cheese all those years? Did he just go to his office and do Sudoku puzzles all day?" I think that's hilarious and I'm not alone as O'Rourke is pretty much THE political comedy writer of the century, surpassing John Stewart and Stephen Colbert (though those guys are hilarious). O'Rourke doesn't lampoon one party or another. He just takes what's given and makes it funny.

In case you're interested the major influences on my comedy writing are as follows:

Erma Bombeck - Hilarious '60s era housewife humor. Probably the most punchlines per paragraph of any writer ever. Could make a joke out of soap scum.

P.G. Wodehouse - '40s era novella writer from England. The language and conspicuous lack of punchlines is what sets him apart. The humor is all in the subtext. Dry as dust comedy and the plot almost always stays tight. "Can I touch you for a fiver?" Brad and I laughed and laughed at the characters in his books. The famous butler Jeeves comes from Wodehouse. Bertie Wooster is the perennial bachelor who needs Jeeves to save his ass every ten minutes. But Wooster drives while Jeeves drinks tea in the passenger seat. So funny!

Dave Barry - A great tongue for comedy. His voice doesn't whine or push for a joke. He's just naturally and consistently funny about common life anecdotes. His books aren't as funny as his columns in my opinion.

Hunter Thompson - Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was the funniest book I'd ever read in 1990 and I had never smoked pot, dropped acid, sniffed ether or been to Las Vegas. But I understood immediately that Thompson was making fun of the situation he was taking advantage of. He was making fun of himself and society through the situation. It was performance art and his dry delivery of horrific debauchery blew my mind. The scene with the lawyer puking in his shoes and the cleaning lady opening the door and he grabs a knife and yells, "What do you know?" is priceless. He says to Thompson, "I was just cleaning my shoes when this agent bust in. Let's kill her." Cleaning his shoes?? So absurd. I thought to myself that if this is what I've been missing without acid and pot then I'd better get busy. This was a fearless writer and a fearless man and he taught me that if you want to run with the big dogs then you've got to lay it all on the line. Eventually your ashes will be shot from a cannon. You might as well live like that too.

P.J. O'Rourke - Full of quips and jests and waggish comments O'Rourke is almost always the butt of his own joke. Everyone loves a comedian who doesn't put himself above others and O'Rourke's comedy is the voice of reason. "For those uninterested in the historiography of currency supply [this book] is like reading Modern Maturity in Urdu." Jokes like that can be enjoyed by 100% of humanity and that phrasing can be found all over my writing. See, the funny word is Urdu [not Greek], an Indo-aryan dialect, so the sentence has to end with that. And the loftiness of "For those uninterested..." sets you up for a mature statement instead of the childish though recognizable simile of reading a senior citizen magazine in a language you don't understand. It's good humor and the dude is wildly successful.

Mark Twain - I had a cat named after this guy. The story "Letters From The Earth" is as dark as you will ever see comedy before it becomes ponderous and preachy. The "Letters" are from the devil back to Gabriel about this "irresponsible, hypocritical animal known as Man." Not at all funny, the stories, and also the tale "The Mysterious Stranger", are the works of a funny man who has gone completely over the deep end of despair. I think if you read too much Mark Twain and take him too seriously you end up like George Carlin right before he died, bitter, mean, scathing with all the hate projected outwards at society. Still, I respect him for trying to be funny. Here's a quote from Stranger...

"It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream - a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought - a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!"

Are you laughing yet?

Notable Mentions are David Sedaris and Bill Bryson, both contemporary writers who keep an otherwise dull anecdote alive with comedy. The staff on The Onion is amazing. Gallows humor at its best. I'm so proud that their satire of media saturation/trivia/gossip will be forever linked to my generation. I would write for them but I hear they pay their writers in Starbucks gift certificates. Fuck that.
Also, John Kennedy Toole wrote A Confederacy of Dunces. He loses points with me because he locked himself in a garage with the car running instead of getting a grip and using the talent he had to write more books. This guy had the talent to be a real giant of American humor but he took rejection too seriously. Dunces is funny because of the subtext. A fat, unemployable, self-proclaimed philosopher sets out to (I can't even type it without laughing) create a Neo-medieval monarchy, ruled by geometry and "taste", in 1960s New Orleans. His methods? Masturbate in his bed, eat hot dogs and loudly mock the latest movies. (As crazy as it sounds he's also the only character in the book who has any recognizable game plan to life) Toole crafted a perfect farce without ever letting on that he knew it was a farce. His voice is so refined as he talks about a dirty strip joint floor and a prancing fag that you hardly realize the comedy is there for you to find it, rather than pushed at you. I read this in 1992 and it completely changed the way I wrote post cards to people. Before, I would try to be descriptive and honest like, "Fell asleep in the bus depot, someone stole my shoes...the fuckers." After, I wouldn't be so obvious, "As soon as I get my next pay check I'm going to drive to Guatemala and raise chickens in preparation for the coming apocalypse. Should I pick you up or will you meet me there?"
To the dismay of many, I allowed Toole to influence more than just my writing, but to be fair I was already on my path when I encountered Ignatius Reilly.

There were probably others ( see comment section) but these were the major ones. If I'm not funny then you can blame Jack Kerouac, who, overly influenced by Thomas Wolfe, managed to write a dozen books without one punchline or attempt at humor. What Hunter Thompson makes funny is sad and forlorn in the hands of the poet Kerouac. William T. Vollmann isn't funny either but I'd trade every punchline I will ever write to have his talent. He taught me that if you pick a ridiculous goal and plunge in completely then you will end up with something unusual. Above all, write the story only you could write. That's a more refined way to say "Write what you know."

What was my point? I forget. I think it was a comparison of my two grocery bills. One was from the yuppie place on the hill where the apples are in quaint wicker baskets, and the other was from Hannafords where it's all on a wet, slanted plastic shelf. But shopping at Hannafords I not only saved over $10 but I got like twice the groceries including an impulse buy of some ice cream and cookies. Economy. Thoreau wrote a whole chapter on it but his definition was less currency related and more simplification related. I'm dealing with the currency side of it right now as I have to squeeze the most from every penny.

Tonight I was at a bar, banging my head against the wall and some guys were playing a game called 3 ball pool. You each put a buck in and whoever sinks the three balls in the fewest shots wins the pot. If two people tie then the pot carries over and everyone puts another dollar in. Let me tell you that I've never seen that game played but it's definitely the way to learn to play pool. The fewest shots possible is sinking all three balls on the break. They told the story of seeing that happen once. Sinking two on the break and then the third on your second shot is very very rare. Tonight I saw two people sink all three in three shots. That's one on the break, then one on the next shot and then the next. Both people won $20 pots including my money. I sunk all three in five because I scratched so I really sunk all three in four shots. It makes you think very hard about your shot and where you want the cue ball to stop. And because the table only has three balls and the cue ball on it you can see everything. The guys I played with were all good bar players. They had their own sticks and knew a good shot from a bad shot. I stopped playing because I can not afford $1 or $2 so I can take three shots of pool. That fits in with my sermon on economy. Three ball pool forces you to think about economy. You agonize over every tiny inch the cue ball rolls. It's very hard but you know what the opposite of that is? Sloppy. You play sloppy or you play economically. Why is this an excellent rule for pool but totally ignored once you walk out the door?
Shit, there's probably a better punchline to end this with but I'm too wired on cookie dough and ice cream to think of it. Go read Dave Barry if you want humor. I'm a documentary filmmaker!
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.