My First Joke

When did you first hear, and “get,” a joke, and what was it?  Having a sense of humor in the modern world is so essential, and understanding what jokes are, and what “funny” means, is a crucial component of developing that important part of human character — but for many of us remembering how you learned about jokes and getting a laugh out of them is something that is lost in the mists of time.

img_5819Humor seems to be an innate characteristic of human beings.  Little kids laugh at lots of things, like tumbling puppies, and pratfalls, and playing peek-a-boo, and the sheer joy of being alive, but verbal humor is a pretty big step up from visual humor.  It’s the difference between watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon and laughing because Bugs has tied the unwitting Elmer Fudd’s shotgun into a bow and when Elmer tries to fire it the shotgun blows up in his face, and later understanding and smiling at the humor in Bugs’ wisecracks.

I’m pretty sure that the first joke I ever heard was of the “knock-knock” variety.  That’s not surprising when you think about it, because “knock-knock” jokes are about as simple as a joke can get, with their standard set-up and uniform cadence and silly plays on words.  They are the kindergarten level of humor, where you get to play with clay, and color things, and take a nap after drinking a juice box — but kindergarten is still a crucial first step on the educational ladder.  And I’m pretty sure that I remember what the joke was:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Dwayne.

Dwayne who?

Dwayne the bathtub, I’m dwowning!

I’m also confident that whoever told me the joke — maybe it was UJ, maybe it was an older neighborhood kid, maybe it was an older relative — patiently explained the joke to me so I would understand, and then asked:  “Get it?”  And, after thinking about it, I realized that I did “get” it.  It wasn’t fall-down funny or anything, but it was clever in its own elementary way, and saying the word “dwowning” sounded pretty funny, too.  And I’m pretty sure that I tried that joke out on some other little kid, because learning how to tell a joke is almost as important as “getting” a joke in the first place.

Thanks to that “knock-knock,” a doorway opened, and I went through to be introduced to a world of one-liner jokes about screwing in lightbulbs and horses walking into bars and men getting no respect, and observational humor and satire and farce and anecdotal humor and situational comedy and everything else that makes us chuckle.  That little joke ended up meaning a lot.

The End Of Saturday Morning Cartoons

A sad occasion will occur tomorrow: it will be Saturday morning, and no broadcast television network will be showing cartoons.  Last weekend the CW — whatever that is — became the last network to broadcast what used to be a staple of TV programming.

This is unthinkable to those of us in our 50s, who fondly recall a classic weekend ritual that brilliantly communicated that the school week was over and the weekend truly was here.  UJ and I would sit in front of the TV on Saturday mornings for hours, eating our cereal and howling as animated creatures were decked by anvils or blasted by shotguns.

We loved the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show and its Fractured Fairy Tales and Sherman and Peabody, Tennessee Tuxedo, Space Ghost, The Jetsons, and Underdog, and we watched the new shows the networks would roll out each year, but our favorite show was the Bugs Bunny-Roadrunner Hour.  After a hard week in the schoolroom, a few hours of animated high jinks was just what the doctor ordered.  And then we might switch to a UHF station and watch The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, Woody Woodpecker, and Popeye.  As the morning ended, stoked by sugary cereal and inspired by what we had watched, we were ready to run around outside with our friends, happily committing random acts of mayhem.

The death of Saturday morning cartoons has been a long time coming and was caused by lots of different factors.  One of them was a Federal Communications Commission rule that required broadcast networks to show three hours of educational programming (yawn!) a week between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. and that limited kid-oriented ads during children’s programming.  The national nannies wouldn’t consider a Bugs Bunny cartoon that was based upon a Rossini opera to be sufficiently educational, and the rule meant that advertisers couldn’t use the cartoon shows as a platform for commercials for great new cereals or the coolest new toy, like Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots.  As a result, the networks pulled the plug on a great Saturday morning tradition.

America is all about change, socially and culturally, and there’s no reason to think that a one-time institution like Saturday morning cartoons should be unaffected.  Still, those shows made Saturday morning a fun time to be a kid.  I’ll always treasure my memories of sitting cross-legged in front of the TV in my PJs, watching them.

My Low-Carb Lunch (II)

IMG_2898Today I was up in Cleveland, and when lunchtime rolled around there was nary a food truck in sight.  So, regrettably, there was no apparent way to continue the celebration of Food Truck Summer today.  Fortunately, the Fast Talker consulted some kind of map app on her smartphone and rattled off a list of options.  The only one I was able to hear clearly in the rapid-fire torrent of words was Urban Farmer, which sounded intriguing — so that’s where we went.

Urban Farmer is a steakhouse, at bottom, but it looks like it’s a strong proponent of local sourcing, organic options, and a lot more.  It’s been open for three months, in a part of Cleveland that is being rejuvenated by the opening of the Convention Center on St. Clair Avenue.  It’s got a quirky interior, with mismatched chairs and unusual lighting fixtures and an outdoor eating area — which you don’t often see in a steakhouse.  It looks like a place that would be fun to frequent for an after-work drink.

It also offered just what the doctor ordered for my low-carb diet:  a lunch special today that consisted of a 6 ounce New York cut steak (which looked like a lot more than 6 ounces) and creamed spinach.  I scraped the bread crumbs off the top of the creamed spinach in a nod to low-carb sensibilities, then alternated forkfuls of the succulent, almost buttery steak with the creamed spinach.  Normally I wouldn’t eat creamed spinach under any circumstances — it’s one reason why, as a kid, I preferred Bugs Bunny to Popeye — but I was desperately hungry, and the combination of the rich steak with the creamed spinach was satisfying and made me feel good about my adherence to my new eating regimen.  The Fast Talker, who is normally not a big eater, got a good-sized, rich-looking pork sandwich and ate every bit of it, which tells you something.

I hope Urban Farmer hangs around.

Sorry, Bugs!

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We walked to the Old Montreal part of town for lunch today. A colleague recommended Jardin Nelson, so we ended up there. We had an excellent meal, enjoyed the charming, flower- and umbrella-filled interior that gives the place its name, and listened to a two-piece jazz combo that was playing the standards.

Jardin Nelson is famous for its crepes, so I had to try one. I got the lapin — rabbit — crepe, and it was wonderful, with tender chunks of meat, a delicate gravy, and mushrooms, too. I felt no guilt, either, about consuming a cute, furry, hopping woodlands creature. Sorry, Bugs! I’m with Elmer when Wabbit Season rolls around.

Looney Tunes And The Gateway To Classical Music

This morning I had my Ipod on “Shuffle Songs” and the Overture to The Barber of Seville began playing.  As I listened to the music I immediately thought of . . . Bugs Bunny.  Yes, I thought of the classic Looney Tunes cartoon where Bugs and Elmer have an encounter in a barber shop, chasing each other with axes, applying hair restorer, and engaging in other tomfoolery while snippets from the score of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville played.  The actual cartoon is here:

It made me think about how much I learned about classical music, and for that matter a bunch of other things, when UJ and I sat in front the TV on Saturday mornings, watching the Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck comedy hour as we ate our bowls of cereal.  For me, at least, Bugs Bunny cartoons were a gateway to the world of classical music.  I would hear a portion of, say, Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as background music during a thunderstorm scene and think that it sounded pretty good.  Later, when I began to try to find those pieces and started to regularly listen to classical music, I was amazed at how many portions of classical pieces I had heard before — in cartoons, as theme music for news shows, as music in a commercial, or in some other form of popular culture.  The painless exposure to the songs through popular culture, as opposed to being dragged as a kid to some concert hall, had conditioned me to enjoy and appreciate classical music.

The downside, of course, is that I can’t hear the Overture to The Barber of Seville without thinking of Bugs Bunny, but I suppose that is a small price to pay.