People might think it's easy to be funny but let me tell you something -- well, okay; actually it is pretty easy in my case.
The mother lode of things to make fun of in this neo-post-modern life surrounding me are legion, all the absurdities of which I seem to be, at best, a semi-willing observer. I mean, American Idol? Karaoke joined to the uncool hip of a junior high popularity contest. The DaVinci Code? Quirky art and religious history sewn into a barely believable story. Please. It's like shooting fish in a barrel.
I think it's genetic. I was just lucky that the exact man and woman who would become my parents (they know who they are) eventually got together and created me, a symbiotic fusion of sly Irish wit and Slavic perseverance. Of course, I've had input into some of the more twisted modifications of my later phases but if you're looking for the responsible parties, it's not completely my fault. Besides, most of me and my deal is that I'm just a bit too exuberant in my immaturity.
A perfect example of this happened recently, which was pretty damn handy for this particular column. There I was, riding the bus home like I have to do every freakin' day when I noticed this little girl, perched on the seat between her mother and me, munching on some potato chips and staring at me. Now, I love this because a kid's mind is a beautiful thing to mess with, and she didn't even see it coming.
"Hey, you'd better be careful with those," I said, pointing to her little bag of chips.
"Huh? They're goood," she replied, leaning forward into a huge smile, filled with the pure, simple joy a child finds in snacking, an emotion we misplace somewhere on the road to adulthood without losing our love of the snack.
"Yeah, but look! Now they're growing out of your face!" I = exclaimed at all the crumbs scattered over her chubby brown cheeks. She fell into one of those tiny singsong peals of laughter that only the voice of an amused little kid is capable of creating.
"Hurry, we gotta take a picture of your little tater-chip face, we'll be famous!" I said and began to rummage around in my backpack. She giggled madly, and again her laughs were an essence of that joy in simply being alive. That, and also perhaps finding someone who didn't exactly look her age but certainly acted like it. Her mother looked at us both, shook her head and smiled, seemingly glad to have someone else occupy the girl's short attention span for a while.
Tragically though, I didn't have my camera with me, so the joke started to run out of gas.
"Aww, I don't have my camera with me," I told her with regret. An expression of miniature sorrow crossed her face.
The bus was nearing my stop.
"Sorry, Li'l Taterchip Face, but I'll tell you what -- you keep munchin' on those chips, be cool with yourself and maybe next time, next time," I leaned in and intoned to her, "we'll see about taking your picture, OK?"
"OK!" she exclaimed, smoothed back into the groove of her momentary happiness.
I got up to exit the bus and looked over to her mother. Before I could say good-bye or anything else, she mouthed a sincere "thank you," and I figured I didn't really need to say anything else. Sure, it was a minor thing in the big picture but for a brief spell it was just two people having some fun in a world that seems to need those small joys more and more these days.
Now, I can hear what you're thinking because not only am I pretty funny, I've got ESP. You're saying to yourself, "OK, great, you amused a 4-year old on a bus, Brian. How hard can that be?" All right, point taken. But finding the humor to be had in any sort of situational context is just as easy with those of you who are allegedly adult members of society.
Like when a friend offered me a ride home from work last night and saved me from having to find an unsuspecting audience on the bus. She was telling me about a hike she'd taken recently near some burial mounds at Fort Hill, in Highland County. I simply offered her some possible possibilities.
"So some archaeologists had found these tablets with all these runes on them, but they were like Scandinavian or something," she said as we cruised up Spring Grove Avenue. "And they don't know how something like this could've gotten there or --"
"Wait a minute," I interjected. "You're saying that somebody, maybe some lost Scandinavian, left these things in the hills of Ohio? Well, it could have been all sorts of things," I said in a pseudo-conjectural voice, which sounds funnier than it might read. "Maybe the guy was bringing them to some brilliant but reclusive scholar of runes who lived up in the hills and he was abducted by aliens, the first one in our country's history. Or maybe he thought, 'I'll just screw with some people's minds in the future, leave these things here that don't really mean anything and make 'em think that they do.' And then he just laughed and walked on."
My friend was laughing, too, so I just kept going.
"Or maybe, maybe," I intoned, realizing I needed to get some new tricks in my delivery style, "he just looked around at the beauty of the woods and said, 'I think I'm just gonna forsake civilization right here, go up and live in these hills by myself' and dropped all his stuff right there and left it behind. You know, like the Unabomber but without the bombs."
However I find my way home, I just try to enjoy myself.
So basically now that I don't have that pesky distraction of college disrupting my days, my bachelor-degreed brain is always looking for new ways to amuse itself. If you happen to be the person who's with me at the time, just keep this in mind -- I'm not making fun of you, I'm amusing both of us at your expense, and that's a big difference there, Poindexter. It's just what I do and it's a two-way street, so remember: I, too, should be skewered with that spear of your sarcasm and roasted. No, please, I insist. I only have the drama that I give myself, so fuck me if I can't take a joke.
I recognize the harshness and miseries in the world but I refuse to cooperate with them by allowing their domination over me, who I am, the way I act. It's all in the power of positive nonsense. What's the use of fitting in with the negativities of the world if you're just another piece in that puzzle?
During my senior year of high school, I had an English teacher, Mr. Massarella, who used his deft, subtle encouragements to persuade us to discover ourselves, who we really were, in our writing. At the beginning of every class he would read aloud what he felt were our better pieces and some of it was mine, so I consider him my first mentor in the powers of the written word, finding the better pieces of my tortured teen-aged self.
He died unexpectedly during our Christmas break and I heard about it from a classmate at a party. I felt stunned by a sudden gravity that seemed to whirl around me, so much so that I had to sit down. My friend patted my shoulder and said that some of the things I'd written had come up during an informal conference he'd had with Mr. Massarella. How or why I have no idea, but he said that Mr. Massarella had told him, "That Ciesko kid could grab the world by the ass if he'd just quit goofing around."
As much as I respected his opinion, I've always figured I could find a way to do both. I'm still looking, so remember kids -- childhood is short and cruel and sweet but immaturity can last a lifetime.