One afternoon at the state-operated boarding school for cripples, aka the Sam Houston Institute of Technology or SHIT, I was summoned by a teacher in a sober manner that suggested I was going to be sent to the principal’s office. But instead I was told to report to the office of the director of recreation.
I was nervous and baffled. What could I have said or done to get in trouble with the director of recreation? Up until now, she barely acknowledged my existence. If we passed in the halls she hustled by uncomfortably without breaking stride, may flipping me a quick hello wave.
But this time in her office, she greeted me with a warm, appreciative smile. She moved a chair so I could pull up next to her desk. She said she needed my help. “I’m going to a costume party and I’m going as Poland!” she said. Her costume would be like a sandwich board shaped like Poland. And she figured she could win first prize if she covered the sandwich board with Polish jokes. She heard through the SHIT grapevine, she said, that I knew more Polish jokes than any living human. Could I share with her my favorites? She braced, pen in hand, ready to scribble down whatever I said on a yellow legal pad.
So I hit her with a bunch of Polish jokes. I felt proud, like some 14-year-old joke guru. It’s pathetic, I know. But that was 40 years ago, when Polish jokes were considered to be funny. I didn’t say they were funny. I said they were considered to be funny. And besides, I had a severe case of Mad magazine poisoning, the result of exposure to toxic levels of Mad magazine. I’d do or say anything for a laugh.
It’s my mother’s fault. She was a smart ass enabler. Perhaps she saw in me the smart ass she could have been had she persevered and not gotten sidetracked. But she married young and had babies and all and pretty soon her opportunity to fully explore and develop her smart assiness was gone. Through me she was reliving the dream.
Case in point: Mom took me to a trick shop when I was about 10. I was giddy drunk with possibilities for pulling hilarious gags. But the prop I found most enchanting was the fake plastic hot dog. So my mother bought it for me and she agreed not to tell my sister. She even went along with my evil plan for her to serve hot dogs for dinner and to hold back my sister’s real hot dog and bring her at first the plastic hot dog in a real bun and covered with real mustard. As my sister prepared to take a bite, I swelled with such a burst of brilliance I was ready to explode. But then my sister looked at the hot dog with deep suspicion, pulled it out of the bun, set it on the table and pronounced it a fake.
I was so deflated that I flung the hot dog to the floor in humiliation.
But then, under the table, a seismic commotion! It was Mickey, our crazy-ass beagle that ate everything. Mickey ate Jell-o, sawdust, soap. He didn’t care. Mickey scrambled and pounced! He chewed and gnawed and scratched the fake hot dog, all in vain. He finally gave up, dejected and defeated.
Well at least I outsmarted our crazy-ass beagle! Redemption!
It’s pathetic, I know.