Take it or leave it.

Monday, May 18, 2015


I recently discovered that a person I have admired for much of my life has lost his sense of humor. I don't know exactly when it happened, or how, or where his funny bone went. But he's frowning more. He hardly ever laughs. And everything I say, even overt jests, he takes with a straight face, a wince or a straight-up grimace. He is argumentative. Everything is the end of the world. Listen to him and you'll be convinced we are being bombarded with lethal doses of radiation from Fukushima. Armageddon is upon is. This is not the man I used to know. Well, it sort of is. He was always a bit of a doomsdaysayer, but he at least used to be able to belly laugh to old episodes of Dave Letterman. Now all he watches is true crime. How depressing!

This is not good. Not for me, who has to listen to him whenever we get together, and these get-togethers are dwindling by the day. But also for him. A sense of humor can save you. I recently watched Montage of Heck, about the rise and fall of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain. The band's bassist was interviewed as saying that Cobain was very sensitive to being ridiculed. He took himself super seriously. You never saw him laugh. In contrast, this mate of his, Krist Novoselic, was always laughing at himself. And he's still alive to talk about it. Maybe had Cobain laughed more, he'd still be around too. If not for his wife, another Yoko Ono, the bitch. Just kidding. Sort of. Courtney is cute, though. If your tastes run to the unconventional.

The philosopher formerly known as Aurobindo Ghose once said: “A God who cannot smile could not have created this humorous universe.” And anyone who could rock this look clearly did not take himself too seriously. I mean, check out that 'stash! Just kidding, Aurobindo totally did.

Indeed the world may not be so serious as it appears, and if this is the case, “it is the (serious) people who will be the shallow ones . . . and the . . . frivolous . . . will be those who are really wise.” (William James)

Dude, you used to come home and tell jokes. Granted, they were never very funny. But at least you tried. And you for one got a laugh.

But maybe a sense of humor is not one of life's requirements, maybe it doesn't even add to your years or stave off diseases or ameliorate pain, as research argues. Maybe laughter, and even smiles, are overrated!

Indeed a physiognomist studying your features would say that your thin lips and lobes bespeak a man devoid of much passion and zest, that your long forehead indicates superior intelligence, and how the thinker likes to brood and lean to melancholy!

Though it is said that laughter is healing and smile and the world smiles with you, there are the cranky and cantankerous ones who have frowned and griped on to a ripe old age. Curmudgeons have graced the pages of fiction and non. There's the Scrooge. And the Grinch. Archie Bunker. And Owen's mom from Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Remember her? Nicholson's character in As Good as it Gets. And you love Nicholson! OK, that's not really helping my argument.

Lest we forget, there's also Herbert Spencer. This 19th  century British philosopher, whose collected works number in the tens of thousands of pages, was long forgotten and in his own lifetime despite his many and varied contributions to the world of science and sociology. At the end of his triumphant career this somber sort expressed the view that life was not worth living.

Unlike Voltaire, whose wit won the hearts of all of Europe, while with his genius he cultivated their minds. The author of Candide was given a procession to rival an emporer, and his tomb is still a national monument centuries after he wrote his ironic classics. This same Voltaire was once quoted as saying, "Woe to (men) who cannot laugh away their wrinkles. I look upon solemnity as a disease." Not much gray area there.

But maybe I'm coming about this all wrong. Nietzsche once said: "Man is the only animal that laughs (because) he alone suffers so excruciatingly that he was compelled to invent laughter." Nietzsche believed philosophers should be graded according to their capacity for laughter. Of course he went crazy at the end. Maybe he didn't laugh enough.

Or maybe what he really could have used was a good cry. In Japan it has become en vogue to have an evening of communal rui-katsu, or tear seeking. Organizers explain that crying clears the mind and reduces stress, but realize that people, at least from stoic Japan, where hiding one's anger and sadness is considered a virtue, cannot cry unless they make a conscious effort, so they arrange these get-togethers where attendants share the equivalent of a group hug, only with tears. They say it's not like crying alone in a room. "I don't feel depressed after crying here," one person said. Hey, whatever works.

But I will always remember you, whether you smile or snarl. Since you are the man who gave me life. Happy Father's Day, old man. And if you read this, Dad, I hope it at least makes you smile. Ooops, Father's Day is a month a way. I guess the laugh is on me. Or the cry. Either way you're my guy.

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