Up the down staircase

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By Anthony Deyal

One of my colleagues, who found out she had COVID, sent me a note at two this morning about an event our group is planning. In closing, she added that it seems the pandemic brings on insomnia. My response, at four in the morning, and after having read three newspapers online, checked my Facebook page and the cricket news was, “given the option, it is better to suffer from insomnia.”

The next thing I knew was that I was looking for a quote from comedian Woody Allen which I thought was appropriate but wanted to make sure I got it right, “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Then, knowing that the event we were discussing is more than two weeks away, I went searching for another Woody Allen quote, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

That did it for me, especially when the next quip in my Woody Allen collection was, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” I had just read the account of the service held for the great calypso composer, Winsford “Joker” Devine, and realised that he was, like me, born in mid-August except his birth year was 1943 and mine is 1945. I started to think about the meaning of life since, after the event, I doubt that I would be able to spend any time wondering about the meaning of death. I like what Charles Schulz, the creator of Charlie Brown, Snoopy the dog and Woodstock the bird said, “Life is like an onion: You peel it off, one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.” Or, like Charlie Brown, you get tied up and totally entangled in the “Kite-eating tree”.

I didn’t want to be like the man who boasted about how he found the meaning of life. “I jumped off a cliff,” he explained, “And then it hit me.” In my case, I found it in the dictionary but that didn’t help. I eventually discovered something by American literature professor, Joseph Campbell, but after thinking about it for a while, I realised that I could not really put it into practice, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” For the second time, working on the same column, that did it for me again. I resorted to my comfort zone. Humour. My first stop was, once more, Woody Allen, since he had more answers than I had questions.

Woody, concerned about not just the meaning but the basic fact of life, wondered, “What if nothing exists and we’re all in somebody’s dream?” However, taking no chances he added, “I don’t believe in the afterlife although I am bringing a change of underwear.” He questions the language, “Why are our days numbered and not, say, lettered?” Then he goes to the good news, “On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done as easily as lying down.” He jokes, “Man consists of two parts, his mind and his body, only the body has more fun.”

One good thing though is that he never loses himself in wondering and pondering too much about life and death. Speaking about Hollywood he says, “In Beverley Hills, they don’t throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.” From a lifetime of knowledge, he tells us, “Sex without love is a meaningless experience, but as far as meaningless experiences go it’s pretty damn good.”  The one I like is, “I’m such a good lover because I practice a lot on my own.” You’ve got to hand it to him.

Now I was on a roll and needed to clear the temporary depression. I moved from Woody to the greatest mood-lifter of all time, Rodney Dangerfield. His “No Respect” album, based on his catchphrase “I don’t get no respect” won him an Emmy. His wife was a favourite theme He quipped, “With my wife I don’t get no respect. I made a toast on her birthday to ‘the best woman a man ever had.’ The waiter joined me.” Among the best of the others are, “When we got married my wife told me I was one in a million. I found out she was right!” and “During sex my wife always wants to talk to me. Just the other night she called me from a hotel.”

One of my favourites is, “My wife’s jealously is getting ridiculous. The other day she looked at my calendar and wanted to know who May was.” His “no respect” tagline was not restricted to his wife- his parents, doctor and even his dog were food for comedy. In fact, most laughs came from jokes like: “When I was a kid my parents moved a lot, but I always found them.” and “When I was a kid I got no respect. The time I was kidnapped and the kidnappers sent my parents a note. They said, ‘We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.” His psychiatrist was also a target, “I told him, ‘Doc, I keep thinking I’m a dog.’ He told me to get off his couch.”

At this point, having given Dangerfield all the respect for his not being respected, I decided to go to a little brain-teasing to make me think beyond COVID and death. I decided to end with Emo Phillips, the comedian Jay Leno considered one of the best joke writers in America and the UK Guardian praised highly saying, “His jokes are more perfectly constructed and his personality more compelling than anyone else’s.” Here’s a few for the off-beat, road-less- travelled souls like me. “I discovered my wife in bed with another man and I was crushed. So I said, ‘Get off me you two!’” “A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing.” “I got some new underwear the other day. Well, new to me.”

One of my favourites is, “I ran three miles today…finally I said, ‘Lady, take your purse.’” In many ways, this last one, so very much like Woody Allen, took me back to where I started, “My classmates would copulate with anything that moved, but I never saw any reason to limit myself.”

*Tony Deyal, in a much better mood, was last seen trying to answer two of comedian Steven Wright’s questions, “If you shoot at mimes, should you use a silencer?” and “What’s another word for Thesaurus?”

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