Monthly Archives: May 2018

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Say Something Funny

A few years ago a friend of mine asked me, “If you were required to do or say something funny on short notice, what would you do?”  He was being inducted into a club that required a clear sense of humor. As part of their ritual for joining that club, they had ordered him to “be funny now!”  I’m not sure what the club was called, but I think it was a very exclusive club, like the Turtle Club.

I’ve thought about that question over the years several times, and the reason I have is simply because sometimes one might actually need to do or say something funny on short notice. This happens regularly if you are married. I am not suggesting here that one should use humor to cover up or dismiss real problems. Those need to be addressed in an honest and sober way. But sometimes, I have found, your spouse simply needs to laugh, and you do, too, and laughing together can be a real balm for the soul and for a couple’s relationship, particularly for people who have been married a long time.

I say this because I think that laughter is just about the only thing that a couple can share throughout married life. Passion will come and go, and I suppose, when one is quite old the sexual kind pretty much just goes—though not according to AARP, so maybe this is just a rumor. The fruit of that passion, that is children and their rearing, well that can be quite a life-long project, but even so children will eventually leave the nest.  If they don’t you can, I suppose in an act of desperation, actually sue them to leave.

But humor, well, it is the product, I believe, of a healthy relationship. And even though it is something that one can find overused, as a way to deflect from a sober conversation, it is nonetheless vital. It’s more than just spice—it’s an actual ingredient in the recipe of life, though like spice, it’s a tasty ingredient.

So, when my friend asked me what I would do to be funny on short notice, I just answered him by barking like a dog, though not to a tune. And he burst out laughing, for he had done that very thing the evening before when he was joining the Turtle Club (or whatever club that was).  And sometimes, just barking like a dog is funny, though in this clip, the man’s wife seems less than amused.

I close with the top ten ways to be funny that are guaranteed* to make your spouse laugh:

  1. Wear your underwear on your head to breakfast and pretend that nothing is going on.
  2. Tell your spouse that your neighbor is a spy and act like you really mean it and you’re going to call the FBI; ask him or her to Google the phone number for the FBI while you watch the neighbor out the window.
  3. Pretend you like something you’ve never liked before, like golf or crochet or boiled, slimy okra.
  4. Temporarily rename your dog and insist that that has always been the dog’s name.
  5.  Insist that Christmas is “just around the corner” even if it’s springtime.
  6.  Pretend to have developed a new allergy to something common that almost no one is allergic to (e.g. tea)—this only works if you’re not already a highly allergic person.
  7.  Act like you’ve completely forgotten about old T.V. shows like Columbo or Hawaii Five-O and the you basically don’t remember the 1970s. This only works if you actually could possibly remember the 1970s.
  8. Insist that Bill Clinton is still the president of the United States and that, in any case, he never had any affair(s).
  9. Act like you want to go skydiving “right now” and say you’re calling in sick to work to do so; of course, insistently invite your spouse to come with you.
  10. Bark like a dog.

*Guaranteed in a figurative sense; not actually guaranteed.


Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Fact vs. Opinion: How not to Get Your Burger

“One problem is,” my friend who is a college professor recently said, “there seems to have been a breakdown in the distinction that high schools used to teach between fact and opinion. Students don’t know the difference when they get to college.”

I recall that this same friend used to complain about how poor students’ grammar was when they came to college to be taught by him. He used to say that he was disheartened when he would grade their first term paper in his class. “They don’t know the principal parts of English verbs,” he would remark. “One—a very bright one who has gone to medical school—even thought that the participle of take is ‘tooken’!”  And he would then lament that they know not how to place a thesis statement, how to develop the argument and present the evidence in the body of the paper, or how to summarize the evidence coherently and offer a conclusion that demonstrated the thesis statement.  These were, in the old days when we sat in a local bar and enjoyed a beer or two, what he used to complain about. 

But he has been complaining much less frequently about grammar for quite a while now, or even the way that their paper writing skills are deficient.  “Are they writing better?” I queried. That’s when he offered me the opening quote of this blog.

I’m not sure, though, that he’s right this time.  He knows a lot—he’s a college professor, after all—and I am but a humble writer, albeit with a decent command of English principal parts.  Yet I think what he’s calling the failure of the high schools to distinguish between fact and opinion might only be part of a wider societal problem.  So, perhaps he’s half right.

How so? For better or worse, the lines that once helped define societal norms have been blurred or erased.  Upon seeing Artemsia’s cunning action, Xerxes once hyperbolically lamented that his men had become women and his women, men. Now, of course, that would not be hyperbole. It would be politically incorrect, for sure, and beyond that, quite possibly literally true.  Nor is the expanded version of marriage what it once was; some have married trees,[1] others animals,[2] and others not others (even if they are seeing someone else).[3]  Moreover, if certain social pundits are correct, it will be expanded yet again.[4]

Caveat lector: societal “norms” are admittedly not always right. Jim Crow laws were once enacted in roughly thirty-five states, which would comprise the greater portion of the country and in that sense were a “norm” for much of the United States. But they were wrong.  Norms are simply conditioned responses; sometimes good ones, sometimes, not so good.  To take a current example, whether one should be allowed to marry more than one person can be seen as a legitimate question.[5]

But we are getting a bit far afield. Such a question can’t possibly be settled in a blog.  But a hint can be given: that question’s answer lies and will always lie exclusively in the realm of what Plato called the forms, some religious people, Heaven. Maybe an earthly example of that was on display this morning (American time) with the beautiful and deeply touching royal wedding of Harry and Meghan.  It reflected the “form” of marriage (which Christians call the union of Christ and His bride, the Church). Harry and Meghan took their vows before God, and it sounded like they meant it.  If they did, they were acknowledging that even for royals, ultimately the sense of right and wrong—in this case reflected their vows—does not come merely from society or from the individual, even a royal individual, but from God.

In closing, let’s get to the naked truth: if truth is left to the individual, if a Burger King closes, you might just strip naked to make your point about being upset that you didn’t get a burger because there is no “wrong” to prohibit you from doing so. Or, perhaps more poignantly, giving one’s thesis defense in one’s underwear is okay, too, if it makes the point (about not allowing to be told by anyone what you can or can’t wear). Since there is neither wrong nor right, why not make your point (about your burger or required attire) in such a dramatic fashion?[6]  It is, after all, just a family restaurant or a thesis defense.  If, conversely, it is “wrong” to behave thus, then doing so falls roughly under the category of what my friend called valuing opinion (feeling that one has the “right” to go naked) more than fact (a professor actually being in charge of the class and prohibiting indecency of any kind at the thesis defense)–if, in any case, my friend is even half right when it comes to fact vs. opinion.  But whether you agree with him or not, here’s another naked truth: if you decide to make your point in such dramatic fashion in the real business world (other than the business of a stripper, of course), you are not very likely to keep your job, and, though your buns will be exposed, you won’t get your burger, either.







Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The (In)curable Romantic

One might expect a blog with this title to appear around Valentine’s Day. The next major holiday, in any case, is Mother’s Day, and that’s not usually a “romantic” day—except for Oedipus, I suppose, poor fellow. Yet Mother’s Day could be romantic for the husband of the mother, that is to say the man married to the Mother of the House, for there is something quite admirable and even, I think, a bit romantic about being married to someone who has dedicated her life to being a mother.

Delaroche, Young Mother

I imagine my own wife that way—she is and will always be beautiful to me in no small part because of her unswerving dedication to our children and the family that she essentially supervises. And I would marry her all over again, if I could. And, you know, I think that’s at least a little romantic.

The word romantic nowadays would sometimes seem to have taken on a meaning quite different than what I have proposed here. In the news I recently stumbled upon an article about an actress named Anna Faris. I only mention her particular point of view because I think it is emblematic of a wider trend, not because I dislike Anna Faris—I actually have no idea who she is as I don’t watch television—but I did read that she is, perhaps ironically so, the star of a show called “Mom,” which seems apropos as we are leading up to Mother’s Day quite soon (May 13).

Anna Faris’ use of the word romantic struck me because it seemed to me off the mark, and at any rate certainly contrasts sharply with what I wrote above. In an interview of her by Erin Donnelly[1] from a March 28th publication, Ms. Faris is quoted as having said that she is seeking to “figure out what the purpose” is of marriage is.

“Is it safety for your children? Is it convention? Is it so other people respect your relationship more? For me, I’m just not quite sure where it fits.”

But she did not end her comments there, and this is the bit that truly jumped out at me:

“I am a romantic,” she added. “I believe in a partnership, I believe in companionship. I just don’t know if I believe in a ceremony of a wedding. You’d think that having successfully married parents would increase your odds. But how we’ve justified it is trying to make something work when we weren’t sort of picking up the clues. For me, it was sort of checking it off the list.”

It is most certainly not the case that I am offended by Ms. Faris’ remarks, which for all their lack of cohesion, nonetheless make it abundantly clear that she is highly ambivalent about the institution of marriage. Rather, I just found the bit about how she is “romantic” to be rather incongruous. Isn’t romance something meant to last? Isn’t the whole idea of a romantic movie about finding a special someone with whom you can build a lasting relationship—one that will last “forever”—someone you can ride off into the sunset with, have children with, struggle through hunger, cold, and disease with, and still love at the other end of the journey. But maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe the meaning of the word romantic was transformed along the way into temporary or ephemeral or exciting but not enduring. Or maybe it just needs a qualifying adjective like “curable” in front of it. If there is an incurable romantic, surely there could be a curable one.

Yet I’ll bet even in this modern, frenetically paced, and often all-too-dispensable age in which we live, the word still has its traditional meaning. I think that for the person who is “a romantic” the notion of finding that special person still abides. That amatory affliction would, to my mind, be the incurable type, and that is how even Mother’s Day can be romantic.

Happy Mother’s Day to my wife and to all mothers. May you suffer the affliction of love, as Ovid might put it. I hope it turns out to be an incurable case.


Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Three and a Half Cocktail Party Topics

Historically in North America there have been three and a half or so primary topics typical of convivial conversation; we have all heard them or participated in them at a dinner or cocktail party, if we indulge in that sort of thing—cocktails, that is. I say “in North America,” because in Europe there are more than four; one can add art, music and, of course, they have the same other half topic, i.e. animals, that we have. We occasionally talk about art or other cultural things—just last night it happened—but less often enough that I won’t include them in this blog.

The first topic, of course, is politics. This is a terribly difficult topic these days, however, as people seem to be so polarized in their opinions. I recently met someone who had actually gone so far as to move to California because “there were a lot of Trump people” in the portion of the country (Indiana) in which he was then living. I realize that some areas tend to be more or less “red” and others “blue,” but such a decisive move (changing jobs, houses, leaving family members behind, etc.) seems to me a rather hyper-extensive way to solve the problem of occasional eavesdropping on cocktail party banter or simply waving from time to time at a neighbor with whom you might disagree politically.

The second topic of conversation is, of course, sex. Even though this one never goes out of style, I must admit that I am feeling rather behind on this topic. I only just found out that Sex AND the City is not entitled Sex IN the City—I had not heard of the T.V. show until the other day, when I was traveling and I turned on the television and saw the show just coming on, so I actually saw the title for the first time. Add to that, I also found out that it is now in syndication, for the channel I had flipped to was something like MeTV, a rerun channel—and, even more interesting, that one of the actors in that show, which I also just found out is not a movie but a T.V. show, is, in fact, running for governor of New York. Sex and politics in one fell swoop!

Sadly, I just don’t know much about that topic (the T.V. show, that is), which puts me at a distinct disadvantage in conversations at dinner parties. To wit, I found out at a recent cocktail party that SJP, which I had assumed to be a type of STD, actually pertains strictly to this television show—I knew not what at the time, but I tried to contribute to the discussion anyway. Now I don’t mean that people discuss sexual details at cocktail parties—that would be too coarse—and even when they do, they tend to refer to them tastefully as “SJP” or the like; but they do seem to have almost an prurient interest in who in Hollywood is cheating on whom or sundry details of a series like Sex AND the City. Yet on those occasions when I’m feeling devilish, I actually try to contribute an opinion about something that I perceive might just pertain to the topic even though I have never seen the show. I admit that I rather like such conversations, as they present an intellectual challenge to me about how to bluff my way through one by saying something seemingly appropriate but, in point of fact, entirely spurious.

The third item of conversation is, of course, religion. This has, in recent years, become much less divisive a topic than it once was. It seems to me that in the 1980s the order of cocktail party appropriateness was sex first—everyone thought it was cool to talk about it for some reason—then politics and lastly religion. But now it seems that people are much more interested in religious topics and politics is the odd man out. And I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because fewer people, I think at any rate, go to church these days. Thus they are curious, not so much about church but about “spiritual things,” to use the phrase I most often hear. Spiritual things seem to overlap with supernatural things (like ghosts, I suppose) and, of course, who doesn’t love a good ghost story?

The half topic, well, that’s animals. It’s the safest one of all, even when you speak about unsafe animals. One friend found a rattlesnake in his yard; another a coral snake in a tree; a third, saw something about a giant alligator recently visiting a park in Florida. Thus, animals are the safe half-topic that you don’t really have to say much about, but allow you a way out of either discussing something about which you know little, such as SJP, or retreating quickly from an uncomfortable political discussion.

So, when you go to your next cocktail party, I advise you to speak about spiritual things—it will surely be a big hit, as such topics are off the endangered topics list. If you run out of things to talk about in that regard, which I doubt you will very quickly at any rate, then of course, resort to animals next. Alligators never go out of style. Sex I would put at a distant third, although of course it is still as spicy a topic as it ever was; probably, don’t bring up the SJP thing, though, unless you know what it is. But, whatever you do, I would avoid politics—though if you can’t avoid the topic, as these days it is all too tied to sex—just talk about Melania Trump’s lovely hat, for who doesn’t find that hat lovely? Otherwise, you might just cause your neighbor to move to California or Indiana or somewhere else. In the meantime, I propose a toast to animals and religion. Two out of three and a half ain’t bad.