Monday, March 1, 2010

In Stitches

Say what you will about my relationship with Audrey Mendelsohn — which, following my dad’s death in 1992, became ever more fractious until Alzheimer’s claimed her. We could make each other laugh so hard as to nearly split open.

Four of my five life partners have been funny. M— could do a remarkable trick with her face, making her little Norwegian features nearly diagonal. Missus the First, a voracious and enthusiastic consumer of comedy — one able to find amusement even in ABC-TV’s spectacularly unamusing Fridays — did wonderful imitations of Mr. Blackwell, dour old New York Jewesses, and cigar-chomping old school theatrical agent types. My imitation of her imitation of the latter may be viewed here, and figured prominently in a two-person play I wrote and performed in London with the celebrated Indian-born actress Somi Guha, Eva-Gina Jones: A Life in Bad Poetry.

Nancy, the San Francisco Zoo koala keeper, did an hysterically funny impression of Mike Tyson. Neither she nor anyone else in her family was well attuned to my sense of humor — it actually got me banned from her sister-in-law's home! — but it was actually with Nancy that I did the most laughing of the sort I’d done with my mom, a sort so intense as to be silent. She had only to set up a Pope, rabbi, and African witch doctor joke — So the Pope, a rabbi, and an African witch doctor are out in a rowboat on the middle of a lake...— for me to start laughing so hard as to nearly hyperventilate. It started out as ironic — as my pretending to be amused — but doing so made me genuinely wild with glee.

Claire, Missus the Second, has been my co-star in the entirely improvised The Wallingtons, as well as in a wide range of around-the-house impromptu sketches, and has a glorious dry wit, of the sort the British wrongly believe to be characteristic of them, as witness her formulation of the Four Fundamental Existential Questions out of the blue while we were walking through a square in Bath in 2003.

Who am I? Why am I here? Who are you? Why won’t you go away?

Forty-eight hours ago, after going without for years, I finally had another life-threatening laugh when Claire sent me a link to this. Nancy always accused me of being most amused by things that reminded me of my own jokes, and here’s your proof! Her Toyota MR2 was the first car with power windows I ever drove, and how I adored tormenting her when she foolishly asked me to drive. Looking straight ahead, seemingly preoccupied with the road ahead, I’d subtly roll her window all the way down. She’d shake her head at my childishness as I burst into laughter. Two seconds after she'd rolled it back up, I'd roll it right back down again. Not once — not once! — did this fail to delight me.

A big part of me will never cease to be 3-1/2.

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1 comment:

  1. At 92, my father has all of his marbles, as well as a mordant wit. Upon learning that I was in an acting group led by a Mr. Mendelsohn, he said archly, "I didn't know he was still living." Indeed, he is!

    I can't say that I find "4 men in a boat" type jokes funny, and the thought of someone playing a joke on me by rolling down my window makes me crazy. I've put people out of my car for that infraction. But, in point of fact, you have made me laugh on 2 occasions when you punctured my balloon with bons mots. Your timing was perfect, and your comments witty but not hurtful which is ultra important. Hurt takes it out of the humor zone.

    When asked recently what I like most about my husband, his "sense of humor" was my immediate answer. How to characterize it? It's heavily laced with irony, always at my expense and delivered with perfect timing and an arched eyebrow. In the context of an unfolding story of my telling, we may suddenly look at each other and start to laugh silently until our sides hurt. That's great, too.

    My 2nd favorite companion in humor was my mother's twin sister. She survived my mother by 10 years, and in that decade we used to talk several times a year. It was verbal jousting set to the music of laughter. When Alzheimer's and then death claimed her, I thought "Well, that's the end of that." But, then someone crossed my path briefly at Home Depot and filled those empty shoes. His wife views me with suspicion, but I only want to talk with her husband. How can I explain what jousting with him means to me!