When I was a kid, my mother and I used to get each other laughing so hard we thought we might split open. Four of the five gals who’ve been my full-fledged life partners through the years have made me laugh. When we pulled up at stop lights, The Nib would sometimes give a guy in the adjacent lane a come-hither look, only to then unleash the face depicted here. My first wife’s idea of defense when we played one-on-one basketball in our driveway in Santa Rosa was to yank my shorts down while I dribbled. The relentlessness with which she did so — I firmly believe that unfunny things can become hilarious if repeated sufficiently relentlessly — nearly made me forgive our having to watch Fridays together all those times back when I was trying to seem eager to please. (Compared to Fridays, SNL, which hasn’t amused me even a little bit since around 1961, is a work of sublime genius.)
When Little Rumso, with whom I lived in the fog in San Francisco pretty much through the ‘90s, and who could hardly have been less ethnic, learned to tell rabbi-Pope-and-African-witch-doctor jokes, I would, in the right mood, begin shrieking with laughter before she’d gotten farther than, “So a rabbi, the Pope and an African witch doctor are in a canoe together.”
I knew my second wife, to whom I remain wed, was just the gal for me when, in response to my straight-faced suggestion that she get a girlfriend a birthday gift from Sydney Hurry, the funeral director on the high street of the London suburb in which she lived at the time, she, without missing a beat, mused, “Yes, maybe a decorative urn.”
Mere days later, I speculated that maybe I needed to be more proactive in making local friends. I thought of asking a cordial teller at the bank across the road from Sydney Hurry if he’d like to have a drink with me one afternoon after work, and then made myself laugh by wondering if I should present him with a bouquet and some chocolate when we met. Once more she didn’t miss a beat. “And say, ‘You look so handsome in that shirt. Is it new?’”
We visited Bath, a bastion of gentility and hygiene (I can’t stop myself) in the West Country, and it was there that she formulated her Four Fundamental Questions: Who am I? Why am I here? Who are you? Why won’t you leave me alone?
Back when she used to speak to me, my daughter Brigitte also made me laugh so hard that I feared for my life. One time I phoned my mother, her grandmother, to say we’d be visiting after I picked Brigitte up from school. Mom was terribly upset because a carton of orange juice had exploded a short while before, and made a mess in her apartment. I related the story to Brigitte. When we arrived at my mother’s apartment, Brigitte walked in and, seeing a carton of orange juice on the kitchen counter, drily mused, “So this would be the offending orange juice?” I hadn’t laughed so hard since my childhood — or maybe since the time she and I and Little Rumso drove down to Berkeley to walk around the Cal campus, where Brigitte decided she wanted a sweatshirt depicting the Cal mascot bear. In the student store, Brigitte found a rackful of the desired garment in kiddies’ sizes, and very seriously began flipping through them. “It’s just a matter of finding my size,” she said very seriously. It might not seem that funny now, but at the time the store’s employees came pretty close to dialing 911 to report an old Jew laughing so hard as to appear to be about to hyperventilate.