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A Big Joke
After each week's performance of Sunday Night Improv, my father and I would have a meal at the diner one block from the theater and then ride home in a cab. Although he was usually tired, my father was never too tired to make even a feeble joke. When the TV monitor in the back of the cab would spring to life with a commercial, he would hit the off button and a notice would come on: "To Resume, Press Here." Invariably, he would try to make some kind of quip by intentionally misunderstanding the word "resume" as a resume. It never quite worked, but he kept trying variations on it each week. (He was more successful with a crack about the color TV set in his hospital room: a sign said, "To rent this color TV, call the nurse," My father's remark: "Why would anyone want to rent that color [with the emphasis on color] television?")
In the cab, we would play other tricks. We would not tell the cab driver our exact address, just saying that we would get out at 120th Street (my father lived at 119th Street and Riverside Drive and I was on 122nd and Amsterdam Avenue). "That way," I explained to my dad, "no one can find out from the cabbie where we live." It was a spy game, of sorts, a ludicrous fantasy that allowed us to communicate in a playful way, looking at the world as if it were some big movie and we were characters in it. This happened frequently. Once, for instance, my father was rewiring some lighting in his apartment. I was listening to the soundtrack to Obsession, a particularly over-the-top Bernard Herrmann score, and my father said the music made him feel like he was defusing a bomb rather than undertaking a routine household task.
With that in mind, I wondered what my father would make of a recent incident on the subway. I was on the No 1 local and it slowly pulled into the 96th Street station. There was an express train waiting across the platform. Our conductor made an announcement: "Ladies and gentlemen, we will be here for some time. The express across from us will be leaving immediately. If possible, take the express." Like lemmings or a rat in a Skinner Box, dozens of people crowded into the expess train (I stayed on the local). As soon as they had done that, the doors on our No. 1 local closed and we pulled out immediately – and the express sat and waited. Can you spell frustration? Can you also spell manipulation? Cattle? A conductor enjoying himself and his power?
With such antics, I think that having Walter Mitty-like fantasy life is important to survive. Everyone needs an escape, a laugh at the absurdities of life. As George Todisco, my first improv teacher said once, "Life's a big joke. It only hurts if you forget to laugh." That's a lesson my father knew well.
December 31, 2010