Department of Mirth

These four humor pieces were previously published in Department of Mirth, © 1992-2012 Black & White

A Few Things I Happen to Know About the Lord

I praised the Lord yesterday, and I may praise Him again tomorrow. Why? Because He’s awesome, just for openers, but also because He makes amazing stuff and does good things. Just the other day I saw a photo of the Grand Canyon and I thought: props to God! (For the canyon work; I don’t know who took the photo. But since the Lord made light and color, I guess He gets a piece of that action, too.)

I remember when I was asked if I had a “relationship” with the Lord, and I was like “Hell to the heavenly yes!” We’re living in a time when all kinds of folks are sucking up to Donald Trump, Jay-Z, James Cameron, or Mr. Sean “Diddy” Combs. Me, I think I’ll take my chances with the creator of the friggin’ universe, thanks very much. I need a player who’s out there doing some good. Huge good.

It’s not only the planets or stars that impress me, though. Sometimes I’m more blown away by the little stuff the Lord does. Bats can find their way through the dark using sound. Ants can carry objects 16 times their own weight. Chocolate can be melted into a sauce. When people talk about intelligent design, they’re talking about my boy, God.

It’s true that a lot of people still question the “goodness” of some of God’s work, and they get into this big drama about morality and free will and whatnot. Having spent some time with the Lord, I can tell you that He doesn’t need you to dig what He’s doing. But don’t take my word for it; thumb through a few chapters of the Old Testament and see how Yahweh rolls once He’s made up His mind. Better yet, ask the Egyptians how that worked out for them.

Of course, some of that Old Testament stuff might give the impression that the Lord is a ball-breaking, type A micro-manager, but I just wish more people knew His other side. In fact, if you want to witness a major chill-out, read the Sermon on the Mount. It’s almost like He created a sort of spiritual Casual Friday. For example: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and do good to them that hate you.” Does that sound like a playa hata to you? I didn’t think so.

I can tell you this much about the Lord. He smells good. You might think that He would use some old-school cologne such as frankincense or Aqua Velva, but there He is all crisp and fresh with Burberry Brit and maybe some Calvin splashed on to mix it up. Burberry Brit happens to be my personal fragrance, and I guess that gives you a clue about just how close I am to God. I don’t mean that in a boastful way. Actually, my cup runneth over with humility. Hanging around with a guy who can build a galaxy from a single flask of hydrogen will do that to you. Talk about bringing sexy back.

That’s another thing about the Lord that I should confirm. He’s definitely a guy. A man’s man, you might say. God likes red meat (kosher, oddly enough), admires German engineering, and won’t turn down a good pair of cuff links. He especially likes any kind of tool or gadget that does what it’s supposed to do. The Lord also knows how to have a good time and impress the ladies. (When He’s at any get-together and all of sudden the kitchen faucet starts pouring pinot noir, it’s officially a party.) He’s like a little kid at Christmas, and forget about what way too many of His so-called followers complain about each year: the Lord is not concerned about “the real meaning” getting lost in all the hustle and bustle. He figures humans are advanced enough not to confuse Bethlehem with the North Pole. As for the Santa Claus story, as myths go, the Lord tells me He’s “heard a lot worse.”

The main thing is that the Lord has got my back, and not just when I’m in a mix-up with some opposing fans at the stadium. What’s really off the hook, though, is that He has everybody’s back. Theologically, that’s pretty heavy, considering that both teams pray before the game. I’m not sure how that gets sorted out.

I do understand that deal about his footprints in the sand next to mine on this long journey, and that when there is only one set of footprints it doesn’t mean He took a sick day: that’s when He was carrying me. It’s a beautiful story if you’re a motivational speaker, I guess, but I don’t want Jesus to carry me down the beach. That whole idea sounds kind of gay. I haven’t said anything directly to Him about this, but my unspoken prayer is that He will just build me some kind of beach house in heaven instead. With a seaside crib in place, I can deal with the long journey through the surf, over the dunes, what have you. &

Metaphors and How to Mix Them

I guess the secret to good writing is learning to let go.

By “guess” I mean a conjecture or supposition, because a secret is something that you have to guess in order to win any kind of prize, or to find out if your spouse is cheating. But for good writing, learning to let go seems like something that writers, even the ones we hate, ought to do. You, as a writer, may have in mind an image or idea that seems like the best thing ever, but if you ride it long enough, pretty soon you are just beating it into the ground, as though it were a dead horse. It’s best not to beat, or, if you will, “flog,” anything into the ground as though it were a dead horse.

What you just encountered, in the paragraph before the one you are reading now, is a metaphor. Metaphors, no matter how colorful or imaginative, should not be maintained indefinitely. You have to let go. Even though you may be whipping up your central image into frothy, glistening peaks, like egg whites, pretty soon you’ll just be beating eggs—into the ground, as though they were a dead horse.

What you just witnessed in the previous passage is the mixing of metaphors, because even though my idea was mostly to whip up some meringue, I set the switch to “mix” when it should have been set on “whip.” Not to mention that there’s a little thing known as an “off” button on any kitchen appliance, just as there is an off button on a metaphor—if people would just learn to use it. Otherwise we just keep beating, or, if you will, whipping our metaphors, extending them into infinity. Our meringue keeps swirling around and around the big bowl. For our purposes, it matters not one jot whether the bowl is made of copper, Pyrex, or porcelain. With metaphors, obsession over details will bring you as much misery as constant flogging or whipping. Your primary concern with a metaphor is the basic shape of the bowl, which is round. Even the depth doesn’t matter.

And so we are back to the bowl of egg whites, because when you extend anything into infinity, it eventually loops back around (that’s because our universe is shaped like a big bowl too, which is made of hydrogen and has measureless depth). Do this enough times, and pretty soon you’re going to come out the other side of a black hole. When writers say that they are “paralyzed” or “blocked” because all their ideas and metaphors have disappeared into a black hole, this is what they are talking about. And all because they couldn’t stop flogging a dead horse.

Well I have some news for them. On the other side of any black hole lies a parallel universe, where, quite frankly, no one worries about mixed or over-extended metaphors. That’s because, in a parallel universe, a writer might not even be a writer. He might be a horse. Or an egg.

In any event, what you want to do with your metaphor is to get in fast and get out even faster; make your impact and then quickly depart. Case in point: when Michael Corleone made the hit on Sollozzo and Captain McCluskey, he didn’t hang around that little Italian restaurant embellishing the central metaphor. He got the hell out of there.

Actually, that’s not a perfect example, because if you watch closely, you might notice that Michael didn’t precisely follow Clemenza’s instructions. First of all, he took his sweet time getting to the restroom and finding the gun, and then he didn’t drop the handgun immediately after making the hit. He dangled it in his hand for a few seconds and then dropped it at the end of the bar. I understand that it was his first hit, but for me that’s pushing it.

A better example would be Michael’s adopted brother Tom Hagen, who was the family consigliere. He made that Hollywood producer an offer, and when his deal was rejected, Tom instantly caught a plane from L.A. back to New York—in there and out of there. The next morning, that Hollywood producer was in bed with a horse’s head. No one had to flog that dead horse to make a point.

Thus we return to dead horses, a metaphor that, when we began, had no more power or substance than a bowl of whipped egg whites. But we stayed with it, beating it down the home stretch, until at last we crafted a deeply moving central image.* I guess that’s the secret to good writing: learning not to let go too soon.

*Author’s addendum: By “deeply moving central image,” I am speaking figuratively, and metaphorically, of the fact that an idea or image can cause an emotional reaction. It “moves” us, even though we might remain perfectly still, staring at the wall and not answering the door. I certainly wasn’t suggesting that the dead horse in the bed was moving, or that it could move. It was only the head anyway, without the tail, the hooves, or the knees, which are extremely fragile, based on what little I’ve learned about the ponies at the track. &

Problems in Logic

You have probably noticed that, in many episodes of “Star Trek,” Mr. Spock will sometimes say to Commander Shatner, “That’s not logical.” More often than not, he says this to the angry doctor-guy because almost everything “Bones” has ever said or done is “not logical.” During a lull in my sophomore English class, our professor informed us that the Star Fleet doctor is usually wrong because he works from raw emotion, and they call him “Bones” because he feels ideas in his bones, rather than using pure logic, as Spock does.

So when we chose teammates that year for our debate club, I formed a group call Star Fleet, and wouldn’t you know it, during the finals we faced off with the Romulans. Any time one of those guys from the other team would attempt to make a point, I would simply raise my left eyebrow, turn to the moderator, and say, “Fascinating, Captain.” Everyone in the room knew that I had nailed those bastards, because my simple comment implied that the Romulans were not being logical, or more to the point, had their heads up their asses. It’s a phrase that everyone who appreciates logic instantly understands.

Granted, now and then Spock would describe something as “fascinating,” and yet he wasn’t being ironic or trying to piss off Bones. We don’t really know what Spock meant in those cases, because he was the inscrutable Vulcan. In fact, all Vulcans are inscrutable; how else does one explain the haircut? In any event, Spock inspires all of us to use logic, and this is as good a time as any to offer some tips, because people usually struggle with deductions and get everything wrong.

To begin with, I’m not referring to those lame logic puzzles that have a series of statements that you determine are true or false just to solve some murder mystery. They have nothing to do with classic deductive reasoning, and they don’t work anyway, because all statements in a murder mystery are false. Watch “Columbo” or Death On the Nile or Gosford Park. Rich people always have something to lie about, even if they haven’t killed anyone yet. What I’m talking about is this sort of thing:

All cats are gray.

I’m gray.

Therefore, I’m a cat.

You can see the problem with that deduction right away: I’m not gray! I’m sort of a peachy, flesh color. The point here is that people not accustomed to rigorous deduction can reach all sorts of false conclusions. That’s dangerous, because a good con artist could have you thinking that he really is a cat, or any other kind of creature. Here’s another example:

All women are liars.

Carol is a woman.

Therefore Carol is a liar.

Actually, that’s a terrible example of faulty logic, because it’s an absolutely flawless deduction based on solid research. Let’s try another:

My girlfriend Carol goes to school on Wednesdays.

Tomorrow is Wednesday.

Therefore my girlfriend will go to school tomorrow.

Apart from the fact that semesters eventually end, another huge flaw in this reasoning is that my girlfriend merely said that “school” was what she was doing on Wednesdays. When she claimed that she couldn’t remember her instructor’s name, I simply replied, “Fascinating, Captain.”

Another way to remain consistently logical is to learn the difference between inverse and converse. The converse of “All Vulcans are inscrutable beings” is “all inscrutable beings are Vulcans.” Avoid this pitfall. Think about it; if a certain being is all that damn inscrutable, we can’t know if it’s a Vulcan or not. It could be tricking us.

As for inverse, think of it as the opposite. For example, the other day we were talking about how it’s a good thing that “Star Trek” is available on DVD, and in a witty moment I said to my friend “And as you know, good is the opposite of bad.” My friend replied, “Well, no, I don’t know that good is the opposite of bad. Seems like the opposite of bad would be ‘not bad.'”

“Fascinating,” I parried. “But wouldn’t ‘not bad’ be the negation of bad?”

We went on like that for several hours, until my friend decided to have the opposite of a debate and left the room. Actually, his departure instigated the negation of a debate, as the opposite of a debate is an agreement-fest, not unlike the conversations we have when any of the district managers are in town for our sales meetings.

Perhaps good is not the opposite of bad anymore than cat is the opposite of dog. Rather than being the inverse, maybe cat is the reverse of dog, but there again, the reverse of dog is either “God” or “a dog walking backwards.” I don’t even know how we could verify that.

You can see how logic is a troubling affair. As some of the ancient Zen masters often pointed out, we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway. Yet there is no “converse” gear on our vehicles, merely a reverse. I’m told that the new Hummer has an inverse gear that somehow alters liability in the event of a collision, but that gets us into the “all car salesman are liars—all sales are final” conditional statements that are notoriously difficult to deduce.

Nonetheless, it still feels like bad is the opposite of good, just as it feels like all car salesmen are liars. But that’s working with intuition, which is what Bones and many women use to sort out the world. Your ex-wife may “feel” like you’ve been driving past the old house during the wee hours, but until her investigator provides some surveillance evidence, there’s no logical deduction there. Of course, it’s only human to rely on intuition, and as illogical as it sounds, all women are human. Vulcan chicks, on the other hand, always use logic, which may explain why they are so hot. &