Monthly Archives: May 2021

When to be funny

Photo by Liza Summer on

Okay, if you’ve ever made a joke at an inappropriate moment, raise your hand. Actually, I think everyone has probably had this happen, but for me, it’s pretty much a way of life. If I’m nervous, I make a joke, if I’m scared, I make a joke, if I’m feeling awkward, I make an awkward joke. In most cases, I’ve discovered that this is not the best time to make a joke.

I chose this picture, because it reminds me of one of the first times I tried to be funny. A friend was walking so carefully on the snowy surface, so to relax her (I think that’s what I was thinking) I threw a snowball and hollered, “Heads Up!” The snowball, true to my skills, missed her completely, but her head did come up, she slipped, her feet came up and she landed on her spine. It was at this point that I began to re-think my sense of humor!

I am the queen of the mistimed joke. TSA people love me, because when I’m standing in an airport line, waiting for them to go through the bag I’m carrying containing the toothbrush, extra underwear and current book I’m reading, I am bored and nervous about getting on a plane, so I tend to make inappropriate remarks. “I’m planning to use that underwear to build a prototype of a new bullet-proof tent,” was one remark that probably caused them to start putting up those signs about not joking about bombs.

Another time, my briefcase full of souvenir cups set off the alarms at JFK in New York City, which caused a number of people to gather and all of them had guns. While they rested their hands on their guns, I attempted to remember the combination of the briefcase and after several abortive tries, finally got it open, so they could see my mugs from the Statue of Liberty and Times Square and the used ticket and program from Phantom of the Opera. They relaxed when they saw my tourist trash and walked away. The clerk left in charge, seeing how unnerved I was, tried to calm me down. “It’s okay, they just have to be careful.”

“No, that’s fine,” I quipped, “I just wasn’t expecting SWAT to show up to take out my magnet from the Museum of Natural History.” Now, I thought this was a fine joke; the clerk never even cracked a smile as she waved me through and probably flagged me as a flight risk to everyone ahead of me.

Medical situations also bring out the inappropriate humor in me. I have long been terrified of dentists, but I’m also annoyed by the attempts they make to hold conversations with me while they have my mouth stuffed full of metal objects, plastic restrainers and their fingers. Once, after the dentist had asked mundane questions all through the exam, forcing me to try to garble answers, he ended the exam, removed the equipment and asked me, “Now, do you have any questions?”

“AH eerre meeayagjee,” I responded, spitting and drooling as I went. He never said another word and walked out of the room. Within a short time, he left that establishment and went to work elsewhere and that’s probably best, since I didn’t really think he’d want to work on my teeth again anyway, given my weird sense of humor.

This week, I had my latest run-in with an inappropriate lapse of humor. The nurse was asking about the pain I was having, which parts of my body hurt and I said, “The shoulder, the arm, the neck, they ALL come to the party.” She laughed and commented how funny that was, so I figured this was a place where they might appreciate my nerve-inspired humor.

The doctor came in and as he was hitting me with that little hammer and bending my toes in strange ways, he attempted to keep me relaxed with off-hand questions. “What hobbies do you have?”

“I like to write. I write a little blog just for my own amusement,” I answered, adding as he began twisting my arms and head in his exam, “You’ll probably make the cut this week.”

He hesitated, and then said, “Positive, I hope.”

“Oh, of course, I’m sure everyone would find an examination of spinal functions to be hysterical,” was my oh-so-witty answer. I have to go back to that clinic next week for some treatment…I’m kind of hoping he’s not the one who will do it. I don’t think he has a good enough sense of humor!

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The art of “speechifying”

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Yesterday morning, I arose, excited to be able to give the speech at my school’s commencement. I was prepared, eager and even on time. Yesterday evening, it was over and all my nightmares about showing up late, improperly dressed, or otherwise unprepared were proved unfounded.

Except the one where you don’t have all of your speech…that one I made come true. It’s ridiculous, really. I have taught English, speech and drama for years. I have lectured students on the things they must do and among them is, always check to see that you have all of your speech. And then yesterday, I turned smoothly from my second-to-last page to my last page and discovered a bare podium instead. I failed to make certain I picked up all the pages!

I like to think that I am a very good innovator, that I think well on my feet, but no matter how many times I practice something, if I turn the page and it’s not there, my mouth dries up and my tongue adheres to the roof of my mouth and when I do get it disconnected, something not good usually comes out. Fortunately, in the case of Saturday’s speech, I only had a few lines on the last page, so my speech stumble was a short one.

At least I knew it was the last page because I number the pages with large, obnoxious markers to be sure they are easily readable. I once did a presentation on the history of British kings and of course, when I got up in front of everyone, I dropped the notecards I had all over the floor. Because they weren’t numbered and I had to guess at their correct order, I had Henry VIII followed by William the Conqueror and their ancestor was, of course, Elizabeth II! Always number the cards, check!

I used to try to adlib when I was giving a speech. Maybe write down a few general thoughts and then just “wing-it”. However, I discovered that if I just “winged it” I had a tendency to lose my flight plan in the middle and fly right off the cliff. I forgot names, events, dates and worst of all, I frequently looked at my shorthand and forgot completely what I meant when I said things like, “make eye contact when you discuss intensity.” Eye contact with whom and what was I planning to say about intensity? I ended up talking intensely about eye contact…not that this had anything to do with the subject!

I always tried to be prepared with my appearance. I remember a story Carol Burnett told about dressing for a performance in the dark and getting on stage to discover that the seams in her stockings were running up the front of her legs. I thought, How ridiculous! At least my appearance is always good. Soon after that, I delivered the eulogy at the funeral of a favored aunt. It went well, I held it together and got through the speech fine. I sat down, well-pleased with myself, dropped my hands into my lap…and discovered that my trousers were un-zipped. I took comfort in the fact that the person who would be most amused by this, was the aunt I was honoring.

Possibly the most awkward move I ever made in front of a large audience was definitely done as I was laying the law down as a substitute teacher. I was young, and had trouble managing teenagers, so the study hall I was supervising that afternoon was pretty chatty. After telling them several times to settle down, I finally had enough. “I expect it to be silent in here,” I huffed in my biggest no-nonsense voice, “I don’t want to hear one more sound for any reason!” Crossing my arms and glaring, I began to back towards the desk…and promptly stepped into a metal trash can. For the next several minutes the students in the room were the most silent they had been all hour as they struggled not to laugh while they watched me clunk around with a trash can on my foot. Sometimes you just can’t come back from an infamous performance!

So I enjoyed Saturday’s speech and only had to mumble through a minor glitch in an otherwise fun speech. Maybe someday I’ll get the hang of this “speechifying” thing. In the meantime, I’m going to be a little more careful what I take with me and what I have zipped up, when I get in front of an audience!

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Those humbling moments

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I rely heavily on my calendar for all appointments in life. It generally works pretty well: I make appointments, I write them in the calendar and that way, I never miss things, right? There is one more step that would make this procedure run smoothly…checking the calendar each day! That is where I fall down!

I was thinking that very thing this week when I got home from a re-scheduled therapy appointment (because I forgot the original) and had a message on my telephone from my hairdresser, because while I was at the re-scheduled therapy appointment, I in fact, had a hair appointment! It’s very humbling when you realize just how many things you have forgotten, but when you can actually remember to write it down in the calendar, then it’s a good idea to go ahead and check that calendar and read it every day!

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Oh, the old girl is just losing it. The brain pan has sprung a leak.” Unfortunately, this is not an old age development. I have had difficulty maintaining my social calendar for years. I will make an appointment to have lunch with someone and then get so engrossed in a book or some writing or just an old episode of “Murder, She Wrote,” and the leave the poor person wondering if I didn’t show because I was in a car wreck or had a heart attack or something!

I have left dentists with no teeth to rap their instruments on and vets with no animals to vaccinate. The eye doctors have been left with no one to read their charts and coffee dates with no one to share their caffeine clouds. I always mean well and it seems so often that while I have the day right, I have the time wrong. And if I have the time right, I’m either a week early or a week late.

I like the businesses which ring you up the day before to give you a heads-up that you have an appointment. They do this because of people like me who have left them hanging too often in the past. If they can’t get a hold of me personally, they leave a message, “This is the dentist’s office, calling to remind you that you have an appointment at 10:30 TOMORROW. Now, that’s 10:30…in the morning…tomorrow morning. That’s the day after today and the time is just an hour and a half before lunch. Got it?”

My leaving the therapist hanging and then standing up the hairdresser was not the end of this week of humbling moments and irritated people. I managed to stand up my grandsons as well.

My daughter, knowing her mother’s failing, said to me, “Now, tomorrow you will be reading with the boys at 1:00, right?” “You bet,” I answered, and gave it no more thought as I went on a short road trip for the day instead. No more thought, that is, until she sent me a text message the next day at 1:00, to ask if I was planning to go on Facetime to read with the boys.

I did finally catch up with my grandsons later in the evening and while the younger one was inclined to overlook my lapse in appointment keeping, his older brother, ready for bed and crabby, was less beneficent. They accepted my apology, but clearly, they don’t trust the old girl to remember too well.

“I’m so sorry,” I told them. “Next week, I’ll be on for sure on Sunday, and we’ll be able to read.”

“Okay,” responded the older one, “just remember, that’s at 1:00!”

Now, all I need is someone to call me on Sunday at 12:45 to make sure I’m ready to go. I can get a different dentist is my current one drops me for nonappearance. It would be a lot harder to replace the grandsons!

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In the maw of the monster


For those of you who think my title is a little too dramatic, I apologize, but I assure you, having an MRI (don’t ask me exactly what that stands for), was a bizarre experience. I now have some idea how Jonah may have felt in the belly of that whale!

Several months of having an arm, shoulder and neck present me with night after night of no sleep, it was finally decided that I needed to have an MRI, which is a fancy way for medical people to get a look at the inside of your muscles without actually cutting you open. I am definitely for that procedure, but that was before I got a look at one of those MRI machines.

I suffer from claustrophobia. I mean, BAD claustrophobia. I am so claustrophobic that I can only shut the bathroom door in a crowded house. I shower with one of the sliding glass doors slightly open. I annoy my co-teachers because I have a loud mouth and I am unable to shut my classroom door without becoming twitchy. I took one look at that machine, large and round, containing one small opening where they proposed to shovel me in like a baker inserting a loaf of bread in the oven and I hyperventilated from the picture!

On the questionnaire, they ask: Are you claustrophobic? I answered, “I invented claustrophobia and I have been perfecting it for years.” They assured me that they could give me medication to help me relax. I assured them that in order to get me relaxed enough to go in there, it would be necessary for them to apply a sledgehammer forcibly to the back of my head!

In the end, they decided it might be easiest to put me in what they refer to as an “open” MRI machine. Now I am here to tell you that this machine was preferable to the closed one, but when I walked in the room, it still kind of resembled a giant whale with its mouth wide open, and with a convenient chair for me to sit in while it swallowed me!

Even so, I sat in the chair and they strapped me in. Then, they instructed me to place my arms in such a way that my shoulders were as narrow as they could be made. This is because that chair is on a motorized track and it moved into the heart of the machine and sandwiched me neatly between two giant walls. And when I say sandwiched, I mean a TIGHT sandwich. There wasn’t even room for lettuce and tomato! My head was placed in a brace and held into place by some pegs against my forehead.

If I looked anything as panicky as I felt, I am sure they expected me to bolt any second. The attendant, attempting to make my experience as easy as possible, said, “I’ll turn on the television. You will be able to see it from here.” He did so, and I could look out of the whale’s mouth and see the television. Then he said, “I’ll need to have you take off your glasses and any oral partials.” It didn’t matter that I didn’t have all my teeth, but without the glasses, the television was a confused blur! So much for distraction.

Never fear, though. He had another idea. “I’ll just put on some music for you.” He did so, but midway into the Beatles crooning, “It’s been a hard day’s night,” they fired up the machine. Anyone who has ever had an MRI knows that that is the loudest noise in the world and it greatly resembles the noise a jackhammer makes while breaking up cement! No television, no music, all I could do was sit there and listen to the dulcet tones of a machine that sounded like it would begin breaking me up at any minute.

In addition to the headache that this engenders, I had to deal with the no movement issues. And when they say no movement, they mean, NO movement! Before he began, he said, “Do not swallow, cough, sneeze or breath too deeply.” Once someone tells you not to do these things, it’s amazing how badly you want to.

While I was trying not to swallow, sneeze, cough or hyperventilate (causing me to breath too deeply) I also struggled with my feet. I may have neglected to mention that in addition to moving you backwards into the whale’s mouth, they also raise you up and tilt you back. It’s okay, though, they give you a little footrest, so your feet don’t dangle. Except the footrest was too short for my legs, so I was left with the choice of letting my feet dangle anyway, or pushing my knees up into an uncomfortable position which eventually, caused my legs to shake with the strain, and–you guessed it–made me MOVE!

Of course, I survived the “Jonah and the Whale Ride”, as I like to call it and the images they got when I wasn’t swallowing, coughing, sneezing or breathing too deeply have shown what has been causing my misery for the last few months. I will be glad to begin correcting the problems and I look forward to the day when I no longer have these issues, so it may be that being in the “maw of the monster,” was the luckiest thing I could have done!

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