Category Archives: Aging

Editor’s Chair: 100k Views

Tracy Wuster, Founding Editor

finger rightFrom time to time, I have seen fit to print reports on the general progress of this website as a publishing venture.  As the editor, I feel it is my prerogative, stretching back to the great tradition of 19th century magazine editors to speak my mind and address our readers—both real and imagined.  Also in the tradition of  those editors, I have not been able to resist the urge to explain what I think we are up to with our publication and to, in addition, engage in that greatest of all editorial goals—filling space.

Upon reaching one hundred thousand views, today December 2, 2012, I cannot resist expounding on some of the statistics that have accumulated for us to reach this milestone.  I have no idea if this is a lot of views for a publication of this sort—although there are not a whole lot of publications of this sort for me to compare to.  I will choose to treat it as a grand milestone, one worthy of reflection.  Plus, I have long been obsessed with statistics and milestones, and the WordPress statistics page, which tallies the use of the site in real-time, has been a boon to my obsession.

Number of Contributors: 23

Number of Posts: 214

1st Post:  

Appropos of a first post…

June 24, 2011

Total views: 5

1st Official Post (Public Launch):

Politics and the American Sense of Humor

by M. Thomas Inge

August 11, 2011

Total Views: 2405

Continue reading →

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Happy Birthday, dear Google . . .

Today, September 27th, 2012 marks the fourteenth birthday of Google. (I googled it.) Wikipedia (according to itself) celebrated its eleventh birthday last January 15th. The iPhone (according to a news item in the LA Times I used mine to pull up) had its fifth birthday last June 29th. Each of these innovations have changed our world in their own right, but the three of them together have had a kick that reminds me of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon becoming nitroglycerin.*

*Upon reading, this my husband, who is a walking encyclopedia, (see below) said I forgot to mention hydrogen in the nitroglycerin compound. Rather than throw out the analogy, let’s pretend hydrogen atoms are the people using the technology.

While we’ve been learning to reach for our iPhones to Google Wikipedia,  our humor has become increasingly referential as well. Seth MacFarlane for example, leads us down ever-more-elaborate halls of mirrors in his hit show Family Guy.

Of course neuroscientists, psychologists and sociologists are studying the myriad ways this ubiquitous digital technology affects us. Some of their findings are surprising, others . . . not so much to those of us old enough to have been firmly entrenched in adult life in the slower, more deliberate, analogue days.

It stands to reason that there’s less social currency in being a walking encyclopedia in a world where everyone walks around with access to an encyclopedia. But I’ve noticed something else as well: The more these tools are available, the less I trust my own memory. (“No wonder,” you say after the nitroglycerin debacle.) Regardless, the less I trust my own memory, the more I double check. The more I double check, the less I commit to memory. . .  and so on.

When it comes to facts at our fingertips, there is a thin line between usefulness and compulsion. Once we cross that line, we become like the guidebook-happy tourist whose every experience either confirms what he read, or will be confirmed by what he is about to read.

We are the last generation to remember digging through our pockets for change to buy a hamburger instead of swiping a card. And we are the last generation to remember searching our minds for facts instead of searching the internet. With that thought, I bring you Billy Collins’ 1999 poem Forgetfulness.

(c) 2012, Caroline Sposto

Approaching 30k Views

Tracy Wuster, Managing Editor

Sometime this week, the site will reach 30,000 views.  When we started all the way back in August 2011, we weren’t sure if we would find readers.  I am glad you have found us.

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Barbie is 53 and I’m not feeling so young myself.

There’s a spot in my garden where flowers ought to grow, but don’t. Likewise, there are spots in the landscape of American poetry where humor ought to flourish, but doesn’t.

Perennial prom queen Barbie made her debut on March 9, 1959. Her fun fashions, impossible figure and bouncy nylon tresses took suburbia–and later the world–by storm. Mattel claims to sell three Barbie dolls every second.

I thought Barbie’s ubiquity and over-the-top pinky-pooh girlishness was probable fodder for good, humorous poems. In honor of Barbie’s birthday, I set out to find them for the blog. The results were telling. Almost all–in what turned out to be a very small handful of Barbie-themed poems–were rife with anger and pain. The phenomenon of a laughably voluptuous, eleven-inch doll triggering deep, full-scale, animosity speaks volumes about the scarring effects of sexist imagery and the strange power we bestow on our cultural icons.

One poem stood out in sharp relief: “Barbie at 50”–from an award winning chapbook of the same title–by Jendi Reiter (Cervena Barva Press, 2010). This evocative glimpse through the hapless eyes of an outgrown toy is a skillful mosaic of reality, surreality, melancholy and mirth.

Jendi has a special role in the world of humorous poetry because she co-founded the online resource Winning Writers which holds The Wergle Flomp Humorous Poetry Contest each year.

Barbie at 50

Her little girls no longer bite their nails,

the stubby hands that undressed her

have moved on to trouser buttons.

Pink polish, bitten to the quick,

or younger still, drawn on with purple marker –

now French tips, and a diamond or later

an untanned line where the ring once was.

Barbie knows the world by hands and feet.

Her own are forever arched for heels,

hot pink, one sandal and one pump.

Barbie’s been buried in the sand

beside mother’s toes, splayed in flip-flops,

chunky piglet barefoot girls,

who dunked her in a bucket,

drew on her nipples,

cut and stroked her hair.

Head down in seawater,

she could have told them that midlife nirvana

doesn’t need a plane ticket.

Barbie’s naked as the widows

floating in the Ganges.

She wasn’t there when Ken died.

A lady of her age steers clear of most events

involving small boys and firecrackers.

Pink is the color of mourning

for Barbie, who wore it on every occasion

when there was someone to dress her.

Plump hands brush pink on lined and powdered cheeks.

Barbie is carried out in a box.

Hands turn over tags,

hunting garage-sale bargains.

Nude, she lies on the picnic table,

points her inked-on breasts to the sky.

(Left to Right) Barbie and Jendi Reiter

Jendi Reiter is the author of the poetry  collections A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009), and Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press, 2010). Awards include a 2010 Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists’ Grant for Poetry, the 2011 OSA Enizagam Award for Fiction, the 2010 Anderbo Poetry Prize, and second prize in the 2010 Iowa Review Awards for Fiction.

If you’re a poet and want to enter The Wergle Flomp Humorous Poetry Contest The deadline is April 1st. There is no entry fee and even the honorable mentions get cash, kudos and a polo shirt.

In the Archives: Fart Proudly by Benjamin Franklin (1781)

Benjamin Franklin

Editor’s Note:  Written around 1781, this piece is one of the classics of flatulence humor.  Also called “A Letter to the Royal Academy” and “To the Royal Academy of Farting,” the piece was written in response to a call for scientific papers by the Royal Academy of Brussels.  Never submitted, Franklin printed the piece and distributed it to friends.  It was long suppressed on collections of Franklin’s writings, although it is discussed in a popular biography and included in the Library of America collection of Franklin’s writings.

And if you like humor on farting from eminent Americans, check out Mark Twain’s “1601,” which is the dirtiest piece of Mark Twain’s writing to see the light of day.

To the Royal Academy of Farting

 c. 1781
GENTLEMEN,

I have perused your late mathematical Prize Question, proposed in lieu of one in Natural Philosophy, for the ensuing year, viz. “Une figure quelconque donnee, on demande d’y inscrire le plus grand nombre de fois possible une autre figure plus-petite quelconque, qui est aussi donnee”. I was glad to find by these following Words, “l’Acadeemie a jugee que cette deecouverte, en eetendant les bornes de nos connoissances, ne seroit pas sans UTILITE”, that you esteem Utility an essential Point in your Enquiries, which has n

ot always been the case with all Academies; and I conclude therefore that you have given this Question instead of a philosophical, or as the Learned express it, a physical one, because you could not at the time think of a physical one that promis’d greater_Utility.

Benjamin Franklin fart proudly full text

Permit me then humbly to propose one of that sort for your consideration, and through you, if you approve it, for the serious

Enquiry of learned Physicians, Chemists, &c. of this enlightened Age. It is universally well known, That in digesting our common Food, there is created or produced in the Bowels of human Creatures, a great Quantity of Wind.

That the permitting this Air to escape and mix with the Atmosphere, is usually offensive to the Company, from the fetid Smell that accompanies it.

Continue reading →

10,000 Views!

Sometime in the past few days, we passed 10,000 views for Humor in America.  Many thanks to all of the contributors and the readers.

Please see the new Contributors page for a guide to what has been published and by whom.

 

Being Nerdy Loudly: “Little League” by Cap’n Jazz

One assignment that has become a staple of my first-year writing course is a reflective essay about why your favorite song is your favorite song. This is the first major essay that we write, in fact, followed by more research-driven essays about music and its social, historical, and aesthetic role in our culture. My own personal favorite song is “Little League” by Cap’n Jazz, a young batch of super-smart goofballs from Chicago in the early 1990s. They may have done a reunion tour or something since then, but that’s not the kind of thing I tend to feel comfortable encouraging. Either way, and nostalgia or no, this song is one that I really still love.

But where’s the humor in all of this, you ask? For some reason – and this happens every time – most of my students straight up erupt into laughter when I play “Little League” for them in class. Something about this song is funny to them, but it is not a funny song. It might be the howling. Or maybe the fact that this song doesn’t sound at all like the way that I look. So over the last few years, I have developed the following short essay as a way of writing with them and sharing my own work and seeking out the reasons why my favorite song is, well, my favorite song. I have my reasons.

Being Nerdy Loudly

I didn’t learn shit in science class, but I remember that centripetal force draws things into the center – like the “petals” of a flower or some other pneumonic device – and centrifugal force goes the other way. I guess, therefore, that in my own life, I tend to move centrifugally: outward from the center, haunting the fringes of wherever I end up, and stopping only when there is finally a wall.

This is also how I played sports. As a once-aspiring hall-of-fame baseball player, I began little league on the first day at first base, and slowly made my way around the infield – seeking out less important positions – until the only place I could be trusted to stand was in deep right field, where no one was yet strong enough to hit the ball.

This is also how I listened to music. I went to my first punk show a few years after my retirement from future professional athletics, and I hit the mosh pit immediately – only to learn that the pit hit back. Within minutes, I was standing with a cool, cerebral distance in the back of the club, where I’ve remained a gargoyle for the last seventeen years. I’m the same at parties, too, and I can describe most of the artwork on my friends’ walls with a depressing attention to detail.

Which is why, when it comes to music, I’ve always preferred the awkward to the anthem. I mean, I’m not the fist-pumping-est guy in the world. Basically I am the “you” who gets rocked in “We will, we will rock you.” It also goes without saying that I’m not much of a dancer. I dance the way that babies eat: it’s messy, it’s kind of gross if you actually watch it, and something usually gets knocked over.

And so when I first heard the song “Little League” by Cap’n Jazz through the tinny, tiny speakers of a thrift-store record player in a stranger’s basement, I heard myself dance, play baseball, and grow up all at the same time. It’s a really messy song – almost embarrassingly messy – as though the band had never played it before. The verses sound like someone is mugging a group of maladjusted choir-boys in a room where different stereos are tuned to different songs – none of them hits. The chorus… well, I’m not totally sure that there is a chorus. The lyrics are really kind of brilliant, but you’ll never hear them. The vocal delivery is as earnest and clumsy as finally telling a girl that you “like” her in junior high, but at maximum volume. There is also a lot of yelling.

By the end, there’s nothing to sing along to, nothing identifiably rhythmic to dance to, and if you really wanted to pump your fist in the air, you’d have to do it randomly.

It’s like my national anthem.

This song is my answer to age, really, because it always sounds young to me – again, like it is being played for the first time each time. And you can hear the band grow up as well; the song somehow already embodies their own short career. It starts small, gets loud, and then basically kind of falls apart. And so you can literally hear the band emerge from their modest, awkward beginnings (in 1993) to their glorious, awkward brilliance (in 1994) to their tragic, awkward demise (in 1995).

Whenever I play the song, as loudly as I can in my small car or apartment, I feel as though I am hitting back at the same world that I am also hiding from, and that it’s okay if I’m not totally cool. No one will probably notice anyway.

“Drink Some Lemonade, and Forget About It”

I know who I want to be when I grow up.

“I’m having a good time / Please don’t blame me,” she sings to me, her voice full of laughter.

“I’m knocking myself out.  Don’t try to tame me.
Let me have my fun, I’ve got to have my fling . . . .

I’m playing it cool while I’m living, because tomorrow, I may die.
That’s why I’m having a convention today, and I ain’t passing nothing by.
So if I make my bed hard, that’s my problem, let me lay.
I’m having a good time, living my life today.

Her name was Alberta Hunter.  Born on April Fools’ Day, she felt that age was a “condition of the mind” (Taylor and Cook 253), and she lived her life to prove it.  I can’t change my birthdate, but I can lie, can’t I?  I’ve got the fool part down, anyway.

Trouble is, that’s the part I have to grow out of, because Miss Hunter was no fool.  I’m working on it.

It’s a step in the right direction, though, because she believed that with hard work, passion, and laughter, you could achieve anything you set out to do.  And that you should take responsibility for whatever was yours:  “So if I make my road rough–that’s the price I have to pay [not you],” she’d sing.  She never worried much about nay-sayers.  If anything, they just made her more stubborn and the sparkle in her eye brighter. She always did what she loved and drew strength from it.  She had no patience for those “who thought God made them and threw the pattern away,” and she knew that giving of yourself, bringing smiles to others, was the most important thing in life.  She only got better as she got older.

She was a “singer of songs,” who refused to be pigeon-holed.  Hunter was one of the only successful female blues composers, though she could never read or write a note of music or tell a band what key a song was going to be in.  But she knew a false note when she heard it, and in 1923, with Lovie Austin, she wrote a little tune called “The Downhearted Blues,” which she recorded for Paramount.  It sold well, she was encouraged to write more, and given a good contract.  But then came the woman Hunter called “the world’s greatest Blues singer, that awful Bessie Smith,” who made “Downhearted Blues” forever her song, selling 800,000 records.  Hunter loved Bessie, loved her version of the song, but she still sang it her way . . . and loved collecting the royalties.

Hunter gave every song her own spin.  As she sang, she improvised words that came to her, often bringing surprised laughter from her audience with witty double-entendres or unexpected twists to old songs.  And her twists, like her twists in life itself, are always about verve, about life-affirming, don’t-let-anything-get-you-down-or-keep-you-down verve.  “A lot of people take a beautiful ballad, they sing it slowly, tell you they’re singing the blues,” she once said.  “Don’t believe them.  I’m gonna sing you some blues, so help me.”  She knew that when you’re singing the blues, “You’re telling a story.  Blues are a song from your soul. When you’re singing the blues, you’re singing” (Taylor and Cook 37).  And then she’d let you know that when life threw you a curve, you had “take a chance and gamble / Lord, everywhere [you] go.”

She was no stranger to taking the gamble.   She was on her own from the time she was 12 — or 16, depending on who’s telling the story.  Alberta Hunter never let a little thing like chronology pin her down.  She ran from Memphis to Chicago, escaping her stepfather’s fists and her school principal’s lecherous advances.  And she wouldn’t stop singing, even when people told her that she was terrible.  During a time when many people said that “you sing blues and jazz, and you’re on your way to the devil with a hat on” (Taylor and Cook 38), Hunter just “grabbed the lyrics, shook them, stomped on them and then picked them up and caressed them” (Washington Post, 8 January 1979, B9), all the while carrying herself like a lady.  Touched by her passion, dignity, and sheer bull-headedness, the prostitutes and gamblers of Chicago took her under their wing, made sure she stayed safe, and cultivated her talents.  Others may have had stronger voices, but Hunter knew how to work an audience like no one else, and she had stories to tell.  Before long, she was a headliner at Chicago’s famous Dreamland, and then a recording star.  When World War II came, she devoted herself to singing for the troops with the USO.

She quit performing in 1955 because she decided she was too old for the hard life on the road, and began volunteering in a New York City hospital, soon becoming an LPN.  In 1977, Hunter was forcibly retired, after 20 years of service to the NYC hospital, because they thought she was 70.

Hunter had them fooled, though.  She was 82.

And just about to launch her second career as a performer, her voice stronger than it ever was, seasoned now and full of laughter.  She recorded numerous albums and was “rocking” her “castle” at sell-out performances until her death in 1984 at the age of 89.  A little thing like chronology never got her down.  Continue reading →

The Time I Kissed Grace Paley on the Mouth

            I’m sitting in a workshop at Juniper, UMass, Amherst’s summer writing program, a program I enrolled in solely because Grace Paley was teaching. It’s 2005. For years, I’d been obsessed with two fantasies: one, to hear Ms. Paley say a kind word about my writing and two, to kiss her on the lips. The first part I could understand, as I was hoping for a quotation I could stick on a book jacket. The second, I’m not so sure about. I think I thought maybe I could glean some secret wisdom that way. I’d made a pact with myself: I would slip her the tongue if need be, if our passions were so aroused, and from that point I would play it by ear.

Two years later, she passed away.

Alternet describes a recent NY screening of Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, a new documentary: “The lights were hardly back on when [the audience] started talking, telling stories…about this arrest and that action…the talk continued in the lobby and on the street, and, I imagined, on the subway rides home, and on the phone later, and at some meeting or rally, before too long.”

On the eve of the anniversary of her passing (Aug 22nd, 2007), I’d like to keep the discussion going.

So I’m in her class, like I said, and we’re workshopping my short story. It’s a story I assume she’s going to like, since, after all, I stole pretty much everything from her. I mean it was all in there: the witty spousal banter, the pith, the holocaust ending. It was downright manipulative.

My classmates are saying the usual this and that—the dialogue is confusing; it’s hard to know who’s saying what, etc.—when Grace puts her copy down and looks up and asks me to read a section aloud. And as I do so, her face goes sour. She is clearly disappointed. Moments later, everybody’s making the same face, their features all squished-up and whatnot. What’s going on? I’m wondering, Was my joke about the Hasidim so offensive that they have all joined forces and conspired against me?

Then I pause for a moment and realize there’s a strange noise in the room, the buzz of bad circuitry. What the hell is that? A smoke detector? A HAM radio? A spaceship landing at South College?

Ach, not again, Grace says.

She shakes her head, then whacks the side of it a few times, harder than you’d think appropriate for an old broad like her. Finally, she tilts her head to one side, reaches into it by way of an ear, and pulls out something that at first glance looks to be a giant ball of wax.

It’s her hearing aid. And it’s humming like a Hendrix amp. She tries shaking it some more, but to no avail. Here, she says, handing it to me, You’re a man. Take a look at this, would you? For the last six months it’s been making me sound all crazy in my own head. Like I’m talking through a megaphone. Like it’s Greenwich Village in the ‘60`s. I can’t tell you how unsettling it is.

Even with my Y chromosome, I said, handing it back to her, There’s not much I can do with this. You should probably just get a new one.

Ha! She said, turning it down and sitting it back in her ear, You know how much they want for a new one?

Continue reading →

Happy Birthday…Lucille Ball!

the managing editor.

Born August 6, 1911.  (d. 1989)

Museum of Broadcast Communications Website

The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnez Center for Comedy

Opening this week: a new exhibition at the Hollywood Museum, “Lucille Ball at 100 & ‘I Love Lucy’ at 60,” which will be on display from Aug. 3 to Nov. 30, showcasing memorabilia saluting the careers and romance of Hollywood’s most famous lovebirds.

For photos of the exhibits:http://www.yousendit.com/download/YTYvRE9saTFBNkZjR0E9PQ

If anyone visits either the Hollywood Museum exhibit or the Center for Comedy and would like to write a review, please let me know: wustert@gmail.com.