Thursday, September 25, 2014

Funny, Is That You?

Shirley Jackson, one of my favorite authors, wrote stories so scary they inspired Stephen King. She also wrote funny stuff about her family. How can that be? Because Shirley Jackson was one smart dame, that’s why. 

Or as one of my professors told me, “Literature deals with the heart; humor deals with the intellect.”

Thus we see: Smart people know what’s funny. Kind of. Most of the time. Sure. Sure.

I write funny stuff. That’s what people tell me. I’m often stunned when people tell me this, because when I’m writing the funny stuff I’m never laughing. Mostly, I’m steamed or annoyed or moody or itchy.

I’ve actually been at parties where I was introduced as “that funny lady who writes funny stuff.” After which people stared at me—waiting—for me to break into my standup routine, I guess. Sorry. Don’t have a standup routine. All I have is my life. Funny. You bet.

Unfortunately, a lot of modern humor falls into the category of “bathos” or “low comedy.” This type of humor often deals with excrement, sex, farting, or being drunk enough to include all of the above.

My husband, a guy I laugh with and at quite a bit, found me one day pounding away at my laptop.

He said, “What’cha writing.”

“I’m determined to win this national humor writing contest I’m always entering. I’ve been second in the nation. I’ve been honorably mentioned. I’ve been a semi-finalist. But I’ve never won.”


“Because I don’t drink.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A lot of the winning stories have to do with getting drunk, staying drunk, anticipating being drunk, or mocking the drunken.”

“But you don’t drink.”

“Yeah, but I’ve been around a lot of little boys who can fart the alphabet. I bet I can fake it.”

He left me to it.

I watched a romantic comedy the other day that relied quite heavily on bathos for its comedic comedy. One of the gags included the clogging of various toilets by an unwanted houseguest. Bathos = excrement. 

All I could think was, “Who’s going to clean that up?” I did not laugh.

One of my kids (who shall remain nameless so I won’t have to pay her a dollar every time I use her name) decided pooping was too gross and she was not going to do it anymore. She was above pooping. She was three. And a real pip. 

For two weeks she was good for it. The problem with the no-poop challenge is the human body. Not only did this kid poop, she pooped constantly—just not a lot. Think buffalo head nickel size spots, times 1,000. It was disgusting.

Finally, concerned that the kid was about to explode, I stripped her naked, stuck her on the baby potty, stuck a box of prunes in one hand, and a cup of prune juice in the other and said, “Don’t get up until you take a dump.”

What came out of that kid was . . . beyond description and not the least bit funny. 

The best part of this story is that she now has a kid of her own that’s pulling the same crap about pooping. 

Bathos = excrement.

Humor is tricky, and I’m always surprised by what people find funny. It’s never what I think it’s going to be. 

I have another grown kid who laughs every single time you say the word, “Poop.” She has the soul of a little boy who can fart the alphabet.

Linda (Humor Writer and Thrill Seeker) Zern

Friday, September 19, 2014

Quiz This

My children (grown) spend a tremendous amount of time discussing the results of online quizzes they take on Facebook. They also spend a tremendous amount of time taking these quizzes. 

In addition they spend a great deal of time trying to juke the quiz system so as to get the results that flatter them the most.

Sample Discussion Question:

“What did you say for question #6? Lovely Lemon Yellow or Dapper Dan Green?”

And then: “Oh look, I’m The Golden Queen of Funky Fairyland. Cool. Is that what you got?”

I refuse to participate in the quiz taking, because I find the quizzes less than scientific and more than stupid. And yet my children (grown) continue to send them to me. Or tag me with them. Or junk up my inbox with their annoying presence. I’m a little fuzzy on the correct terminology.

But I fixed their quiz-taking wagons. I started faking my results.

For example if the quiz was “Which Disney character are you?” I wrote, “Unicorn.”

Or for the quiz titled, “What Romantic Temperature Are You?” I wrote, “Unicorn.”

Eventually they figured it out which gives me hope for the next generation.

However, in the spirit of modern media savvy and to reach out to a younger and a much more quizzical generation of quiz takers, I’ve created my own scientific survey of curios results.

Called: Which Kind of Zern Kid (Grown) Are You? Please note, because I’ve never actually taken an online quiz I don’t know how they work, so I’m making the format up.

Question #1: A. How often do you read your mother’s weekly sometimes twice-weekly blog posts? 1) I’m reading it right now. 2) Is she still doing that? or 3) What blog posts?

B. If you had a choice between taking an on-line quiz or reading one of your mother’s blogs, which would you choose? 1) I want a dollar every time she mentions my name or 2) Is she still doing that?

C. Can you name a favorite blog post written by your mother? 1) Yes 2) No 3) Have you seen the will? I hear there’s a new one. 4) Hey, everyone, here’s another online quiz called, “What Caliber of Bullet Are You? I got 50 caliber. What’d you get?”

By the by, there is a new will but you have to pass an online quiz based on fifteen years worth of my blog entries to qualify for cash and prizes. Passing level is Unicorn.

Linda (All of the Above) Zern 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Fatal Attraction

The View From My Backdoor.

While I tap, tap, tap away on my keyboard, making up stories, I keep the television blaring. That’s how I did my homework and made straight A’s throughout my academic career. It’s a career that has spanned decades and is still spanning. I don’t want to talk about it.

I often watch educational or discovery related channels while I tap, tap, tap. 

Today was no different. I finished another novel and watched a discovery style show called “Fatal Attraction.” The attraction that proved fatal was between humans and the animals they adore.

One lady fed WILD bears off the back of her porch. She tossed apple chunks at them. She gave them cutesy names. She built a fence to keep them from clawing her house down. They ate her face off.

Another woman kept pet tigers. She gave them names. She fed them road kill she scooped off the highway. She spoke of them fondly. She thought of them as children. They ate her face off.

And still another woman kept hybrid wolves. She treated them like family. She gave them a kiddy pool full of fun water. She gave them wolfish names. They ate her face off.

It freaked me out, because—as I type this—my garage is full, full of feral cats, and I feed them, because if I don’t feed them they will eat my chickens, rabbits, song birds, and dog. I’m afraid not to feed them. But after watching “Fatal Attraction” I’m pretty sure they’re going to gang up, drag me off, and stuff me under Mr. Abe’s garden shed. Where they will eat my face off.

What I have going for me:

I refuse to name them.

I never talk of them fondly.

I do not believe they have any human affection for me. 

When they look at me it is not with love. They are measuring the distance between my hairline and my scalp and calculating the number of cat fangs required to hamstring me on my way to the barn.

You know what I think? I think it’s time for another cat roundup. Or as the grandchildren ask, “Hey! Are we too late, for the cat roundup?”

Here’s what I think. Animals are not people or babies or surrogate boyfriends. They are animals. They are not people in fur coats. So stop dropping off your “babies” in front of my house instead of taking them to the animal control up the road, because it’s going to end badly for someone or some thing or everyone.

PS: All the humans died in the above fatal attraction examples, so did all the animals.

Linda (Butterfly Net) Zern

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I WONDER . . .

Thirteen years ago, I stood in the library of Wake Tech Community College as a representative of my anthropology class. I was to report back on the news reports about the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

As the first tower fell, I heard someone behind me mutter, “Good. America deserves this. America is in everyone’s business.”

I turned around and looked into the face of a handsome, young, well-dressed, African American man and saw . . . the future.

Over the years, I’ve often thought about that young man and wondered where he is now, what he thinks, and if he ever paid back his student loans.   

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yokel at the Museum

While visiting the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, I saw one of the security guards go into hunting dog, alert mode. His ears pricked up. His spine snapped to attention. His hand moved to his walkie-talkie. The guard looked like a redbone hound dog flushing a covey of bobwhite quail. The molecules in his skin were standing at attention.

Someone, somewhere in the museum was breaking the rules.

“Boy oh boy,” I said to my daughter. “Some out-of-town yokel has really biffed it.” Then I pointed.

We watched the security guard stalk the rule-breaking yokel, while standing in the Greek and Roman statue garden, surrounded by centuries of priceless antiquities. It was possible to become faint from sniffing all the odor of fragile history that swirled about.

My daughter gasped. “That guard’s not after some out-of-town yokel. He’s after Dad.”

This next part happened in that weird slow motion that kicks in when airplanes crash or the grandkids tumble off the furniture.

At the sound of her gasping shock, I turned (slowly) to see my wonderful husband of thirty plus years leaning against the bust of The Goat God of Ithaca.

He had his elbow in the empty eye socket of an irreplaceable piece of irreplaceable Greek goat god statue history. He was talking on his cell phone—my husband, not the goat guy.

“Noooooo! Sherwoooooooood! What are you thinking?” I yelled. My voice echoed through the statue garden like the ghost of an ancient goat.

The security guard honed in for the kill.

I thought about shielding my spouse by throwing my body in front of the lecture on proper museum etiquette that was about to happen. But when I saw him stick his finger in his free ear to block out the sound of Captain Security Guard saying, “Sir, don’t lean on the priceless art,” and “No cell phone calls in the museum,” I reconsidered that ultimate sacrifice.

And while the above is a direct quote, there was subtext. There’s always subtext. I believe that subtext ran something along the lines of, “Listen up, you hillbilly, I don’t care what swamp you crawled out of, but you wouldn’t know a piece of priceless art if it bit you on your hillbilly butt. And if you leave your hillbilly grease on my marble, I’ll shoot you myself.”

Horrified, my daughter and I melted away into the gift shop and pretended to buy a pair of vintage inspired Egyptian earrings. Let the yokel fend for himself. However, before ditching hillbilly Sherwood, I took a snapshot of my husband’s encounter with the security guard. There was a quick flash of light.

“Lady,” another alert security type said, “there’s no flash photography in the museum.”

The picture turned out great.

Then the camera got stolen.

Linda (Tour Guide Down) Zern

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Sweet Honesty Just Happened to Me

I call it the romance novel philosophy of life. “We didn’t plan for IT to happen. IT just happened.” IT, of course, in a romance novel, means wild, crazed, uncontrollable, life shattering sexiness that cannot be resisted—thus uncontrollable or not my fault sex, people.

Because . . . there HE was, pillaging the local village, lunchroom, or corporate office, and then I looked at HIM and BAM, I was swept away by chemicals called fair-moans . . . oops . . . sorry . . . I mean pheromones which are chemicals located in human sweat—also glands, taste buds, and nose hairs.

What? If people can blame their chemical sweat for their entire lives just happening to them without conscious choice or thought, I can make up nutty crap about it.

People really believe this stuff. The government funds scientific studies about it. It’s called “Sweat Chemicals Made Me Do IT” research.

I know that people believe this. I’ve heard them talk about it in a public place for smarty-pants, you know, college. (What follows is a story I’ve told once or twice but bears repeating.)

My anthropology professor asked my college class, “Who thinks that falling in love is a result of chemicals you can’t control?”

Every hand went up but two.

“Who thinks that falling in love is a choice?”

Two hands went up. The professor’s and mine.

I shouted, “Seriously?”

One young thing complained, “But it’s so unromantic if it’s not spontaneous. I just want to be walking down the street and BAM! There he is.”

“But what if he’s a tax evading, nose picking, axe murderer and republican?” I asked.

She blinked big doe shaped eyes and shivered.

Unromantic? I’ll tell you what’s unromantic—three kids with four daddies and utter exhaustion and flip-flops. Those things are not romantic.

Come on! Think! If this theory holds, then you could be walking down some random street, see some random monkey male of our species, and your chemicals called fair-moans scream out, “Mate.”

And you do mate. 

I asked my husband why he asked me to Homecoming all those many years ago in high school and did it have to do with uncontrollable chemical signals, and he said, “I thought you were pretty.”

I said, “Good answer.”

“And you were always wearing that T-shirt that read, SWEET HONESTY.”

“Yeah, that was my perfume. Avon makes it. I still wear Sweet Honesty,” I paused. “Oh no! I . . . still . . . wear . . . it.”


“It’s the perfume! You’ve stuck it out for thirty-five, work grinding, midnight baby shuffling, soul searing, mind blowing years, because of the perfume.”

He looked at me like I had lost part of my mind and misplaced the rest.

Then he said something stupid.

So I said, “I tell you what. I’ll tell you what to say and then you say it and then I’ll write it down like you said it.”
He said, “Shoot.”

“Say this, ‘You’re the best time I’ve ever had.’”

He said it.

And that’s how I know it can’t be the chemicals that keep the love train rolling. It has to be “love by choice.” Otherwise, I’d marry myself because I know what I want to hear—also smell.

Linda (Sniff It) Zern

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