Sunday, December 13, 2009

Touchy Subject

Okay, be warned, I’m going to risk another try at humor, here, that taps on the delicate Waterford crystal window separating good taste from not-so-good taste.

We’ll be going along the lines of what-you-might-call your eau de toilette subject matter. It really means, “toilet water,” but, well, you know, it’s French, for God’s sake. I remember learning a romantic nickname that a man, a Frenchman, uses to endear himself to his all-time-favorite (?) woman. He calls her, “Ma petite chou-chou.” It means, “My little cabbage head.”
So, that’s French. The Waterford reference was Irish. For some reason, perhaps stemming from the questionable social behavior prevalent in all classes during the last revolution in France, the French have the edge on certain subjects, and all references to them couched in French are excused.

The Irish are another matter.

Anyway, persons who find these subjects anywhere from sophomoric to morally reprehensible will be warned, at periodic breaks during our discussion, that to go further in their reading risks reading that which they would not like to read, and they should stop.

Stop. That should take care of you.

This—subject, as it were—first occurred to me at the Brokerage Comedy Club, I think in 1992, when I suspect, now, I was inaugurating my most recent life, which ended about two years ago. I thought it was the absolute best of a series of outlandish lives, and was grateful for every minute (…well, really of all of them, although I didn’t recognize that until later).

Currently, I am living what I call a, “bonus,” life, and I feel a little freer than I felt when I lived any of the lives before, and, to be blunt, freer than when I had to worry about the opinions of my mother’s friends as to my deductions and conclusions.

She was alive, then, and I therefore tried to placate the sensibilities of people I didn’t care a whit about. But she did. Some customs you care about; some you don’t.

I cared about that one.

So, this, in 1992, was the third time I performed at a comedy club, and I was nervous. Entertaining at a comedy club is vastly different than speaking, say, at an annual dinner-dance for the county medical society, or a golf outing for the Village Officials Association, or the Christmas—oops, Holiday—Party for the Suffolk County Librarians Association.

With them, if you are clever, they are really happy. If you are funny, they are ecstatic; no fewer than four members of the board will claim credit for having invited you. If you are knock-down, slap-your-thighs, can’t-even-breathe-hysterical, they’ve had one the best nights of their lives and will talk about you a year after your obit has appeared in the newspapers. Ooh. Bad reference. If you are writing for future readers, don’t use almost-dead words.

In a comedy club, only (c) is good.

So, like I said, I was nervous.

I didn’t know that nervousness would make me make up comedy routines that I’d never heard before.

I’m onstage about a minute when a guy in the audience gets the uncontrollable urge, I guess, to go.

He stands up, shrugs an apology to me, and takes fully fifteen seconds to meander his way from the left corner of the wide, wide room to the right corner, where the bathrooms are.

I stop whatever my opening ministration is, and get a chuckle for that (from a really friendly audience), for the first three seconds. For some reason, I remember the sign on the bathroom wall, and I say to him, “Don’t forget to wash your hands after you, you, uh, finish, in there. There’s signs, you know, that will tell you what to do. Pictures of a hand washing the other hand, so they both are clean, after you, uh, touch yourself. People out here are counting on you. They know, now, that you’re in there.”

The man waved--nice man, good sport--and disappeared into the dark, leaving me, suddenly, with the subject of his going to the bathroom.

I didn’t want that. I was going to talk about being an 11-year-old boy in the Amityville junior high school, with grown women all around; or catching a mouse and being forced to put it on a nun’s desk in the eighth grade; or my three observations as a student teacher (you get two. I had three, because the judge could not believe it.).

All right, stop reading right here. Seriously. You were warned.

“You know,” I said (figuring, ‘Ah, what the hell. I’m not a comedian anyway.’) I think it’s the Irish Catholic influence that made that rule, the one about washing your hands after…you know. I mean, what other culture is so convinced that a certain part of the body is dirty, so dirty, so inherently dirty, I mean, really intrinsically dirty, filthy. Even clean, it’s dirty. It’s dirtier than dirt."

I mean it. Go.

“I mean, you take a man…has to be a man, by the way…works on, let’s say, Wall Street…”

Oops. Might not be able to say that. “…works for AIG,” no, “Merrill, Lynch…” Yikes, “…works at the Postal…no…The New York…“Knicks, and he gets up, takes a shower, a long shower, where he uses lots of soap, good lather, maybe Irish Spring, so he is squeaky clean, then perhaps some powder here and…there…

“Then he puts on some laundered, folded, stacked, boxer shorts, clean, smelling of Tide. Then a T-shirt, and a white dress shirt, then some cleaned and pressed trousers, and, socks and shoes.

“Off he goes to the Huntington Railroad Station, in a cab, which is as clean as a cab can be, his hands touching the cab, touching his money, the cabbie, the cabbie’s money, the coffee truck driver’s change, the railing, the train, the train’s railing…so now he has anything from Swine Flu to leprosy, certainly pink eye and AID’s… to Penn Station, the railing upstairs from the tracks, and (damn that second cup of coffee), the bathroom, where the push plate of the door hosts Back Death plague and poison ivy, and there’s a line, and he opens his trouser with a zipper, sticks his diseased finger inside, past the tail of the white dress shirt, past the undershirt, past the opening of the boxer shorts, to this unsuspecting part of his body…

“…and we want him to wash his hand, because now he has touched something dirty.”

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