Wednesday, November 28, 2007


What is said is up here.

What is meant is down here.

Way down. Like about here.

The writer skateboards on the narrow berm between the two, the cusp between what is actually said and what is actually meant. Anything else is, well, lacking in dimension; it is in a way journalism, an account, a description.

You're just saying all this because you want a short post.

Not really; I'm saying this as a way to get started on a longer post, one that takes me somewhere I have not been before.

Ah, you mean the Bakersfield of the soul?

Nice imagery notwithstanding, how come all you California dudes take off on Bakersfield?

If we were in New Jersey, I'd be taking off on Perth Amboy. There is always a place where we have been or fear we will be; those are the places we pass off as equivalents of Polish jokes. Bakersfield, Perth Amboy, and Polish jokes are the modern equivalent of sex, religion, and politics; you tend to lose jobs, get denied for tenure, suffer being called racist or sexist or bigoted, particularly if you make as much per year as, say, Don Imus.

Humor requires a target, thus Bakersfield, Perth Amboy, and Polish jokes. They are the acupuncture points of humor. Everyone has a reference point to Bakersfield, Perth Amboy, and Polish jokes; even citizens of Bakersfield and Perth Amboy. Even those of Polish descent have the equivalent of Polish jokes. One Polish friend told me that for him, those of Finnish descent were the equivalent of Polish jokes, and a non-Polish man from North Dakota told me that North Dakotans rely heavily on south Dakotans. Similarly, Canadians have Americans and we have--well, now that I think about it, we seem to have taken on everyone. Did you hear about the American who was so dumb that in order to get a job in the film industry,he slept with a writer?

How many Americans does it take to make a bigot? One.

There is no victimless humor. The best humor is the humor wherein we--not they--are the victim.

Okay, now we know what element fills the gap between what is said and what is meant.

Pain. Or vulnerability. Or Pretensions.

Two drunks are weaving down the street, wondering if it is too late to find a saloon for a nightcap. Abruptly, one of them begins to sing in an intense basso. A window opens and a voice calls out, "Hey, what's with you guys? It's one in the goddamned morning."

The singer nods, turns to his friend. "See, we've got plenty of time."


R.L. Bourges said...

actually, canadians - both french and english - make newfie jokes (as in newfoundland); they're usually the same as the french-canadian jokes the english-canadians make (newfies and canucks being interchangeable in all of english canada, except newfoundland); belgian jokes the french make; ukrainian jokes in russia, tunisian jokes in morocco... ( many newfie/canucks/whatever to change a lightbulb? you mean the one that goes on in their head when they understand the question?)

Anonymous said...

Shelly - For some reason - which I'd love to hear you comment on - I find that Subtext and Plot strain against one another when I write. I think they may be eternal opponents. That is, the more snugly-constructed the plot, the less room for subtext to play. Lots of grow room for subtext equals a less 'robust' plot... I find I'm respecting plot more lately, maybe because I've neglected it in the past...
- Karen