Monday, August 8, 2016

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way

Among the pleasures of browsing a dictionary, you most enjoy the pastime of scanning the larger, unabridged volumes in search of words that have as many as five or six potentials for meanings. 


Second only to your appreciation of portmanteau, or mash-up words such as smog for smoke and fog, your awareness of words with more than one meaning owes a good deal of fond reminiscence to such a word, in fact "funny," and the reasons you were spending 
your early years with dictionaries in the first place.

During your tenure at the Hancock Park Elementary School, 408 South Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles,the principal janitor, Mr. Pope, a man who reminded you in appearance and speech of the cartoon character, Popeye, would frequently come upon you, during class hours, sitting outside a classroom or bungalow, on a schoolyard bench.  "I see you were being funny," Mr. Pope said, in recognition of you being sent outside.

Although Hancock Park was, and remains, a favored school venue, your matriculation there was cut short by the return of your parents to the small New Jersey town of their own youth, where the equivalent of Mr Pope reminded you more of the sorts of characters one might find in the Dick Tracy comic strips of the day. The schoolyard benches were the only thing at PS Number Ten, now renamed for a politician you knew by name and sight. "Funny boy, har?" Mr. Czyswicki would say, then mumble something you later realized you were meant to hear. "Cot dom Californy funny boy."

You were not sent outside the classrooms of the now defunct John Howland Elementary School, Providence, R.I,which was more along the atmosphere from John Hancock, to the point where you spent time having to clean out your desk in order to be moved higher along the pecking order of classes, or invited to visit a rather commodious library, from where you were encouraged to borrow books, rather than your then default, the Providence Public Library.

But it was back outside when the shift to Central Beach Elementary, Miami Beach, Florida, came into effect and you were funny there because, with no accent of your own, you stood out like the Californian you were, bewildered by the Florida slowness that was so different from California slowness.

In time, you have been told by any girl or women in whom you had a romantic interest that you were funny, which began to take on the equivalent meaning of "Get lost," or "We could, I suppose," be friends," or the even more exasperating, "Every girl should have a friend who is funny."

Yes, funny is often used as a synonym for strange. Or different, as in "This smells funny." Or contrary, as in "Don't get funny with me." Or prosaic, as in, "I don't see what's so funny here."
Sometimes, funny meant you were approaching some kind of agreement, as in "Funny you should mention that," which also had its downside of being the equivalent response to "In your dreams," or "Don't even think about it."

By the time you finished junior high school, then hurtled full-on into puberty, you saw differing types of individuals about you, all of whom were funny for different reasons. In consequence, you gravitated to persons who were funny in similar ways to your funniness, checking out what seemed like eternal lunch hours in which, like travelers in some package tour, you watched the antics of groups you considered to be more or less funny than your own group.

Many college students are thought to have become rooted in seriousness after their freshman year. Such young men and women at first seemed funny to you because they were already leapfrogging into the seriousness of adulthood, preparing, as you once remarked in a large group, "for adultery," only to be told that was not funny.

A classmate once observed of you that you ought to secure a position on the campus humor magazine because you had such a funny outlook on life. In pursuit of this goal, you became connected with other individuals who, during staff meetings propelled by too much of that universal undergraduate lubricant, beer, admitted to hiding vast quantities of overwhelming seriousness which at times troubled them.

A direct consequence of your work on the campus humor magazine resulted in you being hired to write for a weekly live TV program featuring two popular LA disc jockeys, then, all too soon, being fired for turning in material that caused people to "laugh the wrong way." You were told to loosen up, look for the brighter side, try to see the humor in things.

This was about the time when you began to see the difference between humor and comedy.  

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