A Wicked Sense

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.


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That Moment When You Realize You Have Horrible Taste

Hi, my name is Barb, and my curtains don’t match. My pillowcases don’t match my sheets, either. And some of the pants I wear to work are patched because I refuse to spend money on something that’s just going to get greasy. I’ve had pretty much the same hairdo since high school, and no one else seems to dress the way I do. I can’t be bothered to be trendy. I’d rather spend my money on travel.

I don’t wear makeup, I’ve never had a manicure, and I watch a lot of reality TV and true crime crap off of Youtube. I collect rocks. I also collect misfits.

I really ought to vacuum my car, but since I don’t even bother to wash it, what are the odds of that? And I’m sure my neighbors would say that my yard is in desperate need of attention.

The reason I appreciate my friends and loved ones so much is that they are willing to look beyond that surface stuff and see who I am. Underneath all that tacky sloppy stuff is a warm heart, a loyal friend, an intelligent woman with a killer sense of humor. I’m kind and compassionate and creative. And my dog loves me.

I admit I probably don’t make the best first impression. But I’ve always appreciated those people who are willing to delve deeper. Thank you all for that.

bad taste

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Subtle Shifts

Have you ever remarked that a kitten has gotten quite big, and its owner is surprised by that? You haven’t seen the kitten in weeks, so its growth is obvious to you. The owner, on the other hand, has seen it daily, and therefore the change in size has been subtle to him or her and therefor easy to overlook.

We experience subtle shifts every day without giving them much notice. For example, when I was a kid, I used to drink Hawaiian Punch practically by the 50-gallon drum. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Now, I can barely tolerate even a sip of it. It’s way too sickly sweet. I couldn’t tell you, though, the exact point in time when I shifted from being a Hawaiian Punch fan to a Hawaiian Punch disdainer. It just sort of sneaked up on me.

My perception of humor has apparently shifted as well. A week ago, if you had asked me what the funniest thing I’d ever seen on television was, I’d have responded, Season 4, Episode 4 of the sitcom Perfect Strangers. Based on its air date, I must have been 24 when I first saw it. I remember laughing so hard as Larry and Balki struggled to get a piano up ten flights of stairs that I nearly lost my breath, and I had tears streaming down my face. This was TV at its best, I thought.

So I was delighted when I discovered that Hulu was now showing every episode of Perfect Strangers. I would start with that iconic episode, and then binge watch the entire series. What fun!

I fixed myself a bowl of popcorn, got into some sweat pants and a t-shirt, snuggled in with my dog Quagmire, and prepared to be entertained.

Imagine my shock when I realized just how bad the show really was. Poorly written, cheesy, in fact. Poorly acted. Predictable. What a freaking disappointment. Needless to say, I won’t be binge watching any other episodes.

But I used to love that show. I really did. What the heck was I thinking? Who was I?

Now, if you ask me what the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on television is, I’ll respond the episode of Carol Burnett in which Tim Conway discusses the Siamese elephants, joined at the trunk. I’m happy to say that that one STILL cracks me up.


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Dog Humor

Do you ever get the feeling that your dog is laughing at you? I do. All too frequently.

Back when I still kept larger dogs, I had a Chow that liked to quietly sneak up behind me and let out one loud woof. It always made me jump out of my skin. When I would whirl around, he’d just be standing there, smirking at me.

My little dog Devo likes to play fetch with a twist. He’ll retrieve the ball, but stay just out of arm’s reach. He’ll then place the ball on the ground and back away a step or two. When I reach for the ball to throw it again, he’ll snatch it away and run a victory lap around the yard. Psych!

My dachshund, Quagmire, is quite the little clown. The other night I was trying to sleep but he kept fidgeting. After some time I decided to reach out in the dark and pat him on the head and tell him to settle down. That’s when I discovered he was trapped deep inside a pillow case and was wrestling with the pillow. I laughed so hard I gave up trying to sleep. (Another time my wake-up call was him sneezing decisively in my face. That makes for a harsh start to the day.)

I once had a dog that was a hound dog in every sense of the word. One time we were quietly standing in line at the vet’s office when he looked up at me, then gently peeled his lips away from his front teeth, and then reached out and nibbled the pantyhose of the woman in front of us. He pulled it, and then let it snap back into place without even causing a run, which I found fascinating. When she turned to us, he was gazing off in the middle distance, acting all innocent. I swear, if he could have whistled, he would have. All I could do was apologize.

My sheltie, Sugar, used to go in the back yard and howl whenever she heard a siren. For a while it broke my heart. I’d call her back inside and comfort her. Then one day I happened to be watching her out the kitchen window when an ambulance came by. She was howling, yes, but her tail was wagging and she was prancing around. She wasn’t crying. She was singing along!

The best dog I’ve ever had was an Australian Shepherd named Mocha. She was extremely intelligent and affectionate and very attuned to sound. She loved to dance to music, and she’d get very excited when you’d say particular words. Eventually I figured out that she loved any word with a hard k in it. Her favorite word was “infrastructure.” It still makes me giggle, thinking about how happy that word would make her.

So, when asked what qualities I look for in a dog, my first response will always be, “A sense of humor.” Most people are perplexed by this, but it makes perfect sense to me.


Self-Deprecation — Your Brain Hears You

I have this theory. There’s a part of your brain that takes in what you hear and assumes it to be fact. My theory is that that goes double for what it hears coming out of your own mouth. Sure, what you say is generated by your brain, but the choice to actually say it is kind of a form of validation. In other words, if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

For some reason many of us think it’s charming to be self-deprecating. But I’m telling you, your brain hears you when you put yourself down. You might be laughing as you say, “I’m so stupid,” or “Women are just not into me,” but a little part of your head is just hearing the words and taking them in as reality. In the long run, that is going to hurt you.

We are often more cruel to ourselves than we would ever be to others. That’s not funny. That’s not charming. It’s just wrong. Self-abuse is still abuse. Why don’t you deserve as much courtesy and kindness as you would afford a loved one, a guest, or a stranger in distress? You can, should, and MUST become your own cheerleader!

That’s my theory for the day.


True Facts about Ze Frank

Every now and then I can’t sleep, and rather than toss and turn and get frustrated as the clock ticks past 4 a.m., I log on to Youtube and watch videos by Ze Frank. Not that they put me to sleep, mind you. Far from it. They make me laugh hysterically and forget whatever I had been mind-grinding about in the first place. If I’m going to lose sleep, I may as well do it with a smile on my face.

If you spend any time on Facebook, you probably have encountered the work of Mr. Frank without even realizing it. He’s the president of BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which produces hilarious viral videos.

The first Ze Frank video I ever saw was Sad Dog Diary. How can you not love a dog that says “Dear Diary, it’s not so much that I miss my testicles. I know it’s a rite of passage in our pack, and I’m sure that my dearest human has had his removed as well, but when that one bulldog comes to the dog park and parades his testicles around, I can’t help but notice how Ginger looks at them. I love Ginger. To be fair, I will admit he has a fine smelling butt hole.”

From there I moved on to his True Facts series. True facts about the Octopus. True Facts about the Armadillo, and so on. These are not only a laugh riot, but they actually teach you some really fascinating things about nature. I’ll never look at a duck again without remembering that the males have a long, corkscrew-shaped penis, for example, or that the cuttlefish is color blind despite the fact that it can change colors for camouflage, or that the mantis has five eyes. Ze, if you read this, I hope you’ll make True Facts about the Coelacanth some day. I think it would be epic.

He also has a website that I’ve only briefly explored, and can tell it will result in hours of smiles. In addition, he’s given some of the most entertaining TED talks I’ve ever seen. This is a man with talent and humor and a great deal of heart. And dimples. I’m a sucker for dimples.

And if you’re ever feeling sad, just listen to his song, Chillout, which he created with the help of total strangers from all over the world. I dare you not to feel comforted.

If I’m introducing you to Ze Frank for the first time, then I’ve given you quite a gift. Remember that, next time my birthday rolls around. You forgot it this time. I was crushed.

ze Frank
Ze Frank. [Image credit TED.com]

Bureaucratic Humor

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I love Google Doodles. They show that Google has a sense of humor and the confidence to mess with their own logo without thinking the world will come to an end. That almost makes me feel that corporations are human beings after all, as the Supreme Court ruled. Almost.

Other large entities would do well to take note of this. I’ve noticed that this type of bureaucratic humor is common here in Seattle. That “we’re all in this together” mentality makes me feel very warm toward this community.

Take, for example, the Seattle Department of Transportation. Yes, they’re my boss, but even if they weren’t, I’d be impressed by them. We are currently in the midst of a year-long painting project of the Fremont Bridge. This is causing obstructions and inconvenience for the residents of this neighborhood, but it has to be done. Now, they could have been rigid and humorless about the situation, and created an us vs. them mindset in the public, but instead they have posted these signs:

 IMG_0326 IMG_0315 IMG_0316 IMG_0324

This really makes me feel good about being a part of this organization.

Maybe if AT&T and the US Post Office and the IRS adopted a sense of humor and humanity they wouldn’t be so universally disliked. But it takes courage. To do it, you have to take a step away from your safe, conservative little hidey-hole and take a risk. You have to be creative. We can’t have that, now, can we?

The Humor Spectrum

When I was young I couldn’t stand British humor. I just didn’t get it. That left me feeling as if I were not in on the joke, and naturally I didn’t enjoy that. I avoided British humor for years.

About a decade ago, though, I decided to give it another try, and now I love it. The difference between British and American humor, I often find, is that British humor assumes you’re intelligent and goes from there. American humor often seems to assume you’re stupid, and therefore goes for the lowest common denominator. British humor forces you to think, and American humor spoon feeds you as if you were a baby in a high chair. (Of course there are exceptions.) I think that says a lot about our respective cultures and our general expectations in life.

Last night I was introduced to, of all things, Finnish humor, in the form of a movie called Ariel, by Aki Kaurismäki. Many Americans might not view this as a comedy, because no one in it laughs or even smiles. Not once. But once you get used to that, you realize that in actual fact the film is hysterical. All these strange and, frankly, tragic things keep happening to the main character, and everyone, including him, seems to take it as commonplace. It’s life, you know? What are you gonna do? No, this film did not make me laugh out loud, but inside I was ROFLMAO. And in the end, I came away still smiling. You can’t say that about many experiences these days. I highly recommend this movie.

This got me thinking about the many forms of humor that are out there. I absolutely despise humor at the expense of others. If the only thing that makes you laugh is humiliating someone else, then I think there’s something seriously wrong with you. I don’t particularly enjoy practical jokes for that same reason. It takes sophistication to toe that line without lapsing into cruelty, and most people aren’t that sophisticated.

I once saw a viral video that everyone seemed to find hilarious. This guy unscrews the railing on his stairs, greases the top step, and piles pillows up at the bottom. He then does something to his sleeping wife (I can’t remember what because I was so horrified by the aftermath) that causes her to leap out of bed and chase him down the stairs, and sure enough, she flies down the stairs and winds up in a heap at the bottom. She’s clearly hurt, and he’s clearly remorseful. But she’s lucky she wasn’t killed, and could very well be in some form of pain for the rest of her life. That’s funny? Here’s a useful rule of thumb: if when setting up a practical joke you say to yourself, “What could possibly go wrong?” Don’t do it. Just… don’t.

Puns, on the other hand, generally don’t hurt anyone. I love a really, really bad pun. I think they appeal to me because they poke fun at my favorite thing on earth, the spoken word.

My favorite form of humor by far is the self-deprecating kind. I think it takes a very confident person to be able to poke fun at himself, and I find that to be extremely attractive. But again, this requires a certain level of sophistication. I dated someone many years ago who lacked the necessary amount of subtlety. He would insult himself brutally, thinking people would find this funny. In fact, it made people uncomfortable, and caused them to pity him. It’s one of the many reasons we broke up. Frankly, people felt he was weird, and it’s hard to remain in a relationship with someone you feel sorry for.

Humor comes in all shapes and sizes. Over the years I’ve learned to appreciate a wider swath of the spectrum. You gotta love variety.


The deadpan humor that is Ariel.


I Wish I Were a Huxtable

I am hardly one to describe the perfect marriage. I appear to be terminally single, and heaven knows I’ve never witnessed a perfect marriage outside of television. But if I ever were lucky enough to be in a good marriage, I’d want it to be just like that of Clair and Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show.

Watching them over the years I’ve seen several aspects of that relationship that appeal to me greatly. First and foremost they saw the humor in life and didn’t take themselves too seriously. That is priceless. If you can be playful in your relationship, you can get through anything.

Another excellent quality is that they had a healthy balance of power. Neither was subordinate to the other. They were a team, and they supported each other.

Equally precious is the fact that they made an effort for each other. They’d go out of their way to do special things. And they clearly still had chemistry.

Okay, so life isn’t a situation comedy. I get that. But The Cosby Show demonstrated what a functional family might look like if ever one were possible. It’s a high bar by which to measure one’s relationships, but a girl can dream, can’t she?


A Dog’s Worst Nightmare

Hi! I’m Devo! Mom let my brother Blue write a blog entry once, Blue Explains Why You Should Support Rescue Orgs, and I’ve been hounding her to give me a turn ever since. Being a dog, that’s something I’m rather good at. Hounding. Get it? Mom says I have a great sense of humor, and that’s an important quality in a good dog.

But today I don’t feel like laughing. Not at all. So I have taken this blog by force to protest a great injustice. My mother tortured us today, and I may never get over the trauma. Really! This has got to be a canine rights violation! I demand reparations!

Every once in a while, without warning, mom declares that it’s Puppy Spa Day. First of all, what gives her the right? You’d think she was the head of this household or something. But we are the ones who get to decide when she sleeps and when she wakes up. We force her to provide the kibble. We make her do all the hunting and gathering. We’re not the ones who clean up the poop around here. Does that sound like a leader to you?

Maybe that’s what Puppy Spa Day is. Payback. Yeah, that’s it. Revenge. She may act all loving and kind most of the time, but mom is evil to her core.

The first clue that this is going to be a bad day is when we come inside after a good romp, and she ushers us into the back half of the house. She acts like we’re playing. How sick is that? And we fall for it every time!

Next thing we know, the front rooms are closed off to us. There’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. And then I see it. The instruments of torture laid out in the bathroom. Uh oh…

Next thing you know, she’s carrying my brother Blue in there. She always tortures him first, because she says he’s easier. It’s diabolical, I tell you! He looks desperately at me over mom’s shoulder, but I’m helpless to intervene.

It seems like he’s in there for an eternity. I hear splashing water. Is she waterboarding him? What confession is she trying to exact? I’m the one who chewed that sock, not Blue! I cast about for a hidey-hole, but there’s not so much as a pillowcase to crawl into. The closet door isn’t even open. Because she plans this. I’m telling you, it’s premeditated.

Next thing you know, the bathroom door opens, and out bolts Blue, not only wet, but smelling like… flowers. And he’s babbling, trying to warn me of my upcoming humiliation. Oh, the indignity! It’s horrible! “Save yourself!” he howls.

Like some sick psycho clown, she smiles at me, and says, “Come here, baby. You’ll survive.” And survival is all I can hope for, because I’m about to be put through the most horrific experience that any dog can imagine. This is the stuff of nightmares, truly.

I struggle as she carries me into the bathroom. I’m determined to make this as difficult for her as I possibly can. As Dog is my witness, I won’t go down without a fight! She takes off my collar, as if to disown me.

The first thing she does is clip my nails. Now how am I supposed to get the proper traction when I kick her in the ribs while she tries to sleep? And the whole time she’s chopping off parts of my body and they’re flying everywhere, willy nilly, she’s muttering, “I swear to God, I’m never going to own a dog with black nails again.” As if that’s my fault! I make sure to let out at least one scream during the process, to unsettle her. That way she cuts less of me off. “See? That wasn’t so bad, you doofus.” She says. Notice that I have not called her a single name. Not one! I take the high road.

Next, she squirts ear cleaner in my ears, and everything suddenly sounds as if I’m at the bottom of the ocean. She does it to disorient me, I’m sure. But the joke’s on her. I shake it right back out! Now it’s all over her. Score one for me!

Not to be outdone, though, she turns on the water torture device and gets me soaking wet. Ugh! Not fair! Not fair! I just got myself smelling the way I wanted! It’s a rare treat to be able to roll in dead squirrel, so whenever the opportunity arises, I take advantage of it! Come to think of it, that always seems to happen on Puppy Spa Day. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Then she covers me in flower smelling sudsy stuff. Horrible! But… Well, okay, secretly I’m digging the warm water and the full body massage. But I’ll never tell her that!

And you know what’s really twisted? The whole time she’s inflicting these cruelties, she’s usually singing. And it tends to be something inane like, “How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?” As if to tell me I can be replaced.

The next thing you know, she’s saying, “Rinse cycle!” and she’s hosing me down again! Oh, the humanity!

And now for the moment of truth. As if gazing at the chimney smoke when they’re electing a pope, we both look at the water runoff with anticipation. If it’s black she washes me again, and the whole time she’s saying, “What is it with you? I never have to wash Blue twice!” She mocks me.

Then she’s giving me another full body massage with a towel, but I can’t relax enough to enjoy it. My eye is on the door. Finally she opens it, and I bolt through it and throw myself, weeping, into my brother’s arms.

We both vow not to speak to her ever again. This is the ultimate betrayal. It is not to be borne!

And then what does she do? She feeds us, and then she brushes our teeth with that yummy poultry flavored paste that she once accidentally used herself. Everyone has their price, and that is ours.


Help me.