“Where the Lost Get Found (and stop getting pound. . .ed)”
“Where the Lost Get Found (and stop getting pound. . .ed)”
Perhaps you have met me in some other time, in some other place, on some other porch. At the age of five, I could cite verses from Hebrew scripture as easily as I could unpack symbolism as found in the Revelation According to John. I studied from Watchtower Society publications including The Watchtower, Awake, My Book of Bible Stories, and the introductory piece for all young Jehovah’s Witnesses, the gentle pink colored Listening to the Great Teacher.
When I entered Kindergarten—in compliance with man’s law, I looked for familiar books, but I couldn’t find anything that looked the friendly, smiling, bearded face of my Jesus. . .my Great Teacher. I found Ms. Luttman, who probably thought me to the great oddity as early on as October when I finished cutting an orange globe from construction paper and asking, “What do I do when I am done?” And after a tenuous meeting between my mother and my teacher, there was one perfect orange circle on the wall, a representation of the sun among the snaggle-toothed faces of Babylon the Great.
On Tuesday evenings, I studied the book assigned at the time by the Kingdom Hall. I listened to my father read, something he never did aloud at home. I thought my father was a slow reader. He had a hard time pronouncing words and I could feel the uncomfortable shiftings of the others in our circular group as he tried to get through the next section of reading. My father could not read.
But I could.
And I continued to look for books that looked like the ones I had at home (having read them through a number of times, I was looking for more along the same lines). And the well-intended Ms. Luttman gave me books that offered half-handed explanations for why mosquitoes buzzed in peoples ears with absolutely no mention of Jehovah whatsoever. How misinformed. . .and seemingly this book won some kind of award. My reward was waiting for me because of my ability to see the error in the explanation
I was a favorite target of my bullying classmates. They were tired of my attempts to draw life lessons from the Hebrews who mishandled the manna provided, or why Jezebel’s launching from the upper window to dogs below was justifiable. Nor did they really care that I was working on gesticulation that week for Thursday evening’s Theocratic Ministry school where young Witnesses are trained to prepare talks and to deliver them.
I found a way to keep the bullies from beating me up. I could make them laugh. My classmates, whose humor catalog was found lacking what with only dirty limericks and knock-knock jokes, were impressed with my ability to remember whole stories that would end in some unexpected punchline or incongruity.
I read Tom Swifties. I read trivia books. I read funny books.
And then I found. . .Al Jaffee’s Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.
I hid MAD magazines inside of my Watchtower publications. I loved the parodies, the fold-ins, the Spy vs. Spy pieces, the sound effects that accompanied Don Martin’s drawings, and the little cartoons Sergio Aragones hid in the margins of the longer stories from the classic issues.
I read CRACKED as a companion piece to MAD. I sang the song parodies aloud in my backyard trying to get my voice to sound as close to the original recording artist as possible to make the song more authentic as well as properly-skewered.
I was able to hold literature up to the light and find it’s not windfall in that envelope at all.
It’s a pratfall.
We can laugh.
Today, I find Chris Crutcher’s ability to find a chuckle inside of the chaos of the adolescent condition so reminiscent of my own , I have to wonder if he had been following me around my school. I think David Macinnis Gill is an absolute stitch. I secretly wish that Tom Angelberger and I grew up together. I wish David Lubar had been my fourth-grade teacher (I mean honestly, can’t you see this weinie man actually pulling lunch duty?). think that Alan Sitomer has written middle grade’s Citizen Kane with his The Downside of Being Up. And excuse me for being a little sophomoric, but Don Calame’s Swim the Fly is like Porky’s meets Of Mice and Men.
And so that this love-fest of funny authors does not seem gender imbalanced, I think Lisa Yee, Lauren Myracle, and Carolyn Mackler are an absolute hoot. Have you ever had an interaction with Pamela Ross or Kristin Clark Venuti? And a tweet here and there from Libba Bray reminds me that are reasons to laugh in this world still. All of these authors are like my crazy uncles and aunts I’ve never had.
Because the prologue of every book they write seems to be written in invisible ink that only I can read. I can share with you how each reads now: “Dear Paul. . .pull my finger. And then turn the page.”
And this is why I can say with the highest degree of confidence that comedy must be part of any curriculum and we need to find it and include it within any proposed canon. If nothing else, my early reading experiences taught me a reverence for literary tradition. Honestly, not many Biblical allusions get past the pasta strainer that is my brain. But humor was, is, and will probably always be the amazing grace that found me when I was lost and made me feel something other than dread and trepidation. . .and loneliness.
Pull my finger. It’s a kind of com-ic-union between two people who might share a giggle. It’s brought me this far.
By the way, if you were to fold this post so that A meets B, you would find a new parody written especially for #nerdybookclub. Well, not really. . .but wouldn’t that have been cool, Tom?
Paul W. Hankins
Paul W. Hankins hangs around libraries and social media forums in the hopes that an author might be there already or show up soon. As a response to some higher calling, Paul teaches English 11 and AP English Language and Composition at Silver Creek High School in s. Indiana. You can follow him at Facebook and Twitter (search Paul W. Hankins). He does not have a regular blog as of yet. . .this blog alone took a lot out of him. In fact, you be best served–if you wanted to find him today–to look in the big green chair at Hankins Ranch. He’ll be the handsome man with a cool, wet cloth on his forehead.