On Firetrucks, Floods and other 'F' Words
Tonight, famous stand up comic Paula Poundstone signed a copy of her book to me with the inscription "Now would be a good time to say 'firetruck(*).'"
For those who are not aware, today was my birthday. If you are not aware, then you must not be someone with whom I have regular contact, because I'm one of those weenies who don't pay much attention to birthdays or endow them with much importance... until my own comes along, and then, starting about a month before, finds subtle excuses to work his own upcoming special day into every conversation, such as "Oh, is today your birthday? Cool! Mine is later this month!" or "I'm kind of trying to diet, but my birthday is coming up, so I'm going to let myself have this to celebrate." or "You support a completely non-interventionist foreign policy? Interesting! My birthday is in two weeks!"
I have long been a fan of Ms. Poundstone, and so when I learned (about 6 months ago) that she would be performing in my area on the actual date of my birthday, I knew that I had to attend, and so I immediately began making plans to do so by not actually buying tickets and completely forgetting that the event was going to happen. This is the same process by which I arduously prepared for my wedding to Janet, which explains the look of bewildered surprise on my face in all of our wedding photos.
I continued this rigorous preparation until about a week ago, when two things happened: First, one week ago today I rode in an elevator with Ms. Poundstone while attending my 25 year high school class reunion, five hours away in New Jersey. Astute readers will probably have picked up on this subtle clue in last week's essay. Second, two days ago I successfully won a pair of tickets to the show, five MINUTES away from my office. In comedy, of course, timing is everything (for example, had I won those tickets tomorrow, I wouldn't have had enough material to write an entire essay), and so interestingly, I won the pair of tickets about 20 minutes after my dear wife Janet phoned me to tell me to keep my birthday evening open, because she'd made plans. Fortunately, it turned out that the plans she'd made had involved purchasing tickets to Ms. Poundstone's show, and so in the process of winning tickets, I also turned my wife into a scalper, thus proving that no good deed goes unpunished.
I am not a particular believer in "fate" or "karma", but when events conspire to thrust Paula Poundstone into my life repeatedly, clearly the Universe is saying "I don't really care what you do with your Saturday evening, inasmuch as I am not actually a sentient being, but you could probably do worse than to use those free tickets and go see some comedy", and I think we can all see that when the Universe says something that powerful, we'd all best listen.
And so at this point in the story, Janet and I donated one of our children to two of our best friends to raise.
This was not actually our intention, of course. Dan and Tristin are two of our best friends in all the world as measured in the number of times we've answered the question "Who do we know who would be willing to (some thankless, boring or inconvenient task for which we are unsuited, unable, or unwilling)?" with "I know! Dan & Tristin!". In this particular case, of course, that task was watching our youngest son, Liam, while we went to the show.
Dan and Tristin have a wonderful rustic house here, in a town in NH that makes my description of OUR home town as "rural" seem hyperbolic in the extreme. Their house is up on a hill, on a wooded lot that can only be accessed by a dirt road right-of-way across another lot. On nice summer days, this driveway runs along beside a lovely little stream. On days which contain any rain at all or even sufficiently high humidity, the driveway runs alongside the raging whitewater torrent of death.
We were not aware of this facet of the stream this afternoon as we dropped off Liam into Dan and Tristin's able care and he displayed his typical separation anxiety by saying "Bye, Mommy! Bye, Daddy!" the moment we arrived, long before we had actually intended on leaving. But we looked at each other and said "the rain is really starting to come down, let's get going" and completely ignored the foreshadowing ominous musical "sting" that rang out of nowhere.
So off we went to have a bit of dinner and go see Paula Poundstone (who was fantastic, by the way. If you get a chance, you really should go see her show!) and then tried to retrieve our child. The stream, which had been politely, almost mockingly calm when we had dropped him off was now a two-foot-deep raging river running perpendicular to its normal course, directly across where Dan and Tristin had previously kept their driveway. We could see the house, safely up on the hill, but there was simply no way to get to it. Dan came out of the house with a flashlight and hip-waders (and really, how much more evidence do you need that this happens a lot when Dan, not a fisherman, actually had hip waders handy!) and came out to chat with us.
We agreed that it was unsafe to try to transport a sleeping Liam across this maelstrom, and so the best solution for all concerned was simply for Dan and Tristin to adopt Liam.
We will miss him.
* * *
I began this essay with an amusing tale about an inscription, originally intending to end it with the joke (fully attributed) which led to it, but in the process of writing this, I came to realize that stealing an entire story from Ms. Poundstone's act, even with credit, would make this essay not so much my own as hers with a batch of clumsy comedic fumbling on my part racing to her professionally crafted tale at the end. My exact words, when I realized this, were "Oh firetruck, I can't steal a joke that blatantly. It simply wouldn't be right!"
As such, I have decided that I will omit that story from the essay proper, but will compromise by posting the joke in question (because it's damned funny) in the first comment on the blog. Don't thank me, I'm merely trying to avoid owing some percentage of the vast profits from Liam Humor Enterprises in royalties.
(*)She did not actually say this. As you are no doubt aware, I like to keep these little flights of fancy clean, so that readers who happen to be my children are not exposed to any of the harshness of the world and can continue to believe in rainbows and unicorns and will thus be ripe pickin's for the cruel realities of the world to squash like an overripe tomato once they hit college.
You may also be aware that this is ludicrous, in that in my personal life I've been known to use language so "salty" that it might make a drunken sailor run off to the nearest monastery to dedicate his life to silence and beauty and trying to rid the world of filthy mothe... er, gentlemen, such as myself.
And so, to avoid offending you, gentle reader, I have replaced just such an offensive word with "firetruck." If your constitution cannot handle coarser language, just pretend that I have used that word to be silly. For the rest of you, imagine the firetruck in one of those giant car-sized trash compactors heroes were forever getting trapped in (inside their cars) in bad 1970s era cop shows... if you get my drift.
Copyright © October 25, 2009 by Liam Johnson. http://liam-humor.blogspot.com