My father was a big fan of Lenny Bruce. He would recite portions of Lenny’s bits over dinner, when we were not all actively at war.
“Funny motherfucker,” said the skeleton of my father.
He was drawn to Bruce’s anger and irreverence, as much as to his insight and wit.
“I love the way you talk about me like I’m not sitting right here,” said the skeleton leaning back against his headstone, brushing himself off.
I do it for your love, dad.
“I loved Lenny’s brutal honesty, to be brutally honest about it. He said things that needed to be said but rarely were back in the days of I Like Ike. Same with Richard Pryor, although Pryor even more so than Lenny — Pryor was the true genius of that art form. We live in a world we are forced to pretend is rationally arranged, for liberty and justice for all and the rest of those overflowing crocks of shit every school boy is forced to pledge allegiance to. Lenny was like that kid who yells out, ‘look! The Emperor has a boil on his balls!’ and winks. We are given precious little of the truth here, Elie, and when it’s delivered with dryness and a great punchline — what could be better?”
No argument here. I’d take irreverence to solemnity any day when being force fed bullshit, particularly the murderous kind. Like when reading reports like ones in the New York Times, your beloved Grey Skank — those chilling, morally-neutral articles and editorials that praised Obama’s wisdom and supreme skill in how he approached extrajudicial killings: measured, lawyerly in his deliberations, discreetly secretive.
“Christ, Elie, you’d complain if you were eviscerated by a brand new drone- launched Hellfire missile,” said the skeleton.
There you go. Although, the point stands: reverence for something like the authoritative Paper of Record precludes an open and honest discussion, frames away troubling questions like ‘why the fuck are we secretly droning people in a dozen countries when the practice was so reviled when Israel first pioneered it, when it is a top recruiting aid for those who seek to use lethal violence against us, slaughters so many innocents, sets such a catastrophic international precedent for the future?’
“Those are not illegitimate questions, as one of your learned colleagues might phrase it, I suppose,” said the skeleton. “Irreverence is an orientation, a stance Jews have often utilized, to use that supremely Yiddish word for ‘make use of’. Jews have often utilized irreverence, it’s sometimes all powerless people have to give themselves a feeling of control. I see your fucking false god and, while you’re bowing, I paint tits on it. Which, in itself, is kind of ironic from a Jewish perspective. Abraham, the patriarch Pop called ‘Avooma Veeny’, was ready to kill his own son to prove his faith in an all-merciful God. Don’t forget, though, before that, little Avooma Veeny was an iconoclast, literally, smashing up idols in his father’s shop.”
Irreverence is why you bought me MAD magazine, put out by the ‘usual gang of idiots’, every month for years.
“Well I saw your eyes light up when I gave you that first one at the dinner table one night. You remember how it was all rolled up? I’d confiscated it from a high school kid who refused to put it away so I could teach him and his hapless little classmates what was then called Social Studies.”
You kept referring to the kid as a moron, which I found almost as funny as the MAD magazine itself. I kept picturing a moron, waving that rolled up MAD, and it made reading the rolled up pages the moron had been trying to read so much funnier, somehow. I kept seeing him puzzling over that cudgel he made of the MAD, struggling to read the rolled up pages. You told me you’d get me a subscription for Chanukah, though you never actually did.
“Well, you made out on that deal. I could have saved some money off the newsstand price buying the subscription, but then you probably wouldn’t have gotten it every month for the next ten years.”
I just figured out why you’d buy it at the newsstand every month– so you could read it on the subway home from work. If it had come directly to me in the mail, you’d have had to ask me to borrow it, which would have violated your creed of never needing to ask anyone for anything while, at the same time, putting you at the mercy of your merciless little son.
“Duh,” said the skeleton, “that moron in my Social Studies class had nothing on you, Elie.”
Here’s a riddle for you, skeleton.
“Hey, watch it… I’m still your father….”
How is it possible that my sister has no recollection of how funny you were?
“Well, much of the time I was as funny as a heart attack, or a root canal, or however you want to put it. Humor is a subjective thing. Picture the newsreel clip you saw of Hitler cracking up a room full of top Nazis. You think you or I would find the Fuhrer’s wit quite as droll? How about those people in Alabama a few weeks ago who found the punchline Kayla Moore triumphantly dropped so funny?”
‘….one of our attorneys is a Jewwwww.’
“Yeah, not exactly Rowan and Martin, but good enough for that room of Jew hating shiteaters. Your sister herself is very, very funny, though that may be hard to remember, she hasn’t had cause to crack a lot of jokes lately. And, don’t forget how cruel her humor was, a chip off the old crock. She was like a knife thrower with expert aim.”
Crackly Sam Psoraisis was one of the recurring characters that sometimes got a laugh out of mom.
“A betrayal that made me warn her how you two would be dancing on her grave,” said the skeleton.
Sure, but look, if we’re going to be honest here, and not merely irreverent…
“Irreverence is often the appetizer for honesty.”
OK, we’ve had the poo poo platter…
“Served with a nice gust of air freshener,” said the skeleton.
What’s with you today?
“I know you are, but what am I?”
Jesus, revenge of the ventriloquist’s dummy.
“We can all see you moving your lips, Elie,” said the skeleton, “you’re not fooling anybody, and, besides that, you have a boil on your balls.”
Dad, the beauty of writing is that I cannot be sidetracked when I write. All I need to do is read the last few lines back and I see where you start doing your distracting stunts.
“Ah! Where I start doing my distracting stunts….”
If we’re to be honest about it, my sister was just doing what she’d learned from you. When you’re trapped in a corner, lash out with a good funny line.
“That’s often a sound tactical move,” said the skeleton. “Nietzsche called humor the ‘epitaph on the tombstone of a feeling’ as your friend Sekhnet informed you when you first started dating. It’s more than that, of course. Humor can be gentle too, a way of turning aside a harsh word, brushing a tear off a cheek. More often it’s a way of fending people off, sure, but better to fend them off with a laugh that puts them on the back foot than with a punch in the face, no?”
Better to pass a new tax law that favors the wealthiest and jeopardizes life for everyone else than to build and populate mechanized death camps for society’s millions of parasitic losers.
“Exactly,” said the skeleton, “I’m glad you’re able to be so rational about it, you parasitic loser.”
Takes one to know one.
“Touché , Elie,” said the skeleton, putting a hand to his chest and miming death from a rapier thrust.