Often when I’m in despair I turn to the back page of The New Yorker and try to think up something funny to say. The little drawings are so succinct it can be hard to tell who’s talking. Berryman’s Life, friends, is boring, though recited by poets everywhere, has probably been the winning caption for no cartoon. Last summer I was so low I ran out of magazines.
I got obsessed with entropy.
Is the world more closely allied with chaos or with order? I asked everyone I love. Chaos, my sister said, because she’s a doctor. Order, my mother said, because she’s an abstract expressionist. I showed my father a cartoon of a psychiatrist wearing a halo and a man stretched out on the couch.
I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one, he said, and I was sure he’d win. I told my sisters look, dad’s okay, his mind still works, he’s still a funny man.
It took me all these months to realize he was only answering me— I’m afraid I can’t help you with that one, you, whoever you are.
I keep sending that caption in, every week, hoping one day to win, one day soon, before we lose him.
Truth is we ought to buy a book of jokes and practice them over and over until we perfect the hospice of it, things are that bad.
My father’s name is still funny, one syllable, rhymes with pain. Our friends used to call him Pain and my mother Wacky, but I don’t think anyone could make me laugh right now. If you’d laugh, I’d feel less alone.
Do you know my favorite joke, about the man condemned to be hanged? When the priest asks if he has anything to say before they spring the trap, the man says yes, this thing doesn’t look safe.