I’m sitting here in Trina’s living room (not mine); my room (sort of) used to be the study tucked away at the north end of our house, cozy with my bookshelves, my writing table—an antique Hardin-Simmons library table, the kind with a drawer on each long side, the drawers diagonal to each other, a line connecting long-ago-Simmons-ghost-students doing what students in the library have always done, except where the drawers should be, there is only space, emptiness, surely a symbol. That’s probably why the table was carted to a dusty cranny in the HSU warehouse at least forty years ago, when Katrina tucked our twin sons in their car seats in our bright yellow “Herbie” Volkswagen ($3,000 brand new) and rushed to the warehouse as if hearing the Garage-Sale Pied Piper calling her to such-a-deal we could not afford!
I knew not to ask how my wife found the table, got some students to carefully, carefully, carefully carry it to our VW, balance it on the roof, and loop a long rope over the table and through the open windows and back over the table and again through the open windows and somehow tie a knot to secure her prize—a turtle, roly-poly on its shell, four feet twitching in the air. I know! You are already thinking how could Trina drive from HSU to South 21st balancing a table half the size of our VW, her left hand out the driver’s window, gripping the table’s edge, her right hand shifting gears, her knees (it had to be her knees) maneuvering the steering wheel in between shifting from first to second to third to. . . . I was teaching on the third-floor of Abilene Hall and turned to look out the window (back then windows, glorious windows, filled the outside wall of each classroom) and saw my family zooming up the street north of and parallel to Abilene Hall (the street no longer there) with what looked like a table bobbing on the roof of our VW with each shift of gears. Trina made many such trips to the warehouse. Our house is a shrine to the ghosts of Simmons past.
The reason I’m not in my study is Lucy! The study now belongs to her. If I disturb her at 4:00 a.m., she will demand we go outside (in the dark) to throw the Frisbee, chase the orange squishy-squeaky ball, the blue squishy- squeaky ball, the lime green squishy- squeaky ball, the half-deflated basketball. . . . She also demands treats—liver snacks, Pup-Peroni logs. That’s why I’m typing at the English pub table in Trina’s antique-store living room. At least I still have access to coffee and Dove dark chocolate. The message inside the Dove wrapper I just opened says, “Think of something that makes you smile.”
Like . . . my almost-spitting-my-coffee-across-the-table spasm of laughter when, yesterday I overheard a colleague in conversation say pork chop. There is something inherently funny about the word pork chop. We say it as if it’s one word. Like BobFink—the way I’m sure numerous administrators have written my name in their pocket notebooks, the black ones, now with one more mark beside my name, one more this is going on your record. It’s a funny word. You know it is.
Bob Mankoff makes me smile. He’s the cartoon editor of The New Yorker, the magazine from that place where they don’t know Pace Picante and don’t say pork chop, but Mankoff might; he’s funny. Last Monday, driving home from school, I was listening to Terry Gross, National Public Radio’s host of Fresh Air, talking with Bob Mankoff. He was relating some of his favorite cartoons, some of which even The New Yorker’s sophisticated readers didn’t get—A boss is speaking on the intercom to his receptionist: “Miss Banks, for my four o’clock I’m going to need a hacksaw, some green glitter, and a flounder.” I almost wrecked the Mini when he said flounder.
It’s funnier than pork chop. Mankoff said they did some psychological studies and found that people who laugh out loud and long when they hear that joke are people who “are open to experiences.” I assume that’s good. You know those quizzes in the Sunday paper magazine supplements where you answer questions to find out what kind of animal you would be? Well, I always come off as the otter, something along the lines of preferring fun to administration, silliness to sermons.
Pork chop. Flounder. Look where we’ve ended up. I did try to stay focused and coherent through most of the first three paragraphs; then I took a sip of coffee and opened the Dove wrapper.