What's funny? What isn't? And why do I never get a laugh when I tell that joke about the moose?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

True Lazar Tales #2

Every once in a while, the Gods of Humor smile on you. When the forces of the Cosmic Ha come together. When the Universal Straight-Man echoes the Ultimate Question in your ear.

It doesn’t happen very often, so when it does, you’ve got to savor it.

I had one such experience more than 20 years ago, but I still cherish it.

The Time: 1988

The Place: A fancy hotel on Long Island. Indoor pool, bowling alley, spa, the works.

The Occasion: A corporate retreat for a Custom Magazine Publisher that will remain nameless.

It was a roundtable meeting, as several dozen journalists and editors gathered to discuss the future of magazine publishing (As it turned out, there wasn't one. But that’s another story). One of my colleagues announced that he had to leave the meeting to conduct a previously scheduled interview over the phone.

“My cell phone’s out of power,” he said. “Does anybody know where there are any pay phones.”

“On the main floor,” I volunteered. (I was more observant in those days.) ”There’s a whole bank of them right outside the bowling alley.”

My colleague looked a little concerned.

This was the moment when the cosmic forces aligned—though my colleague had no notion.

“This is an important interview,” he said. “Are you sure it’s quiet enough?”

“Quiet?” I said. “You can hear a pin drop.”

I don’t know if you’ve ever heard forty people all hiss at once. It’s tremendously satisfying.


  1. My favorite: Risley TV Room, 1979, showing the newly made, badly animated version of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe". Everyone is silent as (no, I'm not a Christ figure) Aslan revives himself from the dead and goes charging off after the bad guys. Jim Allan then pipes up, "Here comes the Calvary!"

  2. I have one.

    At Victor Venning's wedding, the country club auditorium had this arrangement where one could get from the front to the back either by walking along the wall at street level or by walking down a ramp to the floor level and then back up another ramp. (I guess it was the wheelchair ramp. But whatever.)

    As I started down the ramp I said to those taking the other way "I'll be in Scotland before you".

  3. And another; the best moment I ever had at a Risley Committee meeting.

    Early on in the meeting, there was discussion and griping about Life Safety's latest threat to remove Absolutely Everything that had a poster placed on it. Bicycles, chairs, et cetera. No exceptions.

    An hour later: discussion of a Very Large Icicle (about four feet long; I do not exaggerate) that had been hanging directly over the front door for the past several weeks and how it was an Immediate Safety Hazard That Was Not Being Addressed.

    Someone had to make the obvious connection. I just happened to be first.

    "Put a poster on it."

    Dave Lapoff (RIP) stood up, walked across the CLR, and shook my hand.

  4. My best* was at a party, when the host opened a bottle of "a Long Island wine," and a complete stranger (so I don't think s/he was deliberately setting me up) asked, in my presence, "What's a Long Island wine?"

    (*Or at least, the best I had the presence of mind to respond to appropriately and immediately. "L'esprit de l'escalier" doesn't count in these things.)

  5. Just remembered another time I rose to the occasion, though it happened in private so may not count. My wife (actually this happened so long ago she might not even have been my wife yet) asked me "How would you define 'idiosyncratic'?" I didn't miss more than one beat before responding "In my own, peculiar way." (Which I suppose was itself a case of "responding in my own, peculiar way.")

    Actually I'm blessed in that my wife fairly frequently asks me questions beginning with "How would you...." In fact it was one of those last night that reminded me of "idiosyncratic." ("How would you like to bring the delicates up from the dryer?") But most of those questions, and their answers ("Delicately."), are as run-of-the-mill as last night's, which it actually took me a minute to recall this morning. If I ever forget "In my own, peculiar way" (which I'm sure I'll *also* do in my own, peculiar way), it's time to call the assisted-living facility.

    I'm probably enhancing this story just a bit. I think what I actually said was "In my own, individual way."