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I Have No Idea

Where do writers get their ideas? If you know, please send directions.

By John Cadley


“IllustrationIllustration by Bart Browne

We have a problem. I say “we” because it involves you, my readers, as much as it does me, your resident court jester. I assume you read my column each month to see what topic I’m going to have a little fun with. That’s our problem. I have no topic this month. Zippo. Nada. Crickets. It’s not writer’s block; it’s the mental equivalent of Death Valley—barren, parched, infertile. If you look inside my head, you’ll see tumbleweeds blowing down an empty street in an abandoned mining town.

And yet I must write a column. I owe it to you, my faithful readers, and my creditors need the money.

We’ll start with my bookcase. Surely there must be something humorous I can pilfer from all these weighty tomes. Here’s one—Edward Gibbons’ The History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. I read it years ago and all I can remember is something about barbarians at the gates, which I do not find amusing. It reminds me of the IRS coming after my tax returns. The Emperor Caligula making his horse a senator is funny, but what he did to the Roman consuls who thought so is anything but. Just so you know—laughing at an insane tyrant never ends well.

What else? Well, there’s Les Miserables (The Miserable Ones). I’m miserable right now and it’s not funny. Dostoevsky? I’m guessing that titles like Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, and The House of the Dead will not be target-rich environments for belly laughs.

How about The Health and Wellness Encyclopedia? No—a book full of diseases is more horrendous than humorous and I would end up imagining I have every one of them (although the word bunions has always made me laugh. I don’t know why, and I apologize to those who suffer from the condition. To me, “I have bunions” sounds like the person has stocked up on some type of exotic vegetable.)

The New Garden Book? My wife is the gardener. I am the rototiller operator, the stone remover, the wheelbarrow pusher, the mulcher, and the my-back-hurts complainer. More moaning than mirth.

A drought like this can make a humor writer wonder if he’s lost his touch. Yesterday, I had the tires on my car rotated. Thinking I’d make a funny little analogy to the aches and pains of aging, I said to the service person, “Boy, I wish somebody would rotate my tires. Treads are wearing a little thin.” He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “That’s what we’re doing.” “No, no,” I said. “I mean, you know, getting older …” “Well, it’s a 2018,” he said, “it’s not that old.” At that moment I thought: Either this guy’s unconscious or I’m not funny.

I would call on the muse for inspiration, but it appears she’s lost my contact information. In all my years as a scribbler she has never once paid a visit. What’s worse, “the muse” is actually nine muses, the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne in Greek mythology, who inspired classical poets and dramatists. I could live with two or three writing me off, but all nine? That’s like getting shut out by a baseball team. I’m particularly ticked off at Thalia, the muse of comedy. She gives Aristophanes the classic comedy play Lysistrata and she won’t even help me with a crack about automobile maintenance. Thanks a lot, Thalia. If I ever win the Mark Twain Prize for humor, you will not be invited to the after-party.

Well, space is getting short, the well is still dry, and I have yet to fulfill my obligation to make you laugh. So I will now cast off all pretense of being a true humorist in the manner of Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, and … tell jokes.

I’ve just become a Frisbetarian—when I die my soul rises up and gets stuck on the roof. And did you hear YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook merged? They’re calling the new company YouTwitFace. Guy asked me for a donation to the local swimming pool, so I gave him a glass of water. My wife said stop imitating a flamingo and I put my foot down. You know what the right eye said to the left eye? Just between you and me, something smells.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’ll be here all week. Be sure to try the veal, tip your server, and remember: Always borrow money from a pessimist—they don’t expect it back. G’night!


“Speech

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