Category Archives: comedians

Bringing the Hammer Down… Making Humor out of Everyday Stuff

No, I am not going to write about violent ways to acquire a trophy wife. Dewey’s courtship methods do not work in a world fairly far removed from the Middle Ages, and Dewey the Goon is a cartoon villain anyway. This post is going to simply be another in a long list of posts where I bend ideas like pretzels in order to justify the spurious claim that this is a humor blog, and therefore, I can truthfully claim to know how to write something funny.

Angry Mallard Eyes are a random non sequitur and need context to be funny.

It can be argued that somebody like me can’t possibly be a writer of good humor simply because I am too gosh-dang smart. (And those of my friends who use this particular criticism on me, tend to actually use country-bumpkinisms like “gosh-dang” way more often than is considered merely foolish.) I admit to using multi-syllable complex words to sound funny because they sound like boobly-doobly-doo gibberish to listeners who have no idea what a word like “bumpkinisms” actually means. And I might add, the listeners don’t usually go to an Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged) simply to be able to laugh at a big word.

I recognize that being an intellectual and having a head full of proven-but-useless facts is actually a disability. You can’t talk to anybody and be fully understood. Talking to somebody who can’t make logical connections between ideas is like walking over a wooden bridge built by an idiot who doesn’t know how nails work… and there are sharks in the water under the bridge. People will pigeonhole you as a “nerd” and treat you like your intelligence makes you radioactive.

So, the logical conclusion is… to be funny you have to act dumber than you actually are.

This man is trying to write humor using chemistry. Beware! He is likely to blow you up if you hang out with him!

Humor can be volatile. Sometimes it insults people. Sometimes it shocks you with things you should be outraged by, but you see the irony and laugh instead. (Preferably without needing someone to throw a steam iron at your head in order to make you see the irony.)

It is probably inappropriate to suggest that kids should go to school naked. Even parents would make other parents uncomfortable by suggesting such a thing. But as a former teacher, I can tell you that most middle school and high school kids are naked in school almost all of the time. Of course, not literally. They are metaphorically naked. Not capable of keeping anything personal a secret. Most of them would never want people to see them literally naked. But they go to great lengths to show you their emotionally naked selves. You can’t keep them from doing it.

And seeing kids emotionally naked is mostly an uncomfortably icky thing for mature adults to contemplate. But teachers have to deal with it. That’s why so few good teachers let themselves become mature adults.

By this point, if you are still reading, you are probably saying to yourself. “Mickey, you are just recycling the same old pictures and lame jokes.”

You got me. That’s what the stand-up comics all do. They tell the same set of jokes over and over, only changing the city they are telling them in.

So, now you know the truth. Writing humor is hard. And most of us who practice it are only pretending that we know what we are doing. You have to be smart, but pretend you are dumb. You have to shock and offend your audience, but only to the point of making them laugh, and never reaching the point where they all grab torches and pitchforks.

So, there it is. Today’s humor post. I said a bunch of things I should not have said. So, rotten tomatoes in the comments are expected. And, please, no pitchforks. I do not know how getting a pitchfork into an internet comment is possible, but I do know that there are Trolls out there with some real skills.

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Writer’s Block

I have always contended that I don’t have writer’s block. But some days, especially if I am not feeling well, I have writer’s lethargy. I can be slow to come up with the next thing. Writing can become bogged down and I am easily distracted or lose focus and have to return to what I was trying to do previously.

There is evidence that I have often had that kind of problem frequently on this blog. One thing I do to overcome writer’s lethargy is suddenly start thinking about how you can overcome writer’s block. What are the strategies that help me overcome it?

I often resort to “kickstart statements.” These are surprising or deep-left-field items that give the old brain a shot of adrenaline. The picture of the girl with the message blackboard is that kind of kickstarter. I never could have used that thing in any kind of social-media post when I was still employed as a teacher. It has the potential to generate parent complaints and administrative thoughts about evaluations and contract cancellations. But there really are kids who have thoughts like that in your classroom, and I know because not only was I a kid like that myself, I used it as an optional journal topic for writing practice, and, boy! do they ever catch fire when they can write about something like that and they know only the teacher is ever going to read it. It is the way I learned how many of my students had ever been to a nude beach in Corpus Christi or Lake Travis (Hippy Hollow.)

I can also look around the room, or scroll through my media library on WordPress and find an image or an item that generates ideas, responses, and even stories. I scrolled through to find this image of the Gummi Bear, who was a brief internet sensation on YouTube a few years ago coming from German CGI cartoons that illustrated earworm music with dancing green gummy bears. There’s a lot a goofy writer like me can run away with inspired by a nonsense thing like that.

It is also possible to generate new ideas by deconstructing a metaphor in as humorous and convoluted a way as possible. This word-food thing is the result of writer’s lethargy of a while back.

Of course, there is always the ranting factor. This, I think, is a go-to method used by stand-up comedians. They will pick something that is deeply bugging them, like the rats that inhabit my attic and walls during a winter that hasn’t yet completely gone. And they start listing all the ways they can make funny stories about the time the rat appeared on the bathroom floor tiles while my daughter was on the toilet, or the time the dog killed a rat that was in the trap already, but not dead enough not to bite back with the dog’s nose conveniently within the reach of rat teeth. And then they can rant onward about how disgusting rats are. And how can anyone look at a rat face and think they are cute? You look at that evil, beady-eyed face and you don’t think Mickey Mouse, you think plague, disease, the Black Death, and how much the Bank of America lawyer who sued you looks just like that.

So, you can see that generating ideas is easy. And you can write something interesting even on days when you can’t think of anything … quickly. When you have, not writer’s block, but writer’s lethargy.

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Shakespeare Knows Fools

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The fact that Shakespeare was a master of the art of creating and mocking fools does not really help decide the question of who Shakespeare really was.  A stage actor who owned a theater in Elizabethan times and apparently focused on being the bit player, the butler, the second man on the castle wall in the great plays, would certainly know enough of flim-flam, being a con man, or artfully throwing turds at kings and queens in ways that get rewarded rather than beheaded.  But a nobleman who has unpopular and unwelcome-but-probably-wise insights into the back-stabbing-goings-on of the royal court of England would equally be capable of putting the most memorable of critiques of humanity into the mouth of the fool or the clown in the great stage-play of life.  Even the most depressing and violent of the Shakespearean tragedies is enhanced and made pointed by the presence of the fool and the comic relief.  In some ways everything that Shakespeare wrote was a comedy.

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Whoever Shakespeare was, he shared Mark Twain’s overall assessment of “That damned human race” and often declared all men fools in the eyes of the playwright.  Puck’s observation on humanity is delivered about not only Bottom and the other poor players who carry on their vain attempts at performing Pyramus and Thisbe while Bottom magically wears the head of an ass, but also the easily fooled lovers who mistake their true loves for one another, and even the clueless mortal King Theseus of Athens.

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In the play within a play, Nick Bottom wants to be not only his own role, Pyramus the romantic lead, but argues that he should be Thisbe, the lion, and Pyramus all at once, making a satire of human nature and its overreaching ways that we could only pray Donald Trump will one day watch and magically understand.  In fact, Shakespeare’s entire body of work is an extended investigation of foolishness versus wisdom, and with Shakespeare, the verdict always goes to the fool.

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The plays of William Shakespeare are filled with fools doing foolish things… and fools being accidentally wise. (Think Jacques in As You Like It giving his famous “All the world’s a stage” soliloquy in which he elucidates the seven ages of man.)  There are fools too who prove to be wise.  (Think of the ironic advice given by the jester Touchstone in As You Like It, or the pithy commentary of King Lear’s fool).  The fools in Shakespeare’s work are not merely the comedy relief, but the main point that Shakespeare makes about humanity.

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Whoever the man was who wrote the plays of Shakespeare, he was someone who had a deep understanding of the basic irony underlying all of human life.  And someone with that vital sense of the bittersweet, a philosophy of life that encompasses the highest heights and lowest depths that a soul can reach, is someone who has suffered as well as known great joy, someone who has experienced loss as often as profit, and has known real love as well as real hatred.  It is the fool that Shakespeare shakes us by the neck with to make us recognize the fool in all of us which makes the plays resonate so deeply within us.  It is watching the path of the fool unfolding that makes us shake our head and say to ourselves, “Yes, that is what life is really like.”

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I Love to Laugh

“Mickey, why can’t you be more serious the way smart people are?”

“Well, now, my dear, I think I take humor very seriously.”

“How can you say that?  You never seem to be serious for more than a few seconds in a row.”

“I can say it in a high, squeaky, falsetto voice so I sound like Mickey Mouse.”

“You know that’s not what I mean.”

“I can also burp it… well, maybe not so much since I was in junior high.”

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“I distinctly remember getting in trouble in Mrs. Mennenga’s third grade class in school for pantomiming pulling my beating heart out of my chest and accidentally dropping it on the floor.  She lectured me about being more studious.  But I made Alicia sitting in the row beside me laugh.  It was all worth it.  And the teacher was right.  I don’t remember anything from the lesson on adding fractions we were supposed to be doing.  But I remember that laugh.  It is one precious piece of the golden treasure I put in the treasure chest of memories I keep stored in my heart.”

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“I always listened to the words Groucho Marx was saying, even though he said them awfully fast and sneaky-like.  I listened to the words.  Other characters didn’t seem to listen to him.  He didn’t seem to listen to them.  Yet, how could he respond like he did if he really wasn’t listening?  In his answers were always golden bits of wisdom.  Other people laughed at his jokes when the laugh track told them to.  I laughed when I understood the wisdom.”

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“Laughing is a way of showing understanding.  Laughing is a way of making yourself feel good.  Laughing is good for your brain and your heart and your soul.  So, I want to laugh more.  I need to laugh more.  I love to laugh.”

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Danny Kaye

Archive photo from the Los Angeles Times

Archive photo from the Los Angeles Times

My childhood was shaped by television events like the annual showing of The Wizard of Oz and classic movies on Friday nights when I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the whole thing.  I have told you before how much I loved the comedy of Red Skelton.  Another comedian who shaped who I am through his wondrously manic movie performances was Danny Kaye.

One of those Friday movie classics that really struck home was the wonderful, kid-friendly movie Hans Christian Andersen.

1952 movie poster from Wikipedia

1952 movie poster from Wikipedia

The movie was about a storyteller from a previous century and embroidered his biographical story with his famous children’s stories in the form of songs.  And Danny Kaye could trip through multi-syllabic, fast-paced musical numbers like no other rubber-faced clown I have ever seen.   I wanted to be such a story-teller from a very early age.  I even wanted to write the kind of stories that could be made into songs.  Let me show you a few of the bits that amazed me and killed me with laughter.

This song from the Inspector General was doubly engaging because the corrupt businessmen were trying to poison the character Danny played with the wine he was supposed to drink during the drinking song.

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The movies Danny Kaye was in were mostly about the musical comedy.  But sometimes they were just about the music.  He appeared in musicals like White Christmas with Bing Crosby and stage musicals like Lady in the Dark which won him awards on Broadway.  He made movies about music like The Five Pennies and A Song is Born.  He always said he couldn’t read music, but he demonstrated perfect pitch and scored a number one hit with The Woody Woodpecker Song recorded for the animated cartoons of Walter Lantz.  How cool is that?

And you already know that The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie of all time.  In 1964 Danny became the host for CBS’s annual showing of the film.  He was able to do funny songs that made you snort your hot cocoa through your nose from laughing, and he could also do beautiful ballads like these.

I will always take the opportunity to watch a Danny Kaye movie one more time, whether it comes on YouTube or a Netflix oldie or a $5 DVD from the bin at the front of the Walmart Superstore.  And I will always think of him in his role as Hans Christian Anderson.

Oh, and he was a very funny comedian too when he wasn’t singing, as in The Court Jester and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

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Comedy is My New Religion

I have been a Methodist, a Jehovah’s Witness, an Atheist, an Agnostic, and a fool who read the I-Ching, Book of Changes, thinking he is smart enough to understand more than a word or two.

At least one of those religions rejected me before I rejected it.

So, it’s not as if I am shopping for a new religion.

What is a religion anyway?

If I understand anything at all about religion, it would have to be this; A religion is merely a prescription for how you should live your life prescribed by a doctor who can’t prove any more of it than you can, but thinks he can because he’s recognized a magical spark inside himself, a tiny piece of the imperceptible Devine, and thinks he is then qualified to tell you what it should mean to you when you recogmize it in yourself.

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And if I know anything at all about Comedy, other than the instinctive knowledge of how to laugh, it is also only because I have recognized a Devine spark in it and now have to be humble enough to admit that I don’t have anywhere near enough malpractice insurance to get away with prescribing it to you as a cure for the ailments of your own little life-force in the vast, star-filled universe provided by a laughing Deity.

But it does provide the answers and the cures we seek for the unhappy twistings in our souls.

Comedy, as practiced by the greats, doesn’t provide a cure for death, as other religions do, or claim to. But it does deal with the malady of mortality by helping us be less serious, and laughing in the face of ultimate disaster.

And have you ever noticed that those who might be Jesus in this religion of the chuckle, those who sacrifice their life totally to try and take away our troubles by making us laugh, those like Charlie Chaplin, Emmitt Kelly, Groucho Marx, Robin Williams… are really fundamentally sad people who suffered greatly in life to bring us the forgiveness of our sins in the form of mirth?

So, Comedy is my new religion. I will practice it as piously and as reverently as anyone can practice such an inherently impious and irreverent thing. I have not led a perfectly happy life. But I have found healing for my happiness in the laughter of others, and so I seek to create more of it. And laugh some myself as well.

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The Sardonic Solliloquy

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The homeless man wandered onto center stage just as the spotlight went on.  He shaded his old eyes against the brightness and looked outward into the dark  theater.  It was probably some kind of mistake.

“Oh, so now it’s my turn to talk, eh?”

There was no response.

“Well, if you’re expecting something funny to come out of my mouth, good luck with that.  More than half of what I say that makes people laugh is the result of depression, ill health, and just plain ignorant stupidity.  And the other half of it is not meant to be funny, but is because I don’t always understand what I am saying.”

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There was an embarrassed chuckle somewhere in the darkness.

“I mean, you can’t expect too much from me. I’m a bum.  I have no money.  I have no job.  Not having any work to be bothered with is kinda good.  But the other thing kinda sucks.

And all the great comedians that used to stand on this stage and try to save the world through humor are dead now.  It’s true.  Robin Williams died recently.  George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby are all long gone.”

There was some nervous laughter in the theater.

“Oh, I know, Cosby only thinks he’s dead.  But he kinda killed the character delivering the wisdom in the form of observational comedy, didn’t he.”

 

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“But most of them old boys tried to come up here and tell you the truth.  And the truth was so absolutely unexpectedly wacky and way out of bounds that you just had to laugh.  And the more wicked the humor, the more you just laughed.  You didn’t do anything about the problems they talked about.  But you sure did laugh.”

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“It seems like the more they told you the truth and the more you just laughed about it, the more old and bitter they got.  Sardonic?  You know that word?  Not sardines, fools, but sardonic.   Bitterly humorous and sadly funny.  Seems like a lot of them old boys got more and more bitter, more and more depressed up to the end.  More and more sardonic.”

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“I mean,  Carlin was calling you stupid right to your face at the end.  And you just laughed it off.”

The theater had grown eerily silent.

“But it ain’t all bad, is it?  I mean, at least you all can still laugh.  Only smart people get the jokes.  The ones Carlin moaned about were laughing because everybody else was laughing.  Those weren’t the ones we were talking to.  There’s still life out there somewhere.  Maybe intelligent life.  Maybe aliens ain’t located any intelligent life on Earth yet, but they’re still trying, ain’t they?”

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“You shoulda listened more carefully to what they were saying.  Life and love and laughter were bound up in their words.”

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“So I guess what I’m really saying is… just because I happened to get a rare chance to say it to you all… learn to listen better.  The voices are quiet now.  But the words are still there. And laughing at them is still a good thing.  But remember, you need to hear them too.”

The theater suddenly filled with the roar of a standing ovation.  The old man bowed.  And this was ironic because… the theater had always been empty.  No one at all was there now.

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Mr. Don Knotts

Being a child of the ’60s and also being fifty percent raised by the television set, it was my privilege to witness and learn from the master comedian of self-deprecating humor and ultimate humiliation. And there is no better preparation for becoming a Texas public school teacher than to learn how to be laughed at from Don Knotts.

I have spent a goodly number of hours during our recent COVID quarantine watching old DVDs of Don Knotts movies. The last four nights I viewed, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Love God. If you have never seen them, they come with the highest of Mickian recommendations, “They made me laugh so hard I cried.”

Of course, my favorite Don Knotts movie of all time is The Incredible Mr. Limpet.

Knotts always seems to play a character put upon by life in general, yet always believing that he has the inner something to make himself into a huge success. Every time he gets knocked down he quivers with frustration and throws a punch at his tormentors that invariably hits nothing unless he hits himself. In Mr. Limpet, we find a man so frustrated in his inability to help in the war effort that he throws himself into the sea, turning himself into a fish… a fish that helps defeat German U-boats. He makes himself into a hero, He even finds love among the fishes.

Knotts found the perfect comic partner in Tim Conway as they made The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Slapstick antics and serious battles against the laws of physics somehow manage to win out over real bad guys with real guns and horses.

I guess the thing that makes Don Knotts such an important part of my television-sourced education is how much I identify with him. Life is a never-ending parade of humbling defeats and blush-inducing humiliations. I have spent most of my life being one with the little-guy within me, the put-upon fellow who has never quite overcome all the little hurts incurred by a desire to overcome the gravity holding me down.

And in a Don-Knotts world, based on a Don-Knotts movie script, things eventually turn out all right in the end. Mr. Chicken is proved right. Abner Peacock ends up marrying the beautiful girl who is the perfect one for him. The dentist who is mistaken for a gun-fighter still gets to be the hero in the end. So, there are worse things than living a Don Knotts sort of life.

Rest in peace, Don Knotts. For though you are no longer with us, you will always live on in my heart… and the hearts of many other Don Knotts wannabes.

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The Case for the Clown

The criminal was led into the courtroom in chains and forced to sit in a box made of metal bars so his influence would not reach out and harm anyone by drawing their sympathy in.

“Mr. Prosecutor,” said the learned judge, “what terrible crime has the perpetrator been charged with?”

“The alleged perpetrator!” objected the defense attorney, a mousy old man who looked like a cross between Santa Clause and Robert E.Lee because of his white beard, stern face, and a twinkle in his eye.

“Shut up please, Mr. Badweather. You will have your turn to speak.” The judge banged his gavel smartly to emphasize the shut-up-ness of his overruling.

“Your honor,” said the prosecutor, “Mister Pennysnatcher Goodlaughs stands accused of being a clown.”

“The people of the State of Texas, home of the free, land of the brave, and place where cowboys can hang their hat on the antlers of a moose they shot in Canada, will prove that Mr. Goodlaughs did willfully, and with malice of forethought, commit acts of supposed humor in order to make people laugh. And we will further prove that in a time of very serious things, he intentionally made light of very serious matters and the very serious men who try to turn those serious things to their exclusive… err, sorry, I mean… everyone’s benefit.”

“Your honor,” said the defense attorney, looking like a cross between Mark Twain and Colonel Sanders, “I would like to request a new venue for this trial. My client will not get a fair trial here.”

“Sir, your stupid request is rejected on the grounds that Mr. Goodlaughs cannot get a fair trial anywhere. We are all conservatives, and are therefore incapable of having a sense of humor. Continue, Mr. Prosecutor.”

“We will show numerous instances of Mr. Goodlaughs putting paint on his face to hide his true features or assume the identity of a character not his own. He has repeatedly used false noses, large shoes, and floppy hats to exaggerate his flaws and scare young children. He repeatedly wears polka-dotted clothing to simulate terrible taste and ridiculous lack of fashion-sense. He employs pratfalls and slapstick humor in his performances, things that, if any school-age child would imitate the behavior, might lead to serious injury or even death. And he has even dared to make fun of our glorious leaders, implying that they make mistakes and may even have hurt people. That they act without thinking about anything but their own pocketbooks. In other words, this clown has knowingly made jokes in order to get people to not take things seriously.”

“Your honor, I object to this jury. I object to the fact that it is made up of fifty percent rednecks and fifty percent kangaroos! My client demands a new, more impartial jury!” cried the defense attorney, looking like a cross between Captain Kangaroo and Ronald Reagan.

“Has anybody noticed?” asked the judge, “that this attorney looks like he could influence this jury unfairly? He looks like two people who could lead the two halves of this jury to the wrong conclusion. Bailiff! Take the defense attorney out back and execute him by firing squad.”

After the entire courtroom heard the gunshots go off, the judge then turned to the prisoner.

“It seems, Mr. Goodlaughs, that the defense’s opening statement is now entirely up to you. Do you have anything to say in your own defense?

“I do, your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, kangaroos and Reagan Republicans of the jury, I submit to you that I have never actually been a circus clown, or wore face paint. Not that I wouldn’t if the opportunity presented itself. I merely claim the right to laugh at anything I think is funny… or can be made funny. Whether I am being what you call a clown, a humorist, a cartoonist, a comedian, a fool, a village idiot, or a witty fellow, I believe I have the right to make light of anything. Life is always better when you can laugh. Especially if you can laugh at yourself.”

“I’ve heard enough,” said the judge. “What say you, jury?”

“Guilty!”

“Yes. And I preemptively waive the prisoner’s right to appeal. Sir, you are guilty, and you shall be executed immediately.”

Everyone in the courtroom breathed a long-awaited sigh of relief.

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Sundays at Walmart

I figured today was going to be a bad-luck-sort-of day because the signs and omens were all against me. I forgot to buy dog food yesterday. And I also forgot yogurt for the Princess’s breakfast in the morning. Not only that, the Simon’s Cat game on my phone made me lose the daily challenge three times and the phone ran out of charge before I beat the stupid thing.

George Appleby and his wife (Red Skelton’s Hen-pecked Husband sketch)

Time out for a word from our sponsor;

The promotion ends at midnight tonight.

What’s worse, the first and only thing my wife said to me this morning was, “Michael, stop looking at me with such an angry face!”

I admit I wasn’t smiling. But I was not mad about anything. Should I have been?

“I’m not angry. Are you just saying you think my face is ugly?”

“You said it. I didn’t.”

Yes, the signs and omens were not in my favor today.

What is destined to go wrong?

Car accident on the way to Walmart?

Didn’t happen.

The price of yogurt went up to the point that I could no longer afford it?

Nope, again. But the bill at Walmart had 13 dollars on the front of the price. !!! 13!!! The unluckiest number? I added a candy bar to get the price up to 14 dollars. The candy bar was 88 cents. The total= $13.95. “Oh, no!!! An impending stroke when I carry the dog food into the house!”

Nope. Didn’t happen there either. Is bad karma building up on me for my next teaching job?

Maybe. We find out with 6th graders on Tuesday.

Or maybe I am just fixated on the bad signs and omens too much. If I worry too much about it, I might become George Appleby.

But then again, my wife probably deserves to be covered in toothpaste.

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