First published in the April 21 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
At a restaurant the other night, I was telling everyone that my only fear was that I might be too funny, that it might make it difficult for my fellow diners to swallow their veal, or to nosh their gnocchi.
“Laughter,” I said, “is the only common ground Americans have left.”
“That’s not funny,” said my buddy Miller.
“Just wait,” I said. “Soon as I finish these beets …”
Everybody hates everybody these days, have you picked up on that? So, I try extra hard to go around being funny. To be honest, it’s a lot of pressure. Humor doesn’t just happen. As with bagpipes or polkas, you really need to be in the mood.
“Where do I find the dates?” a customer asks the checker at the supermarket the other morning.
“Aisle 1,” shouts a colleague.
“You sell dates now?” I ask the checker.
“Aisle 1,” she confirms.
“I mean …”
“Yes?” she asks.
“Blind dates? Double dates?” I say.
She laughs. That happens a lot when I’m being completely serious.
“First dates, bad dates, dates you’ll remember for the rest of your life?” I ask.
“All sorts of dates,” she says.
“Aisle 1,” she says.
Imagine. If you could just go into the store on a Friday night and buy a date? Think of the possibilities. Think of the aggravation you’d avoid. And the bar tabs.
“If you buy three or more dates, do you get a discount?” I ask the checker.
By now, people behind me are getting a little annoyed. They’re L.A. people, so they’re already a little pre-annoyed, that’s their natural demeanor, their default emotion. Really, the best you can hope for these days is that they’re merely a little glum.
Who can blame them? A loaf of bread: 4 bucks. A decent steak, $25. A $100 cart of groceries? $200.
And now this goof (me) is testing out material in the checkout line. They can’t figure out why the checker is laughing. It’s affecting her scanning somewhat. She’s one of those people who jiggles when she giggles.
And she’s got these fingernails … super long. I never figured out why supermarket checkers tend to have scythes for fingernails. You could thresh wheat with some of these nails. Or kill a man. But that’s a topic for another time.
There are two places I am remarkably funny: At movie theaters, while eating popcorn, just before the show begins. And in bed, eating popcorn, just before the show begins.
In neither case am I trying to be funny. Generally, the more serious I am, the more people laugh. Since I was a kid, people have looked at me and broken out laughing. Back then, I had freckles everywhere. And a slingshot hanging from my back pocket. Still do.
“Let me tell you this,” I say to the checker.
“Always do a background check,” I say.
“When you buy dates?”
“Especially then,” I said. “Credit scores, criminal history, restraining orders.”
“Because that flags all the fun people,” I say. “Duh.”
True though. If you filter for the people with disastrous credit scores and long police histories, you isolate the con men, the journalists, the pickpockets, the exotic dancers. Fun people. People you could really build a life with.
“Never date a humorist,” I tell the checker.
“Good answer,” I say.
With the New Girl, I didn’t do a background check. But I did meet her mother. Meeting a mother is the very best background check you can do.
And I met Suzanne’s brother and her daughters. Her sister’s next. Pretty sure that’s where the trouble starts. With Aunt Lynda. But I feel like I’m doing “due diligence,” as the attorneys say.
“Now we’re sort of serious,” I tell the checker.
“Me and Suzanne,” I say.
“Who’s Suzanne?” she asks.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to find out!” I whisper.
Learning someone new is so much fun — their allergies, their moles, their music, their favorite ballplayer.
The other night, Suzanne raked all the red onions to the side of her salad plate. “Hmm,” I thought. “Who doesn’t like red onions? Is this some kind of crazy person?”
“Next time, I’ll skip the red onions,” I assured her.
“No, that’s OK.”
She’s very reasonable, obviously. Thing is, can a reasonable person have a relationship with a goof like me?
Email the columnist at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com. For books, past columns, or to sign up for his free newsletter, go to ChrisErskineLA.com.