Prose today. More up my alley.
My parents rarely laughed. I cannot remember them ever belly laughing. A chuckle, a guffaw, here and there to punctuate a story or a remark. I remember when my father got sober and he smiled broadly for the first time in years. It seemed grotesque. I had no idea his mouth was so wide. He looked like his brother, my uncle Andy, who smiled a lot. I didn’t know him.
I do have a memory of my mother laughing very hard, once. It is an incomplete memory. I was in college or in my twenties, and we were putting something on a high shelf, and she made some joke, that pleased and delighted me. I remember we laughed and laughed, and I can see her sitting in a chair or on a bed, laughing hard and quietly. She was enjoying herself, her self, something very funny that she had come up with.
Not that my parents were without humor. They were both absolutely brilliant, and quite serious, but also smart enough to like good humor, subtle irony, a good jab. Their favorite movie was “Some Like It Hot,” and they took us to see the Marx Brothers whenever one of their movies came around. I often tired of the stories my dad liked to repeat, but I was fascinated by him saying that he had seen every Marx Brothers movie in its first run in theatres when he was a boy. I didn’t mind that he told this story whenever we went to a Marx Brothers movie. The magic from his childhood memory infected my enjoyment of Harpo, Chico and Groucho. They were my heroes.
I was also weaned on the songs of Tom Lehrer. I can see my parents listening to the LP’s, their eyes focused on a spot in front of them, enjoying the sophisticated lyrics.
I often think it was a burden to them to always be the smartest people in the room. They could only appreciate humor with a strong intellectual component.
Except maybe the Marx Brothers.
Me as Harpo and my pal Annie as Groucho, Halloween 1970.
Oedipus Rex by Tom Lehrer
From the Bible to the popular song,
There’s one theme that we find right along.
Of all ideals they hail as good,
The most sublime is motherhood.
There was a man, oh, who it seems,
Once carried this ideal to extremes.
He loved his mother and she loved him,
And yet his story is rather grim.
There once lived a man named Oedipus Rex.
You may have heard about his odd complex.
His name appears in Freud’s index
’cause he loved his mother.
His rivals used to say quite a bit,
That as a monarch he was most unfit.
But still in all they had to admit
That he loved his mother.
Yes he loved his mother like no other.
His daughter was his sister and his son was his brother.
One thing on which you can depend is,
He sure knew who a boy’s best friend is!
When he found what he had done,
He tore his eyes out one by one.
A tragic end to a loyal son
Who loved his mother.
So be sweet and kind to mother,
Now and then have a chat.
Buy her candy or some flowers or a brand new hat.
But maybe you had better let it go at that!
Or you may find yourself with a quite complex complex,
And you may end up like Oedipus.
I’d rather marry a duck-billed platypus,
Than end up like old Oedipus Rex!