by JIM HARRIS
Ah, the joys of writing a humor column for a neighborhood newspaper. Everyone should have the experience. Please note, that was sarcasm. I will also be employing other literary devices in this column including fantasy, fabrication and onomatopoeia.
I say this because, as I was browsing through my “angry e-mails” folder — which I do every year on the Feast of Saint Hilarius — I sensed that the readers often misunderstood my intent. All I’ve ever really wanted to do was to make people laugh.
To wit: When I compared the Tea Party to flesh-eating zombies, I was called “an idiot.” When I proposed that mountain bikers in the Wissahickon be shot with contraceptive darts to keep them from overpopulating, I was compared to the Nazis. When I called for the banning of all guns, I was told that I “can’t possibly be that stupid” (which I believed to be sarcasm, but I’m not sure).
Over the course of the last five years, I’ve also apparently offended art lovers, music lovers, bald people, the elderly and football fans. My loyalty, sanity, decency, relevance and residency have all been called into question. In order to stem the tide of angry e-mails, the Local finally requested that I undergo sensitivity training at the prestigious Clockwork Orange Institute for Deranged Columnists in Zurich.
Every day for six months, I was forced to watch a series of words on a TV screen. “Bad” words were accompanied by powerful electric shocks: (“dissent” — bzzzzt!, “controversy” — ZAP!!). Whenever a “good” word appeared (“tact,” “serenity”), I received a cookie. I’m happy to say that the therapy was completely successful, and now even the slightest thought of anything negative makes me physically ill.
In addition, to keep my stress level down, the Local has generously supplied me with a personal staff consisting of a lawyer, an ethicist, a guru, a psychic, a poet, a personal vegan chef, a Magic 8-Ball and a stenographer. The following transcript of our most recent brainstorming session should give you some idea of the meticulous care that goes into each and every one of my columns:
On the record, 2:30 p.m.
•Jim: Ok guys, here’s the first draft of my latest piece. It’s entitled, “My favorite things.” Look it over. Give me feedback.
•Lawyer: Just one item here, Jim, in the second paragraph. You probably shouldn’t use the term “hooters.” Not unless you’re referring to the restaurant chain. Even then, it’s questionable.
•Doctor: You could say “Left and right anterior upper extremities.”
•Ethicist: That shouldn’t offend anyone.
•Poet: But it would destroy rhythmic flow and artistic integrity. I say we submit the piece as is.
•Lawyer: If we do that, we’ll be sticking our necks out. We’ll have to be united in our resolve. Is anyone here aware of anything that might compromise our solidarity?
•Ethicist: I’m sorry. I probably should have told you guys before. I’m a Nazi. I don’t know how I forgot to mention it.
•Lawyer: (spitting coffee) WHAT??
•Psychic: I knew we shouldn’t have let him in the group. I knew it!
•Guru: Well if you knew it, why didn’t you tell us?
•Psychic: Oh, shut up.
•Guru: YOU shut up!
•Jim: Wait! Everyone just stop! Can’t you see what’s happening? The terror is right here in this room. We must not walk in fear, one of another. We cannot be driven into an age of unreason. We must stand together. Are you with me? OK, let’s go! (Whereupon Mr. Harris pumped his fist in the air and ran out of the room. The meeting was thus concluded at 2:34 p.m.)
So there you have it, a peek inside the creative process behid “Life So Far.” In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that ALL of our brainstorming sessions end with me defending myself with some cliché about a free press and then running over to Starbucks for a cookie. That’s just how I roll. It’s all about the cookies. (Oh, yes. And the free press, of course.)