Displaying articles for: May 2013


Let’s say you’re trying to write a funny piece and you get stuck after the first sentence -- "Let’s say you’re trying to write a funny piece and you get stuck after the first sentence."  Well, like me, you may be suffering from humor deficit disorder, or HDD, also known as joke block (JB), guy goes into a bar syndrome (GGIABS), and it’s due in an hour! disease (IDIAH!D).  Many comic writers have suffered from this disorder and frantically come up with bad premises (BPs), also known as worthless concepts (WCs). Like, “What if Bill Gates fell in love with Peter Dinklage?” And “Additional fees for paying additional fees! There’s something there.”   And “It’s the year 2028 and commas are extinct.” And “I know! The Rose Garden actually begins to rise.” God help them, they may even try to make something out of (WCs). 


Well, the researchers at Lafactory Pharmaceuticals have finally come up with a treatment for this disorder. It’s a pill you take half an hour before you begin to write, and it’s called LaffAble.  I took it half an hour ago, and you can see the results for yourself—my HDD is gone completely and clearly I am on fire (OF).  Good concepts (GPs) like this one have flooded my brain, and it was hard to settle on one. Now that I have settled, the piece seems to be writing itself. In fact I just got up from my computer and returned to find that this very sentence had appeared out of nowhere. I’m going to get up again. Now I’m back, and it worked again. 


There are some advisories about and possible side effects of LaffAble that you should be aware of. Do not drive for twelve hours after taking LaffAble. Drive for fifteen!  If you are living in a democracy, call a doctor for any election lasting more than four days (AELMTFD).  You may find it difficult to keep a straight face, so keep a gay one. Bwaaaahaaahahaa (B).  If someone says that the plankton count is depressed near the coast, try hard not reply "It’s probably going to krill itself." Just try.  Uncontrollable Tweeting has been reported—by me, just now. Do not discontinue LaffAble unless you decide to call your Twitter Feed "Fitter Tweed."  If you are a man and are trying to become pregnant, you need help of a different kind.


LaffAble is not addictive but can cause dependency. If the difference escapes you as it escapes me, let’s form a posse and track that sucker down! Finally, do not expect LaffAble to help with the ending of your humor piece.  


Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic. His memoir, My Mistake, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next fall.


The Considerably Older Guy

You’ve been a Lonely Guy, A Slightly Older Guy and now—assuming the fates have been kind—you’ve become a Considerably Older Guy. Reach round and pat yourself on the back—if you can manage—and congratulate yourself for having come this far along the highway, and not been dumped by the wayside like an old bag of laundry.


How do I know that I’ve become a Considerably Older Guy?


You see an old-timer with a cane, stooped over in the Baby Food section of the supermarket.  He selects a can of strained green beans. You say to yourself: “At least I’m not him.”


(panicked)  “I am him?


I’m afraid so. You simply haven’t come to grips with your new situation.


Is it possible that this new phase is just a dream? That I’m going to bounce out of bed one morning and return to being a robust, hell-for-leather, go-anywhere kind of fellow?


 No, it’s not possible.


I see. (reflects) Chances are I never was that type of fellow anyway. But all those lovely years. Those glittering years…


They speed by, don’t they?  


I don’t feel all that different. There’s the knee replacement, of course. But the cataracts don’t count.


They do.


One thing’s for sure, I can think clearly. During my hospital stay, a fellow in the next bed kept muttering: "As long as I’ve got my marbles."


You feel that you’ve got your marbles?


Absolutely.  There are two or three names I can’t remember…an Italian actor is one…I’ve written his name down. (takes out wallet, looks at slip of paper)…Alberto Sordi.


Do you need to remember his name?


Not really. He does come up in discussions of Italian Cinema in the Sixties. But there aren’t too many of those.


I should imagine. But apart from the knee, the Italian actor, you feel that you’re pretty much the same fellow.


Yes...I’m told that I’ve had several “silent” heart attacks. As long as they remain silent, I’d just as soon not know about them. (thinks) The doctor did mumble something about a pacemaker. I know what he’s thinking.  He has one and he wants me to have one, too.


To show solidarity.


Something along those lines…


You might want to reconsider that pacemaker suggestion—at some point.




Now, calm down. Just take it day by day….


Sure. (losing it again) AND IN A COUPLE OF DAYS I COULD BE   TOAST …..


Now look. This won’t work if you’re going to fall apart like that.


All right, let me get a grip on myself. (takes deep breath) All right, I’m fine now….


You were saying you’re in reasonably good condition.


For a Considerably Older Guy? Yes. (thinks)  I do use a cane. But for the most part, I use the cane to give off a certain louche persona…


One doesn’t hear that phrase too often…


I thought I’d just throw it in.


What kind of business did you say you were in?


Indie films. Retired. But I still consult. 


And that louche persona of yours…..Is it useful in indie films?


It’s essential. It goes to the very heart of the indie world.


Do you have a project now?


A short film. A sort of mini-indie. Deals with mortality. Amusingly titled “Death—and Why It Still Matters.” Our fear--the fear of the money people-- is that audiences won’t know whether to laugh or cry.


Wouldn’t it be better if they did know?


Then it wouldn’t be an indie film.


Strange business.


Strange? Try getting financing for it. In any case, maybe I’ve gotten so caught up in being a Considerably Older Guy that I’ve neglected my latest venture. I suppose I’d better get back to it.


It won’t hurt to step on the gas. Now about that cane.


Of course. My ambition is to get around without it, but it is helpful in hailing cabs.  I have to stoop over so drivers don’t think I’m faking a disability…Actually, I do have a bit of a stoop.


So you don’t have to fake anything…


No. (bitter) They know a crip when they see one…


 A crip?


It’s my amusing way of making light of this whole business….


The business of being a Considerably Older Guy?


And you’re suggesting that it’s not that amusing…The cane…Apart from hailing cabs it does have other uses …Just the other day, I spotted an attractive woman.  To get her attention, I twirled it around and broke into a little something from Chorus Line.


How did it work out?


Not well. She didn’t care for the show. Saw it with a replacement cast. Nothing beats the original…I don’t know if this is significant, but I’ve begun to think of my cane as a friend.


You could do worse.


I’ll tap it in the morning and say "How are you, old friend."


You don’t want to go too far in that direction. As a Considerably Older Guy you’re going to need actual friends. 



I see what you’re saying.  A cane is just a cane. It’s not someone you’ve known since grade school. 




Now look here, what you’re indicating in all of this is that I’ve lost a step.


Would that it were only one step. And let’s not forget the two inches in height.


Well, I was always referred to as The Big Guy.


Say goodbye to that, old chum.


Now I’m The Little Guy?


The Little Old Guy.


(despairing ) At the rate I’m going, I could end up a midget.


It’s been heard of.


But I am young in spirit, right?


One hopes….


There must be some mistake. I’m only eighty.


Only eighty?


But eighty is the new sixty, isn’t that right?


If you’d care to think of it that way.


(resigned) I don’t. (bravely)  Eighty is eighty and might as well get on with it.


That’s the spirit.


Any other “treats” in store for me? As a fresh new Considerably Older guy?


You may notice that strangers will insist on helping you, when you’ve made it clear you’re getting along very nicely.


That’s already happened. Just the other day, a fellow grabbed me by the shoulder and hauled me across a boulevard.  By the time he released me, I found myself in a strange neighborhood, fighting off a mugger.


With the cane?


Yes. I broke it, but it startled the fellow and he ran off.  


Nicely handled.


Thank you.


Do you have any pointers on getting through this rough patch?


Rough’ doesn’t begin to describe it. But I’ll try to help.


  • Take yourself out for an airing each day.
  • In restaurants, check your trousers to make sure that a slice of liver and onions, for example, hasn’t fallen into your lap…
  • Before going out for the evening, check your nose and ear hairs.
  • Tip generously. You may need a doorman, for example, to gather you up and load you into a cab, after you’ve had a drink. One drink, incidentally, will now do the work of three.
  • Practice falling. Simply drop to your knees and attempt to get up.

I’ll get started immediately. But I haven’t heard a word about fun.


Fun? Best not to think in those terms. Muddling through is a reasonable goal.


I’d planned to go canoeing through Slovakia’s waterways.


You can forget that. This is different, but it’s an adventure nonetheless. By its nature, it’s a once-in-a lifetime experience and there is no reason to be gloomy about it. At a performance of Lear, for example, be grateful that you’ve seen Lear, that Lear is behind you and there is no need to endure Lear again.


(recalls) Those interminable passages. And that Canadian actor who plays Lear. (shudders).


There’s no need to say his name. We all know who he is. Much good luck to you, Considerably Older Guy. You’ll need it for this go-round. You may be a shadow of your old self, a wisp, a shell of a man, but it’s still you. There’s no reason you can’t deal with The Big One, although how you manage it is anyone’s guess.


Who are you, incidentally?


Are you familiar with The Socratic Dialogues?


No, but they’re on my to-read list. I hear they’re chockablock full of clever passages.


You didn’t say that. You didn’t say it and I didn’t hear it.


You will be along to help me through all of this.


Of course.


(Despairing) And then you’ll leave. But that’s life, I guess. One long series of goodbyes in preparation for the biggie.


Please don’t say biggie.


All right.


Think of it this way. Once you’re ready to wrap it up


Can we not say "wrap it up?"


Fair enough. When you get to that juncture, however you want to describe it…the final inning? ... the last round-up?


Good God. I was better off with "wrap it up."


When you get there—think of it this way: At least you won’t have to sit through Lear again.


If I can interject…


Tick, tick, tick.


As a Considerably Older Guy, will I at least be relieved of the daily drudgery, that affects us all? Taxes, in-laws, hangnails?




That's what I thought.


Good. You are on the road to success as a Considerably Older Guy.




Bruce Jay Friedman is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter. His memoir, Lucky Bruce, was published last year. Along with Michael Cera, he recently adapted his short story, "Brazzaville Teenager," into film.


This Just In


Wolf Blitzen:      This just in: CNNN has it on good authority that this Sunday, May 12th, will be celebrated all over the United States as Mother’s Day.  It’s not clear at this time how many mothers and children will be involved in this dramatic event, but rest assured that our reporters at CNNN will get to the bottom of all the breaking news about the event and we will bring their findings to you as they develop and as our analysts examine the causes, meaning, and probable consequences of this major, major, major, and completely unique and commercially crucial … event. 


We go first to Paul Begalala, our Democratic commentator who has graciously joined us here in the studio--essentially, we’ve been informed by highly reliable sources, because he has nothing else to do-- to get his reaction to this upcoming occasion which honors the mothers of our great nation, a country that may have been founded by men, fathers, but that has lots of women in it too, reliable sources tell us-- many of them mothers, many of them with more than one child, some of whom will call their moms, which--we’ve learned, is what many Americans call their mothers--on this day and many of whom, we have it on good authority, won’t. 


Paul, we’ve been told by highly placed sources that Mother’s day once again promises to bring our nation paroxysms of guilt on the part of grown adults who-- we’ve been informed by those same sources, who couldn’t conceivably be more highly placed--intend to call their mothers on next Sunday but just somehow “forget” or, as our informants have told us, and we have no reason to doubt this information, claim that their cell-phone service went out.  We are trying to establish the veracity of all of these assertion—that there is widespread guilt on this day, that some people “forget,” and that one of the excuses they use is that their cell-phone service has failed, and we are also approaching technological experts about the probabilities involved in such claims of cell-phone outages, but in the meantime, as we await their expertise and that of others involved in the cell-phone industry, if you will, or even if you won’t, we’d like to get your response to this situation, Paul. 


Oh, wait—this just in: We’ve just now been informed that my introduction to Paul Begalala’s reaction to this phenomenon may well not be lengthy enough, and so with the aid of our staff here at CNNN, I’ll try, with the assistance of proven experts in the field,  to prolong it, after this break. Don’t go away. I said don’t go away! Hey! Come back!  We and our reliable sources aren’t done. We’re never done.


Daniel Menaker is the Editor of Grin & Tonic. His memoir, My Mistake, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt next fall.



July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).