In writing the other day that no one will admit to not having a sense of humor, I was guilty of using another of those risky absolutes--no one, everyone, never, always, et cetera.
"Don't make me laugh," writes Jack M. Foster of Northridge. "I have never snickered, tittered, giggled or chuckled in my life, to say nothing of laughing right out loud. I loath it when people tell jokes. I have never told one myself. How could I? I wouldn't know a joke from a death sentence."
Foster admits that he came close to laughing, perhaps in despair, when Ronald Reagan was elected President. If he thought that was funny, he certainly must have got some laughs out of what has happened since.
As Will Rogers said, "There's no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you."
Anyway, I tend to doubt that Foster has no sense of humor. Saying "Don't make me laugh" is funny in itself, and I suspect he knows it.
A sense of humor is perhaps the most human of traits. It is more common than greed, lust and jealousy.
David R. Moss does not think it was funny when I fell to the floor with a back spasm, causing my wife and sons to laugh, nor when my Airedale kept skidding and falling on a freshly waxed kitchen floor, causing my wife and me to laugh.
He writes: "Any wife who'd laugh when her husband has just had a back spasm and fallen to his knees, his face twisted in agony, is cruel and insensitive as hell."
Moss should also consider that I tend to be vain, pompous and arrogant, and my wife can hardly be blamed for laughing when I'm suddenly brought screaming to my knees.
That's why we both laughed at the dog. It was only his dignity that was hurt. The harder he worked to get up, the harder he fell. He was funnier than Buster Keaton.
Moss believes that my wife and I are both despicable. "I learned why the Smith marriage has succeeded so well and lasted so long while so many others of our generation have failed; you and your wife are ideally suited to each other."
He's right. Laughter has preserved our union.
Hugh Haroldson of Oceanside agrees that the humor in the two examples I cited was the very lowest form of humor in the seven ascending categories of humor listed by the great Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock.
Leacock said the highest form of humor was the kindly and forgiving form with which God must view the ridiculous human race he has created. The lowest is the "primitive" form as illustrated by this verse:
Grandpapa slipped down a drain
Couldn't climb back up again
Now he's floating through a sewer
That's one grandpapa the fewer.
Haroldson comments: "Leacock said that this ditty would cause a Hottentot in the African wild to split his side laughing, but that no civilized person would ever even smile at it. If it is any consolation to him, I suggest you read this note to your dog."
N. L. Martin of Santa Monica also has the good fortune to be married to a mate who shares her sense of humor. She recalls that when they were dating, they had an experience that both shattered and transformed them.
They were young, working, making it in New Jersey, and they "itched" to get into the "big time." One night they were in a popular restaurant when a "famous person" came in with his entourage. A camaraderie was struck up, and the famous person invited the young couple to repair with his group to a late-night New York party.
They were on air. "This was it . We were well-dressed, well-fed, well-received. Witty, chic and so clever."
Their car was a restored classic sports model which they knew would impress their new friends. Except that when they reached it, with the others following, they found it vandalized--windows shattered, tires slashed, body dented and scored.
"We were silent for a space of moments, then we both collapsed in laughter. . . . And they drove away, of course, into our past and their future, leaving two people with a sense of humor laughing at the joke life had played on them. . . . "
How lucky the Martins were to discover their great resources early on.
Humor remains undefinable.
Sol Saks, author of "The Craft of Comedy Writing," writes me that "as in most of the more vital things in life--love, electricity and pasta, for example--I feel the uses are far more important than the definitions."
Since I have never been able to define love or electricity , and have never tried to define pasta , I must agree that he is right.
"If we can use humor to show the elusiveness of our dreams, the foolishness of our anxieties, the harmfulness of our anger and the absurdity of our prejudices," he says, "we put misfortune in the proper perspective and make our frustrations tolerable."
It seems to me that humor certainly saved the Martins from the elusiveness of their dreams and the foolishness of their anxieties, and let them put their misfortune in perspective.
I think what was so funny about my Airedale skidding on the kitchen floor was that he was the eternal clown--he represented every man's desperate effort to keep his feet in a treacherous world.
On second thought, I'm not so sure that my back spasm was that funny.