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Al Martinez

Perhaps he ought to stick to tearing up canyons and save his one-liners for a more sophisticated audience. : Always Leave 'em Laughing

June 02, 1988|Al Martinez

Sometimes when I'm writing a column I think is especially funny I sit at my word processor and laugh like hell, even when there's no one in the room with whom to share my wit.

"This one is a gem," I say aloud, trying to think of someone I respect to read the hilarious column to.

Most of the time I come up empty because everyone I respect is either busy or dead, so I turn the column in and chuckle in anticipation of seeing it in print the next day.

Then, alas, comes the dawn.

I look at the column. "My God," I say, "it's not funny at all."

My wife looks at the column. "No offense, dear," she says, "but it's mildly disgusting."

An editor looks at the column. "I understand," he says, "that when read backward it pays homage to the devil." The prose I had chuckled over the day before had assumed tones of a dirge by morning's unforgiving light. And, like the moving finger that writes on, there was no doing it over.

Which brings me to the Wit & Whimsy of Chris Wojciechowski.

He's a builder and budding comic who wanted to turn 257 acres of verdant Topanga Canyon into a real estate salesman's vision of heaven with a golf course, a hotel, a shopping center and 163 deluxe homes. The Planning Commission, however, stopped him cold.

The reason I refer to his wit is that even after the commission emasculated his original proposal, Wojciechowski fired off a letter that was a classic example of a builder's subtle humor. Unfortunately, most people missed it.

Thank God I can rectify that today.

To begin with, Chris' plan to reshape the canyon was not exactly greeted with laughter by Topanga's mixed bag of ersatz hippies and New Wave environmentalists.

They in fact went to war with Chris and saw their efforts rewarded when the commission ordered him to forget about the hotel and the shopping center and scale back the golf course.

No one I know was in his presence when Wojciechowski heard the news but one must assume he got a great kick out of it, due in part to his immense ability to see the lighter side of failure.

An example of his wit, for instance, was that subsequent letter to Planning Director Norman Murdoch suggesting that Murdoch seek employment elsewhere. Chris wrote--now get this--"Perhaps Havana, Cuba, could use your talents."

Al Martinez

Everyone took it seriously but, Chris assured me later, he meant it as low-key humor. Talk about subtle. Blink and it's by you.

Then he accused the commission itself of placing "Marxist hurdles" in his path and of propounding a program that supported the "nonsense of slow growth."

(Laughter. Applause.)

As a kicker, he warned the commission to cease its vendetta against him or "I will do everything in my power to instigate a grand jury investigation." (!!!)

I thought I'd die laughing when I saw the letter, which speaks well of my perception because Chris, as I said, meant it all as a joke.

I, of course, got it right away, though Murdoch, a humorless chap, didn't and told Chris in so many words he could go straight to hell.

I confirmed Wojciechowski's playful intent by first calling Joan Cooper, his chief supporter in Topanga.

"Of course he meant it tongue-in-cheek!" she said. "There's been so much heavy panting over all this that he's kind of taken off on your track!"

"Heavy panting," I said, "I love it!!"

"Those bureaucrats in planning ought to be sent somewhere, " she added. "The only question is where?"

I laughed so hard my sides ached, though it could have been gas pains due to a high content of complex carbohydrates in my diet.

Then I called the humorist himself, who is thought of as the James Thurber of real estate development.

"It was meant lightly!" Chris said, following each sentence with a burst of laughter so strong the telephone trembled. "I just decided to give them one for the road!"

Then, with perfect timing, he added: "If I was serious, I'd have sent them plane tickets . . . one way!"

(Laughter. Giggles.)

"My attorneys said"--this'll kill you--"'Stop writing those . . . letters!"'

No more, Chris, oh, please, no more, I'm falling off the chair!

What a guy. I don't know about you, but I'm convinced that Wojciechowski is the funniest builder to come along since the man who designed the guillotine.

"Perhaps Havana, Cuba, could use your talents" is right up there in humorous content with Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook" and Ronald Reagan's "Uh, I don't recall that."

Murdoch's somber response, however, proves that not all funny prose can withstand dawn's cold judgment.

Perhaps Chris ought to stick to tearing up canyons for the time being and save his one-liners for a more sophisticated audience on a more receptive morning.

In other words, take your lawyer's advice, C.W. Stop writing those . . . letters.

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