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Published: Monday, 11/26/2007

'Keep laughing' is a rule you can live by

LAUGHTER, the old proverb says, is the best medicine. While I'm still going to trust the family doctor with the big stuff, a joke or a one-liner here and there can sure make the little stuff feel better.

One of the worst afflictions of mankind, it seems to me, is the tendency to take ourselves too seriously. After 42 years in the newspaper business, I learned that today's crisis is usually gone by tomorrow, and tomorrow's calamity will be equally temporary.

So why do so many of us find it impossible to lighten up and just revel in the fact that this is one more wonderful day God has given us?

I operate on the theory that we will all be dead for a really long time, so it makes no sense to waste much time brooding about things that in the grand scheme don't really matter. It was that great philosopher Jimmy Buffett who observed that he'd "rather die while I'm living than live while I'm dead." I think I know what he meant.

Humor is one of the best ways I know to make sure you don't just get through the day, you live it. And it is so easy to find. Humor is everywhere around you.

When my wife was being prepped for some pretty serious surgery several years ago, she watched as a needle was inserted in her arm and an IV bag was hung overhead. "That had better be pina coladas in there," she said. The nurse needed a minute or two to compose herself. Not for nothing did my wife's license plate at the time read "ATTA2D."

Much more recently we were playing a card game with our grandchildren, and 9-year-old Kelley turned over a card that read "Doing the Dishes." Though she had used the word "doing" many times in the past, for some reason at that moment she read it aloud as if it rhymed with "boing." She was a little embarrassed but thrilled that she made us all laugh. I'm sure we'll still be chuckling about it some day at her wedding reception.

A few years ago, after I had finished a speech to a local civic group, somebody asked me if I had ever imagined in my wildest dreams that I would one day be editor of The Blade. I suppose a serious answer was called for, but all I could think to say was, "Sir, my wildest dreams have nothing to do with journalism."

Until I retired, I presided at the daily meeting of The Blade's editorial board. The real world is a dangerous place, and bad news often dominated our discussions.

But we also remembered to step back in our deliberations and find a reason to laugh. I recall the day we were engaged in a serious and occasionally heated discussion about some obscure government policy. Though it seemed terribly important at the time, I fortunately cannot now recall what the policy was.

Just as tempers were about to flare, I interjected: "OK, who can name all seven of Snow White's dwarfs?"

For the next five minutes, we tossed out names. We got the first five or six quickly but for some reason could not come up with the seventh.

Stinky? Flashy? Crafty? Ornery? Danny DeVito? You think that's not a tension breaker? Try it next time the boss is upset you're not making your sales quota. Of course, it works better if the boss thinks of it first.

I remember another meeting in which somebody on the board speculated that a sure-fire success in the publishing field would be a book called Ventriliquism for Dummies.

And there was the meeting in which our group theorized that given Carty Finkbeiner's return as mayor, the city of Toledo should change its motto to "Veni, Vidi, Velcro," which loosely translated from the ancient Latin would mean "I came, I saw, I stuck around."

Most politicians, at least the good ones, enjoy self-deprecating humor now and then and don't mind being the target of others' jokes, even if the stories stretch the facts a little.

Several years ago when Ronald Reagan was governor of California and Willie Brown was the speaker of the California Assembly, Willie was trying to get prostitution out of downtown Oakland. He introduced legislation to get that done, but it was going nowhere. The story goes that he went in to ask the governor for help.

"Governor," he said, "what am I going to do about this prostitution bill?"

"Well, Willie," Governor Reagan replied, "I think you'd better pay it."

For me, my four decades in newspapering provided mostly good days, a few bad days, and plenty of going half-mad days. Sometimes I felt like the last lobster in the tank and the waiter was rolling up his sleeve. But I always kept in mind one simple rule: keep laughing.

By the way, no animals were harmed in the production of this column. Animal testing is not a good idea anyway. It only makes them nervous and they usually get the answers wrong.



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