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Sunday, March 28, 2010


cloud over bullhead

Looking at the picture of yesterday's entry, the Phoenix Mountain Band, I saw Leo Tompkins in the background in green shirt talking to a man I know by face, but not by name. I started thinking about Leo and laughing with his sense of humor. His sense of humor is all I know about Leo. I don't know any gossip about him and don't want to. We've spoke a few times over the last 33 years, but not to say we know each other. The only time I talked with him, I asked what happened to his Roadkill Cafe poster with menu that was on the wall in a room where they kept parts. When I go into Choate to get the annual inspection sticker, I'd look at that poster, saw it once a year, had a good laugh every time, appreciated the sense of humor behind it. One day I was in there and Leo was there and the poster was gone. I asked him what went with the poster. He didn't know it was missing. He saw it was gone and got concerned about what might have went with it.

We set to talking about the poster and how funny it was. Of course, he had it there because he thought it was hilarious. It was. That was several years after he'd retired from working at Choate, running the place, whatever it was he did there. It must be a good place to work, because the people working there, work there for life. No turnover except when somebody dies or retires. Leo was a county commissioner for a few terms. He is a man who could drive the most exotic car in the county, but the last time I saw him on the road, several years ago, he was still driving the (maybe) 58 Plymouth, not one kept for a show car, but because it drove well and he loved it. On the bumper was the sticker that was there back when he was commissioner, which tells you what years it was. The picture was Mickey Mouse standing up shooting the bird. The text: HEY, IRAN. Back then I didn't know anything about county politics, and still don't, but I voted for Leo Tompkins because of the bumper sticker. I see a man with an active sense of humor.

This is a reason I'm glad Agnes Joines is on the town council. Agnes has a sense of humor that's busting out of her all the time. This is something else I love about the mountain people, that their sense of humor is alive. Old-time humor was very different from today's humor, though similar in where humor comes from. Old-time humor was situational, seeing funny in something that's happening or just happened. My first spring here, Don Pruitt and his brother Bill were showing me how to make rails by splitting a locust log lengthwise using 2 wedges and a sledge hammer. They both hammered several times and I got the hang of it. My turn. My first swing hit the edge of the wedge and it went flying straight to the right, end over end, like a ninja bullet. It went straight at Bill's ankles and he jumped out of the way on full alert. Don broke out laughing and said, "What kinda daince you call that?" Bill laughed and I laughed. They laughed at me and I laughed at me. It became something hilarious.

I realized that a sledge hammer requires some practice. You don't just start out knowing how to swing one. Over the years I improved a great deal, but always went by one thing I learned early. There are only 4 possible directions the wedge can fly, straight ahead, straight back at me, off to right or off to the left. I would place the wedge and stand between two of the directions so when the wedge took off in whatever surprise direction, spinning end-over-end in rapid flight, I would be out of the way and didn't have to do a dance to keep from getting hit. The distance of a sledge hammer handle's length doesn't give much time to escape. About the time I noticed would be when it hit my leg. Like they say in Ireland, Shite!

They'd make great weapons in medieval warfare. Rows of men skilled in hitting a wedge to make it fly exactly where they want it to go, like a golf ball. That would clear the way. But they could be picked up by the other guys they missed and used as a hand weapon. Better to use arrows. Like the war between Italy and Poland. The Polish army threw firecrackers over a wall at the Italian army. Italian army lit them and threw them back. By comparison, that's "today's" humor. Polish jokes are old by now, but in the evolution of humor from old-time situational humor among people who were each other's entertainment to the age of hi-tech pop culture, jokes by professional joke writers for late nite tv shows are consistently funny. They've dampened our joke telling by being so much better that they're intimidating. If you tell a joke now and it's not up to the tv bar, rejection, not funny, keep your day job. It looks like television has made our collective sense of humor dependent on tv for our humor. But humor is malleable. It's not going away. It's always with us in one way or another. Humor is like music and other art forms in that way.

The jokes that go around now in the hallways of schools are very different from the time I was in school. To the school kids now, my humor is old hat, like Hee Haw humor is to city people. Probably by now mine is 3rd and 4th grade humor. Going by a few I've heard over the last few years, the jokes are more racially and culturally demeaning than ever in an anti-politically correct kind of way. A trend springs up among adults to suppress smoking and it becomes a trend among teenagers to smoke. Grayson county lawyer, Lorne Campbell told me our jokes that go around from person to person come from prisons. The prisons are fountains of humor like these mountains are fountains of music. One of the aspects of Campbell I liked was he regarded people in prison and ones who have been in prison as people. They did the crime, they did the time. That's it, cat shit. It's all over. He's karmicly clean as if he'd never done the crime.

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