Art is a dog. Dog is art.
There’s nothing that can make one feel like a stranger in a strange land more than witnessing a fellow human release a rooster in his backyard. The man spotted me after opening the backdoor to allow the rooster’s exit. I wanted to hide to prevent this man from being embarrassed. I didn’t want to feel the need to comment. I also didn’t want to share that uncomfortable smile with him that occurs shortly after one acts in an inexplicable manner. I had nothing to worry about. The polite smile he offered me, followed by a warm, small town wave, suggested that this was routine for the man. I waved back and continued walking my dog. I continued to watch the rooster after the man retreated inside. The rooster did not relieve itself, but it did rush the fence when it saw how close my dog and I came to its territory. It eyed my dog. It felt like an evil eye. It did not cockle doodle doo us, but its actions suggested that that was the next logical course of action.
For those that love to tell a great story, getting locked up in full story mode can be painful. It’s the equivalent of driving down the street at eighty miles an hour and slamming on the brakes. My favorite stories are the “strange but true” variety that don’t require creativity or a storyteller’s inflection. Stories like “the rooster that thought it was a dog” are my favorites, not because they’re hilarious, but because they’re so true that they leave the listener with that “what do you want me to do with this?” reaction.
The moment was odd and uncomfortable for me in real time, and I didn’t think it had much value, until I began telling it so often that it became my story. I told it a year later, when I returned to that locale.
“That’s my brother Harley’s rooster,” a man said.
I had a finger in the air, and a smile on my face, as I prepared to launch into my critically acclaimed punchline. This man’s intimate familiarity with the rooster’s owner, brought me to a screeching halt. I froze. I was so locked up that for the next couple of guilt-ridden moments I wondered if there was an antonym for verbal diarrhea. I thought of verbal constipation, but I wasn’t sure that that captured it.
“Harley had two dogs,” this man added. “They died. The rooster is the only thing he has left.”
There was compassion in those words, and I assumed that it was directed at the brother’s plight. The more I thought about, however, the more I began to believe that his compassion may have been directed at me, and my mean case of verbal constipation. Or, I considered, he may have noticed how much I enjoyed telling this story before his interruption, and he recognized that he had taken one hell of a good story away from me.
Whatever the case was, the man had provided me one answer. The rooster grew up around dogs. The rooster thought it was a dog. I walked away, unable to think of anything else to say.
The Art of the Nod
A speaker began speaking about himself. He began informing us of his talents, what he planned to do with them, and all of his subsequent dreams and expectations. It started off interesting, but he spoke for too long. I did manage to maintain a polite intrigue for the speaker, and this caused me to become the center of his attention. When that happened, maintaining interest became more of a chore.
My friend, a third party in this conversation, was not as successful in her efforts. She nodded off. I was, presumably, the only one that saw her nod off. I was also the only one to witness her artistic recovery.
When she nodded off, her head went down. The instinctual part of not wanting to appear so bored that she fell asleep took over, and she jerked her head up. The art of this moment occurred soon thereafter when she nodded down again. The second nod down was a voluntary action on her part to suggest that this series of actions was nothing more than a voluntary nod.
“Yep!” she said with conviction to further affect of a hearty nod.
She had no idea what was said. She had no idea what she was agreeing to, but she got away with it. I looked out at the faces of the others in the room. No one else saw it.I was impressed. I looked back her, and she had not only maintained her agreement, she strengthened it, until she was garnering more attention from the speaker than I was.
In the halls of social protocol, I considered this art.
I all but applauded her for this action when I asked her about it later. I informed her that art such as that cannot be achieved once. I told her that I believed such an act required practice. I wanted to know if she had ever done this to me. She said she hadn’t. She said I’d never been that boring. I was grateful for that comment, but I had to know how often she had done that. She said as far as she was concerned it was the first time. She had no other explanation for it, other than the fact that she was trying to avoid appearing rude. She tired of my questions after a while, and she stated that the moment embarrassed her, and she asked that we move onto other subjects.
Old people? Old people?? Let me tell you something about old people. We set the parameter. If it weren’t for old people, your nuance would have no contrast. All that rebellion you cherish, that avant garde comedy, would just be blather. Old people. Have you ever seen Caddyshack? Did you find it humorous? Uh huh. Ask anyone that knows anything about comedy, and they’ll tell you that that movie would not have been half as funny as it was, were it not for the old person in that production, Ted Knight, providing contrast. Without contrast in comedy, the audience is left with chaos. The movie would have been a bunch of buffoons standing around saying off the wall things to one another. Contrast provides the pivot point for comedy, and that old man in Caddyshack, that fuddy duddy as you call him, set the standard for the role that straight men would play in comedy for the next four decades. The straight men set the parameters for all the other players to bounce off. And that’s what we old, boring types do. We set the parameters for the rest of you to be funny, cool, hip and sexy. Try writing a cool, hip, funny scene without a Dean Wormer, and we’ll see how far you get.
Like Boxing for Writers
As for all you writers that write as opposed to tell stories. That hay maker you’re throwing is in your rhythm, and we can see it coming from a mile away. When you’re laughing harder than us at your own jokes, it’s a flurry of blows intended to impress the judges. There’s no power behind it. You’re not supposed to be in on the joke. It’s the equivalent to telling us what punch you’re going to throw next. We see your effort dangling, and it’s so obvious that you’ve laid out a nice example for all of us regarding what not to do when we’re going for humor.You’re the steak without the sizzle, the butterfly that floats merrily through our head without the fear, and the need to fear, the bee sting. You’re the Pernell Whitaker, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Floyd Maywhether of the writing world that gets points from the judges, but bores those of us that don’t understand the art of boxing. We want something exciting to happen, you can call it blood lust if you want, but if we wanted to witness the majestic art of dance, we would’ve attended the ballet.