Many moons ago when my wife and I owned a grocery store, we discovered that most of our customers relished humor almost as much as they craved quality food.
Once just for fun we stuck a goldfish bowl on a counter. ’Twas filled with only water. Nothing else. We placed a sign near the display: “Win $5 in groceries. Guess the weight of Freddy, the invisible goldfish.” Dumb, no doubt, but it gotta lotta laughs from a lots of folks. Even from me. I chuckled whenever certain people kept staring at the empty bowl, trying to spot Freddy. Some people actually guessed at Freddy’s weight. I wish I were kidding.
Call me a warrior fighting gloom. Call me a man-child. Laugh with me, at me or next to me, just laugh. And laugh we did. Our customers were also our neighbors, and they treated us as if we were royalty. Neighborhood block parties prevailed with glee.
After selling the store, we moved to an apartment. Nice view, but the couple who lived in the adjacent apartment sucked. We were used to living in a big neighborhood, cluttered with fun-loving people who loved to laugh. The new neighbors loathed laughter. A big irony because they themselves have functioned as fodder for many humor pieces.
Welcoming new neighbors with cake and wine was commonplace in the suburbia of 1984. In contrast, the next-door neighbors of our “deluxe apartment in the sky, yi-yi” welcomed us by requesting that we lend them our car for a few hours.
In no time flat, these fellow baby boomers, Bruno and Beulah, were crashing our parties, mooching our food and sucking down our booze like wildcats. Worse yet, these unannounced ninnies criticized my idiosyncrasies. The nerve. Though I’ve mellowed a bit with age, there’s still a little boy running around inside of me. Never knock him. I love that little boy, and I’ll never let him go. Yup, still crazy after all these years, and leery of people with underdeveloped funny bones.
Bruno and Beulah often popped in dragging their sticky-fingered teenaged grandson along. One night, we had dressed our cats in frilly pink outfits. Their grandson gawked at the critters and said, “What’s their names?”
“Shilalie Taloolah and Petunia Louise,” I said.
“How old are these pussycats?”
“They’re not pussycats, they’re tomcats” I told him.
“Then why the pink frills and why the girl names?”
“They’re gay,” I said to shut him up. “And we reject the notion of praying the gay away. Neither have we any plans to enroll the critters in conversion therapy. Let’s face it. Boys will be girls.”
My wife jumped into the fun: “Hey, would you like to see Freddy, the invisible goldfish?”
The bewildered teen, grunted and said, “I can’t even — ” and walked out.
Much to my delight, Bruno and Beulah especially hated my ever-changing hair styles. Sometimes shagging over my ears, sometimes slicked back, sometimes parted in the middle. And they clearly despised my mischievous itch to dye my beard a dazzling red. But still they kept showing up.
I even tried to scare them off by blowing bubbles for our cats — even when the cats were asleep. Nothing succeeded.
Then came that fatal day when they had the unmitigated gall bladders to awaken us at 7 a.m. to borrow our vacuum cleaner. That prompted me to take a drastic step — to nail my version of a do-not-disturb sign on our door: “IF YOU’RE UNINVITED OR UNEXPECTED, YOU’RE ALSO UNWELCOME. GO AWAY.”
Abruptness worked. They’ve never darkened our door again. However, a complication arose. After a week, they still hadn’t returned our vacuum. This time it was I who knocked on their door unannounced. Bruno opened the door and glared at me.The vacuum stood boldly upright in the middle of their living room. I decided to keep the mood light.
Nodding at the vacuum, I jokingly said, “I’d like to borrow the vacuum.”
Bruno said: “Sorry pal. We live by the motto “Never a borrower nor a lender be.”
I laughed. He continued to glare. Then I realized that this guy was avenging the sarcastic motto on our door by claiming that he actually owned the vacuum. Since he stood a foot taller than I and outweighed me by 70 pounds, I decided to humor the guy and walked away with my tail between my legs. Worse. I heard him laughing. Finally laughing?
I can’t even — .
— Steve Eskew
Retired businessman Steve Eskew received master’s degrees in dramatic arts and communication studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha after he turned 50. After one of his professors asked him to write a theater column, he began a career as a journalist at The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa. This led to hundreds of publications in a number of newspapers, most of which appear on his website, eskewtotherescue.com.