Have you heard the one about a son who wheels his mother into a nursing home?
Everybody’s a comedian these days, once upon a time class clowns who “made the teacher laugh.” We are not professionals, our deadpan maniacal one-liners fall flat in the company of strangers and we readily concede only a mother could love our act. Mothers realize the hurt of criticism. Open mic nights? Been there, done that, preferring instead the built-in home security when watching commercial-free Netflix.
Our modus operandi, playing the fool, is the surest channel for harvesting laughter; when we chime about ourselves everybody knows we’re singing their song. We tradesmen and women enjoy working in the bowels of human nature, our pockets stuffed with the one tool of the trade required for survival, the pressure release valve. It’s okay when we’re the bull’s eye in a stranger’s target. It’s mostly nothing personal.
We non-comedians tell half jokes, leaden one-liners, failing more often than the industry norm, accepting the consequence because, after all, nobody’s paying us to be funny.
But there’s always the backstage critic, invisible among shadows, laughing only to himself. Timekeepers with hook in hand intent upon panning the show, who won’t allow a good laugh to muffle the reality of an aged parent.
“Your act is over”, they say. “Your biggest homegrown fan has “left the building, currently playing second fiddle at a nursing facility.”
There’s no humor calling it a ‘nursing home’, a place whose website whispers “who’s laughing now?”
She’s been ‘half there’ for a while, her mind, still I wonder if the reality of her change of address has sunk in. Would my attempt at explanation help relieve her concern or is it best I allow the dust to settle without interference? The long-ago past is where she finds comfort, laughing about her Pa, eyes sparkling at the recollection of Ma’s beauty, wondering what she ever saw in the likes of him. Recent history no longer exists, my childhood and all its laughter simply doesn’t provide safe refuge. Be off with it. She speaks of teenage girlfriends long gone, their advice not to date Dad because “he’s got a car and you know what that means.”
She in her wheelchair, we sit in the lone quad made for just these kinds of “visits” where a few breaths of fresh air become more valuable than gold, before she catches a chill and I’m obligated to return her to ‘”in there.”
I’m tempted to say “Ma, remember when . . .” but cut my hopes short because even when she has lost her ability to recall she’s smart enough to fake her response, mothers never let their children down. We will each suffer guilt for different reasons. She’s had to falsify my existence, she doesn’t remember “when” and never will again. And I, for having taken her to where I know I shouldn’t have. It’s not about me anymore.
Her half truths are best appreciated when accepted as what she now believes as the way things are. I know this is the new norm, this necessary readjustment of pandering to the unknown. Enough with the bad jokes, the entire family is on edge. I’m in the company of a stranger and for the sake of my survival I’ve got to live by her rules.
There will be other open mic gatherings sure to sate my requirement for laughter. “Remember when Ma said this . . .” or, the time she “saw a four foot tall rabbit cross her path when on a stroll?”
My wife asks “How’d the visit go?” and I almost reply “Are you trying to be funny?” But I don’t. Half truths, half jokes. It’s all in the timing and the audience who’s listening.