Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Funniest Man In The World Tells A Funny Story: The Story

Ok, after being inundated with five or six yes votes, here is the story. Not sure what I think of it now. But good or bad it was shortlisted in a comp several years ago and published in a book by Allen & Unwin (and I found the copy of the book I thought I'd lost - woo hoo).

If anyone is interested in reading more, there are a few others that have been published that I don't think are too bad and which I might post here. Seems a shame that they are sitting unread in magazine pages on my bookshelf when someone out there might enjoy them.

Right. A little nervous about this, but for your reading pleasure I give you...

THE FUNNIEST MAN IN THE WORLD TELLS A FUNNY STORY



Just look at them. God how they squawk and carry on, like a flock of seagulls scavenging for the scraps on which they thrive. They would make me sick if they did not amuse me so much. They call me the funniest man in the world, but look at them, for god’s sake. If only they could see themselves from where I sit – shoving and jostling for a snippet of conversation with the most creative humorist alive (their words, not mine!), pointing those damn microphones at me like phallic offerings. And the questions. Breathtaking in their banality. What’s it like, they ask for the thousandth time, to be the funniest man in the world? Jesus gather me in your arms before I hear that question again. What do I say? Once, feeling particularly tired, a reporter asked me that very question, and do you know what I said? I asked her what it was like to have tits. The rest of them laughed, as they always do, and I thought she might take it badly. But she didn’t. She just looked down at her breasts briefly and told me that it was good, mostly. I admired her for that and replied with the same answer; good, mostly. For now I toss them some witty reply and they lap it up. Of course it matters little whether what I say is actually funny, they always laugh. At another one of these gatherings I happened to sneeze. A simple, ordinary sneeze. Do you know what they did? That’s right, they pissed themselves laughing, bloody idiots. It’s an insult that the very people who christened me the funniest man in the world can be so amused by an old man’s bodily functions. Why craft dazzling repartee when a fart can achieve the same result? Not that I don’t think there is comedy in a well placed, properly executed fart, I just think... oh here we go again. Pink Cheeks stands in his ill-fitting suit and nervously clears his throat. I lean forward in anticipation of another gem. He wants to know if I can remember (already I am working on my answer) the first moment I realised that I had a gift for knowing what is funny.
I sit back and purse my lips. He has surprised me with an original question. After facing countless questions about myself you would think I’d have encountered this one before. But no, this is the first time. I think for a moment. A story comes to mind. They look like they have time to spare, so I begin ...

The mother was fat. Not grossly obese, just mildly so. She was fat like a bunch of thick, raw sausages with skin pale and clammy to touch. She was a large, solid woman whose ugliness came from within. It showed in her sneering mouth and her cold, dead eyes. She frequently complained about the arthritic ache in her hands which sometimes became so intense she was forced to stop using them and resort to using an instrument to beat her eldest son – which was how she discovered that the fine, stiff bristles on her hairbrush could bring a satisfying speckling of blood to the boy’s soft cheek.
The woman favoured her younger son in a peculiar way. She showed her affection by encouraging him to humiliate and ridicule his brother. Naturally he went along with this, being too young to understand.
And there was the father who took the older son jogging through the bush and showed him how to split a gum leaf and whistle through it; who showed him how to skim a stone across the creek; who told him jokes and brought brief interludes of happiness to the boy’s life. Yet the father lingered like a frail shadow as the mother smashed the boy’s favourite toy.
The toy was a crane, blue and green with a yellow jib and a handle that could be wound to lift things into the air. When the boy lost the hook he made a loop out of the string and found himself placing the head of a toy dog through it like a noose. The mother discovered this and was disgusted that her son was such a ‘sick little bastard.’ She stamped the crane into a splintered mess with a thick limb of varicose vein and rubber thong, lifted him by the hair and made him stand with his nose in the corner for so long that he wet himself and collapsed with fatigue.

For reasons unknown, the family went on a trip. They drove to the Gold Coast in their dilapidated Valiant, the brothers sharing the back seat with Bernard who the mother had insisted taking. Bernard was an old mongrel who suffered chronic flatulence which added greatly to the already oppressive atmosphere inside the car. From time to time the younger brother thought it was fun to slip in a fart of his own and try to blame it on Bernard. The mother, however, was a connoisseur.
“That wasn’t a Bernard fart, that was a person fart. Now who was it?” she yelled in her hard, ugly voice. The father drove on in silence, staring at the road ahead. The younger son pointed at his sibling and the mother took several wild swings at the falsely accused, connecting sharply each time. Physical defence would only prolong the beating and was as useless as verbal defence. When silence resumed, the younger brother gazed out his window and giggled quietly to himself.

The family stopped at every tawdry tourist trap along the way. The mother was particularly fond of the ‘big’ things. The younger son loved this, finding it all so exotic, but the older one, who even at this young age was developing an acute sense of cynicism, suspected that his mother simply wanted her photo taken in front of lots of big things so that she might appear smaller.
At the Big Banana at Coff’s Harbour the older son wandered away from the family and came across a sulphur-crested cockatoo chained to a perch. At the boy’s approach the bird bowed his head forward, ruffled his head feathers and politely asked for a scratch. The boy smiled and gladly obliged. When the younger brother approached, the bird raised it crest in greeting. The younger brother decided that he wanted one of the brilliant yellow feathers and tried to pull one from the bird’s head. The bird let out a shrill screech. Then the older brother screamed in agony as his finger – still hovering conveniently by – was bitten in retribution. The mother, who could not decide between the Big Banana back scratcher and the Big Banana snow dome, turned in time to see the older son poking the eye of the younger one with a bloodied forefinger (his consequent shriek tortured with unimaginable tragedy). She ran forward to protect her favourite son.
The cockatoo was not satisfied with the small lump of finger in its beak and was furiously searching for something else to attack. A small girl watching these two boys poking each other’s eyes did not see the crazed cockatoo lunge for her gas-filled balloon. The bird, seeing the face on the balloon, believed he was attacking a human cheek. He did not expect the head to explode with such a thunder clap. He let out a final, strangled screech as he fell back from his perch.
And the father, who occasionally displayed a rather peculiar sense of humour, indulged in a secret smirk as he quickly snapped a photo. In it we see two young boys covering their own eyes whilst trying to poke out each other’s; a bawling young girl clutching a piece of string that dangles loosely by her side; a screeching cockatoo bungy jumping backwards from its perch towards death; and a large sausage-shaped woman running in from the side and wielding a souvenir back scratcher. Everyone in the photo has their mouth wide open as though they are performing some bizarre opera.

There was another photo taken of the family on that holiday, but in this one everyone is singing a very different song.
When the family finally reached its destination the mother read about a small picturesque hotel in the hinterland called Bernard’s. She decided that the family should drive there in honour of the family’s own Bernard.
As they parked the car a workman of enormous proportions requested that they park elsewhere as a mobile crane was being driven in to lift a fibreglass swimming over the building and into place out the back. The father did as he was told and the younger son made a joke about the crane really being needed to lift the workman into place. The older son sniggered, thinking of the mother’s own imposing proportions, and this brought an icy stare from those dead eyes. The family patted the dog and said goodbye, leaving him to sleep and fart in the warm car.
The building was old and made of exposed timber beams and floorboards that creaked with each step, a sound that somehow made you feel welcome. Adding to the warm ambience was the erratic hum of lunch-time chatter, and the smell of char-grilled steak and onions. Out the back was a gang of workman looking busy, yet somehow relaxed.
“At least this Bernard doesn’t fart,” the father observed. The boys laughed at his but the mother, though she found it amusing, did not allow herself to laugh.
The family ordered lunch and drinks and went outside to find a table to sit at while the steaks were being cooked. They found one on a shady patch of lawn beneath a large coral tree that was alive with screeching rainbow lorikeets. Between the tree and the building was the hole into which the swimming pool would be gently lowered. At this moment it was high in the air, being swung ever so slowly over he roof of the hotel. Workmen scurried around communicating over small radios.
The older son winced as he bumped his bandaged finger on the table. The pain throbbed through his hand.
“What’s the matter?” the mother sneered. “Is the little boy’s finger sore?” He sarcasm was as stinging as the bristles on her hairbrush.
“Sissy faggot, sissy faggot,” the younger son chanted, looking at his mother for signs of approval.
“Shut your face,” the older boy muttered.
“Don’t you dare use language like that,” the mother spat. “You little sissy.”
“Take it easy on him,” the father said in a tone with less substance than the air he breathed.
“Sissy faggot,” the younger boy hissed once more.
The older boy felt sick as he gazed into his glass of lemonade. He watched the bubbles make their way to the top where they simply popped and became nothing. He thought that being alive was like that, only people were more unhappy than lemonade bubbles. He sat back and clenched his jaw, trying not to give in to his misery. If only he could change the sadness to hate, maybe then he could do something. But he could not hate, could only endure the relentless sickness of unhappiness.
“Look,” said the mother in that cold sharp sneer, “sissy’s going to cry!”
And then, as the boy’s eyes filled with tears of humiliation, the steaming birdshit smacked onto his forehead and ran down his cheek.
His family was delighted. His brother rolled back bubbling with laughter, his mother leaned forward, thumped the table and hurled hard, raucous laughter at him. Even his father tried to stifle a chuckle into his beer.
“Go on,” the father said, trying to sound sympathetic, “go to the bathroom and wash it off.” The boy walked towards the bathroom, wiping his face with his sleeve as he went.
There was a sudden flurry of voices carrying that unique tone of impending doom. The boy turned and watched as the large swimming pool fell silently through the air. Beneath it workmen ran in all directions, screaming “Get out of the way – she’s coming down!” The pool crashed to the ground at the edge of the hole and split neatly into two pieces. A cloud of dust shot out from under it and curled into the air as the two halves, like two halves of a clam shell, tipped apart as though in preparation to catch something.
The boy flinched. His family was concealed by a row of ferns but he knew they were not hurt. A moment later the boy knew that the workmen had not been referring to the pool, they had meant that the arm of the crane itself was coming down. The boy watched as the yellow arm swept down in a smooth, deadly arc. It smashed through the branches of the tree and bounced slightly as it thumped into the ground.
For a moment there was a strange silence, then the frantic screeching of the disgruntled lorikeets, followed by the frantic yelling of humans who weren’t sure what to do. The added weight of the extra jib, along with the off-centre angle, had caused the crane to simply tip over. The building was severed in half and out the front the forty tonne body of the crane was poking into the air at an absurd angle.
The boy ran back to his family. Only his brother had escaped injury. Both parents were buried in a splintered mess of wood and steel. His father was lying face down with his head driven into the turf by a branch of the coral tree. The mother was not quite dead yet. Her limbs were as twisted and shattered as the debris that had rained down on her. She stared into the air through the steel bars that pinned her down, her face reflecting the sickly yellow of the jib. She was in shock, her wide eyes blinking mechanically. The younger brother began to bawl as he shoved at the crane jib without enthusiasm.
And the older brother suddenly knew the meaning of irony. His big mother had smashed his little crane, and now a big crane had smashed his mother – at a place with the same name as their farting dog!
It was here that someone with a morbid sense of posterity took the other photo of the family. In it we see the faceless body of the father pushed mercilessly into the ground; the ghastly yellow face of the mother peering through the wreckage (now looking a little worried); the younger brother with his head tipped back, tears of sorrow rolling down his face as he cries to the heavens; and the older brother doubled over in raptures of delighted laughter, pointing at his mother as though she were a clown who had fallen on her bum. The scene is littered with the brilliant red flowers of the coral tree and cheerful splashes of green, blue, red and yellow of the dead rainbow lorikeets. It is an odd photo – full of such vibrant colour, full of sorrow and death, life and laughter. And irony.
Many people said that the boy in the photo (the laughing one) was ‘a little weirdo’. Many others said that he was simply in a state of extreme shock. He was not in shock and he was not weird. He simply appreciated the irony of it all.

There is silence as they look at me like puzzled children. They don’t know what to make of me. There is a sprinkling of nervous laughter which quickly subsides. They were expecting a funny story – they cannot see that my story was funny, in a funny sort of way. I decide to help them. I begin to chuckle quietly. A few of them follow my lead and pretty soon they are all laughing. They laugh without inhibition as I rock back in my chair, tears rolling down my papery cheeks. We laugh together as though we are sharing the joke of life. I think of the stories that will appear tomorrow and double over in hopeless mirth, and they laugh at my laughter.
What’s it like to be the funniest man in the world? Yes it is good, mostly.

4 comments:

Quick said...

Crap. Sorry about the formatting. Thought I had that sorted. Sorry.

Amra Pajalic said...

Just catching up on your posts. Love your story. My favourite part is when he talks about sneezing and everyone laughing. Glad you posted it.

Quick said...

Thank you Amra. The sneezing bit... in fact the whole interview thing was inspired by an interview I saw with Spike Milligan. He did something really not very funny and the journos pissed themselves.

The crane episode happened too. Narrowly missed a group of us (friends, not family).

EmmaK said...

Hey Quick, I really enjoyed this. I was so waiting for the mother to get her come uppance and what a sweet relief when she did! I love this line:

'And the older brother suddenly knew the meaning of irony. His big mother had smashed his little crane, and now a big crane had smashed his mother – at a place with the same name as their farting dog!'