Along the Way: Today's Chuckle
What do a Whole Foods, old newspapers, trees, and grand openings have in common? This column!
THERE COMES A DAY in every writer’s life when he’ll write about a tree. Go ahead, Google the names of your favorites along with the word “tree,” and you’ll find them straining to break every last limb off the metaphor. It might happen in summertime, when the tree is full of life; or deep in winter, when death lies in piles beneath it; or when the mighty tree falls. In any case, the writer is likely in need of a vacation.
This morning, Laura and I were accomplices to the grand opening of the new uptown Whole Foods Amazon. A line went around the block long before the doors opened at 9 a.m., but we walked right in at 9:30. Charcoal bags were stacked neatly out front, and an employee was filleting a whole yellowfin tuna in the aisle, much to the delight of iPhone photographers. The experience was OK, so I decided to try Shake Shack next. Shake Shack, you’ll recall, also had a line wrapped around Charlotte when it opened in April. At 11:30 today, though, my neighbor Logan and I had no wait. He ordered a double cheeseburger and I ordered a double cheeseburger, and with four Shake Shack patties between us, we decided that this much-hyped spot is also OK.
I have a theory that if you start a line anywhere in Austin, Texas, people will join it and stand for hours thinking they’re about to get brisket. In Charlotte, you could do the same thing with a grand opening sign.
“Well, what are you doing in this random parking lot, Kim?”
“Oh, hey, Brett! I’m here for the grand opening?”
“I don’t know!”
“But you’re in line?”
“Yes, for the grand opening! Keep up!”
People who don’t live in Charlotte think Charlotte is shallow. That’s hard to dispute when you see a chain get this kind of reaction. But when you make a home here, you notice another segment of condescending people who, because of our inability or unwillingness to join the line, say the line is stupid. Look at those absurd people! Lining up at that absurd thing! I blame my occasional participation in this second group on the fact that I’m a teen of the 1990s, when Whole Foods represented something worse than a cliché. It represented society. And, man, screw society.
E.B. White once said, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” The same is true for analyzing why some people go crazy over something and others don’t. You may not believe me given the national discourse lately, but it’s entirely OK for people to laugh at different things, dislike different things, love different things.
One recent afternoon, I was going through the archives on the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s website like a party animal, when I noticed a box called Today’s Chuckle. From the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, the short joke ran daily on the front page of the Observer and was syndicated in more than 300 U.S. newspapers. I think they’re funny. You may not. But this is my column, so I’ll share a few.
From March 24, 1976: “Did you hear about the fellow who exercises religiously? He does one push-up, shouts ‘Amen’ and quits.”
Some entries are amusing mostly because of their proximity to headlines about disasters and historic moments. On July 21, 1969, a giant headline repeated the words of Neil Armstrong— “That’s One Small Step For Man.” And under a moon-landing photo, the incongruous Chuckle: “To stay young, associate with young people. To grow old in a hurry, just try keeping up with them.”
Today’s Chuckle flourished during a tumultuous time. Humor is like that; it’s there when we need it. It provides levity during stressful moments, strings of truth underlining the jokes, a country’s mood refracted. In the same way that people find balance in a grocery store or a hamburger—simple experiences we can feel, smell, and taste, at a time when our relationship with reality is challenged daily—good humor is like graffiti on the popular perspectives of the day.
On August 29, 1963, the main headline about the March on Washington was “200,000 March Peacefully,” and on the same page the Chuckle reads, “We wouldn’t mind the meek inheriting the earth, if we could be sure they would stay meek after they get it.”
Is that a joke, or a statement? Same for the one from April 22, 1970, under a headline about the first Earth Day: “The quickest way to get behind the eight ball is to take the wrong cue.”
A few weeks ago, after another crazy news day here on earth in 2018, Laura and I made homemade pizzas with dough from Pasta & Provisions. A few good friends came over, and we drank and laughed and told stories, cell phones down. At one point, our friend Jen tried out a joke she liked. It’s absurd. There were pity laughs and groans in the room, but against the backdrop of the week, I thought it was perfect and deserving of a place in print.
How do you identify a dogwood tree?
By its bark!
And that’s my tree story.