Carrying a Piano Through a Store That Sells Glassware – Part Two: Life is Better as a Comedy, Even if You Don’t Find it Funny
Physics has always worked against me. For years, no matter how I arrange the items in my cupboard, something is bound to tumble out at my face when I open the door. If I stand a book upright on a shelf, it will fall over. Say I pick up a bottle by the cap, the cap will absolutely not be screwed on right and the bottle will fall and spill its contents (likely beer) on my bed or on my friends. Yes, physics hates me. The other day, I tried to put a tuna sandwich in the work fridge and proceeded to cause an avalanche of about 80 little bottles of energy drink. I figure I must be doing something wrong with understanding centers of gravity, or inertia, or maybe I just bring out the entropy in things. Try to tie a shoe, the lace breaks; try to hang a shirt in the closet, it wiggles its way off the hook; try to open a package of tofu, I end up spraying myself in the eye with a jet stream of tofu juice.
Perhaps it’s all a bad case of bad luck. My father used to say our family was cursed with it. He called it “The Panara Curse,” and it was responsible for a whole bunch of stuff, including bad Internet connections, Blockbuster not having the movie we wanted, and the Buffalo Bills losing four straight Super Bowls. Some say they chocked. It’s a little known fact that they really lost due to our fandom.
Back when I was in art school, I took a literature course called “Tragedy.” It was all about the Gods and Fate and Destiny and our fatal flaws and that good stuff. The professor was some middle-aged white man with a beard who would sit at a table and talk in a monotone about The Oresteia and King Lear and things like that. I’d typically listen intently for about 20 minutes and then tune him out completely. The other students loved him, though, and called him ‘brilliant.’ I’d sit there hopelessly bored and damning myself for not taking a class taught by a dumbass instead of someone brilliant. At least that would’ve been entertaining.
One class, the professor started rambling on and on about the differences between the ‘tragic hero’ and the ‘comic hero.’ The biggest difference, according to him, was the way Fate interacted with each. Fate totally shit all over the tragic hero, often striping him of pride and then killing him. The comic hero, on the other hand, was plucky and that caused Fate to lose its mean streak. In the end, the comic hero would succeed, while the poor tragic hero was utterly doomed.
The professor fell out of his chair, alarmed from hearing a voice other than his own. After the kids in the front row helped him up, he asked the bright guy who had spoken up to proceed.
“Well,” the guy said, “it seems to me like Fate sets up the comic hero for failure too. I mean, think of, like, old Laurel and Hardy comedies. They always end up in some ridiculous situation where everything is bound to go wrong. Like they’ll have to carry a piano through a store that sells glassware or something. You watch it, and you know they’re going to break everything in the place, and they know it too, but they try anyways. I guess the difference is, for them, being doomed is funny.”
The student was totally right. Fate is an evil jerk both ways, causing Oedipus to marry his mom and at the same time manipulating the comic hero into doing all sorts of hopeless things. It’s the reason Harold Lloyd has to climb a skyscraper (Safety Last), Buster Keaton ends up taking the helm of an unmanned train (The General) or a sinking ship (The Navigator), and Fate causes the money to fall out of a hole in Charlie Chaplin’s pocket when he takes a girl out to a nice restaurant to impress her (The Immigrant). Modern comedy is no different. Fate has the liquor store get robbed right when McLovin is trying to buy booze, it has the tiger wake up in the back seat of the car in The Hangover, and stupid Fate causes pitiful Greg Focker to set a wedding altar on fire and have to spray paint a cat. Tell these guys that Fate is on their side. Something tells me they wouldn’t quite see it that way.
There are a lot of days when I’ll wake up, think of the day I have ahead of me, and say to myself, “Wow, I don’t think I can do this.” Life is hard like that. It’s not just limited to problems with physics, either. There’s the job, trying to make relationships work, money, and all sorts of things that make a plate falling off the counter and breaking on the floor seem trivial. Really, there are a ton of things that feel sort of like carrying a piano through a store that sells glassware. Impossible. Bound for failure.
At those times, I try my best to tell myself that I’m the comic hero, not the tragic one. It’s a bit inspiring. My father never saw things that way. He seemed to peg himself as the tragic hero, doomed by a curse. My poor old man – he never could laugh when things went wrong. I fall into that trap a lot of the time too. The comic hero, though, can adapt, can brush things off, can keep his emotions in check, and is content just by getting to the end of the day. I find a lot of value in that. Forget the President – Larry David should be promoted as a role model for today’s youth.
Yesterday afternoon I was thinking about these things as I sat down on the toilet to fulfill my digestive needs. A drop of water hit me on the head. I looked up. The roof was leaking, and what it was leaking was disturbingly off-white. I shifted my body to avoid the next inevitable drop. In doing so, I somehow caused the toilet seat to break free, sending me crashing down into the toilet bowl like I was falling into a tragically un-bottomless pit. Or, perhaps, falling into a pit, bottomless. I grabbed at the toilet paper roll to try and save myself.
Another drop of brown liquid fell on my head. “Am I really supposed to find this funny?” I thought. Then I figured I might as well. If there are Gods that control our fate, they were probably laughing, so I might as well join them.