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Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Paying Paul

The well – known mystic G.I. Gurdjieff once led a spiritual community in France. Almost all of those  living there got on well together but there was one old man who was just impossible. He was easily irritated, picked fights with everyone and refused to help clean up or do any chores. Finally, after many frustrating months of trying to stay with  the group the old man decided to leave on his own and set off for Paris. The other community members were overjoyed. Not so Gurdjieff, who followed him and tried to convince him to return. The old man refused at first but finally agreed when Gudjieff offered him a very large monthly stipend. When Gurdjieff returned with the man in tow, everyone was aghast. And when they heard that the man was being paid, (at a time when they themselves were paying to live there), they were furious. They went to Gurdjieff en masse and demanded an explanation. Gurdjieff listened to their complaints , laughed and explained, ” This man is like yeast for bread. Without him living here, you would never really learn about anger, irritability, patience and compassion. That is why you pay me, and why I hire him.”

In the Active Adult community that I live in, there is a ping pong club of which I am an enthusiastic member. It’s a great bunch of fellows except for one sore-head,” Paul”. None of the others gets along with him. Paul is past 85, has been playing for over 50 years and still plays fairly well. He persists in trying to ‘coach’ others, even though they don’t want his advice. He also yells at others, accusing them of damaging the ping pong table or of coming close to injuring him with their swinging paddles, and cracks the same stupid ‘ jokes’ over and over again. In short, he is a pain in the you-know-what. We have lost at least ten potential members who were turned off by his antics.

The other day, Paul was absent and I was talking to some of my buddies at the club. I told them the story about Gurdjieff and posed the question, ” Should we be paying Paul?”

The answer was unanimous. ” Yes… to stay away and leave us in peace!”

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Dhabas are roadside eateries in northern India that serve hearty, inexpensive food to travelers. A friend of mine stopped at one of these dhabas where the chalkboard advertised TODAY’S SPECIALAloo Mattar ( Potato and Peas Curry). It was quite tasty so, on his return journey, he stopped at the same dhaba.

This time, the chalkboard read TODAY’S SPECIALMattar Aloo. (Peas and Potato Curry). Puzzled, my friend asked the proprietor about the difference in nomenclature.

The reply, ” Sir, last week there were more potatoes than peas in the curry. This week, the curry contains more peas than potatoes.”

Talk about truth in advertising!

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Towards the end of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, there is a famous often quoted passage which runs as follows:

” Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes  before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter __ tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our hands farther…. And one fine morning _________ “

That extra – long dash at the end of the final sentence fragment has been subjected to much scholarly analysis and interpretation. All kinds of meanings have been read into it. Some critics have even suggested that it represents the end of Gatsby’s own dock, the one where we see him at the end of Chapter 1, stretching out his arms to Daisy Buchanan’s dock across Long Island Sound. They postulate that if ” we run faster, stretch out our arms farther”, we will one day , inevitably, fall off the end of the dock and drown, just as Gatsby drowns in his pool.

When I first read about this interpretation, I thought to myself ” How can anyone read so much into a dash, no matter how long it is? ” Fitzgerald’s writing is often deliberately vague and larded with symbols and it has spawned a veritable cottage industry of analysis and comment. However, this particular suggestion, I thought, was too fanciful, the product of an over active imagination.

Then, by the merest chance, I read a review of Saul Bellow’s collected non-fiction in the New York Times Sunday Review of April 27th.  In the review, Martin Amis reproduces a passage from  Bellow’s ” Deep Readers of the World, Beware’ ( 1959). In it, Bellow imagines the following classroom conversation:

” Why , sir” the student wonders, ” does Achilles drag the body of Hector around the walls of Troy? … Well, you see, sir, the ‘ Iliad ‘ is full of circles – shields, chariot wheels, and other round figures. And, you know what Plato said about circles. The Greeks were all made for geometry.”

” Bless your crew-cut, head” the professor replies, ” for such a beautiful thought. Your approach is both deep and serious.Still I always believed that Achilles did it because he was so angry.”

Amis adds “ Critics should cleave to the human element and not just laminate the text with additional obscurities“.

I couldn’t agree more.

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I have just finished doing my taxes and I can feel my blood pressure spiking. This is one activity that makes my blood boil. It’s not that I mind paying taxes; I know they are necessary to keep things going. Nor is it that I’m put out by the unfairness of the tax code ; I know I have to live with it. No, what drives me nuts is the complexity of the tax forms and the difficulty of filling them out.
Each April as I wrestle with the taxes I get the feeling that a bunch of CPA’s are looking over my shoulder waiting for me to make a mistake. They know it’s only a matter of time before I do. How can I not? Consider the instructions for the Qualified Dividends worksheet.
Subtract line 5 from line 6. If zero or less than zero, enter -0-
Subtract line 6 from line 1. If zero or less than zero, enter -0-
Enter the smaller of line 1 or line 8.
After filling out these numbers , many of which result in a zero, and after going through four more lines I wind up on line 16 with the same amount I started out with on line 1. Why? Why? Why the distinction between qualified dividends and ordinary dividends? Dividends are dividends… make them all the same and spare me these calculations which make my head go round and round.

And what’s with all these decimals? Multiply Line 3 by 92.35% (.9235). Why? Why not make it a nice round 90% (.90) or even 95% (.95)? It’s cruel to make me deal with decimals to the fourth place. As I tear my hair out in frustration, I feel that somewhere out there the rotters who came up with the tax code are cackling with glee, giving each other high fives and going ” Gotcha!” I am convinced that the tax laws were devised by accountants with only two goals in mind. One, to tie poor schnooks like me in knots and two, to make themselves indispensable.

What we need is a simplified tax code. And , by simplified, I mean one that’s really simple. One that will take a high school graduate only five minutes to fill out his tax return. It’s easy to come up with such a code. Only I wouldn’t entrust the job to our lawgivers. Every time they simplify the tax code, they make it twice as complicated and double the number of tax loopholes.

If I could, I’d like to sequester our lawmakers in their offices and make them do their own tax returns. They would have access to all their documents and a simple calculator and all the time they need to figure out their taxes. No TurboTax. Of course, until they finished their returns, they would not be allowed any food or drink. What’s that you say? Cruel and unusual punishment? Well, OK… they could have all the water they wanted to drink , but no going to the bathroom until they finished their returns. Still think it’s cruel? Well, maybe so but , at this moment, having just struggled with my own taxes, I’m not feeling too kindly towards them. Two days of this and they would be ready to throw in the towel and agree to let me devise a new and improved Tax Code.

My tax code would be simplicity itself. All income would be taxable. No distinction would be made between earned income, dividends and capital gains. Income is income. Why allow preferential rates to investors? There would be only three income groups. The lowest group would be taxed at 10%, the middle one at 25% and the high income group at 35%. Since there would be no phony write-offs, and entire incomes would be taxed, there would be no scope for the boondoggles available to high income filers. Heck, even though the top rate was only 35%, we would probably be able to balance the budget the first year itself.

There would be other benefits to my Simple Tax Code. Everyone would be able to do their own taxes in a matter of minutes. There would be no need for professional tax preparers or $ 1000/hour tax lawyers. CPA’s could use their skills to keep the books instead of dreaming up ways to beat the tax code. So many of them would be out of jobs that they could use their skills to proper use. Since they all are very good at math, they could be put to work teaching our high school students whose math skills are among the worst in the developed world.

The essence of my code is its simplicity. Without write-offs and deductions, there are no opportunities to exploit loopholes. The only deductions allowed under my code would be for dependents, say $ 2,000 per dependent. The more I think about my tax code, the more I like it. It’s a stroke of genius, if I say so myself.

Of course, human nature is such that no sooner a law is promulgated, people try to find a way around it. In the case of my tax code, people would soon figure out that the only way to put one over would be to increase the number of dependents. They would try to emulate the Duggars, that couple in Alabama who have nineteen children and counting ( and their own TV show besides). In no time at all we’d have a population explosion and added strains on the social services. I could limit the number of dependent exemptions to two or three but that would result in a big howl that the government was infringing on reproductive rights.

My tax code would work like a charm … for about nine months.

Doing Taxes…. Grrr !

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An article in the N.Y.Times profiled Chario Antonio, 79, a waiter at the Manhattan comedy club Dangerfields, who also tells jokes. Each night, he puts aside his apron and closes the show with his comedy routine. Antonio who has been working at Dangerfields since it first opened in 1970, has heard hundreds of thousands , perhaps millions, of jokes over the years. His own repertoire of jokes skews towards the ” tasteless, the vulgar and the offensive.” and he says of himself” My mind consumes only dirty jokes”.

Chario Antonio is by no means an anomaly. Most of us are like him, though we may draw the line at different places. Why is it so? Why do we tend to like jokes about sex, bodily functions, ethnicity and other non-PC topics? Why are the stand-up routines on Comedy Central so raunchy and laden with four letter words?

I have never really heard anyone talk about the reasons for these preferences but it seems to me it has to do with our childhood when some topics and some words were taboo. As we grow up, we delight in using those words and talking about those topics more and more openly. Partly it is the freedom we experience in doing so and partly it is the desire to shock. Girls, being “the gentler sex”, are more circumspect and profess to be shocked by such talk but, to some extent, it may be mere pretense. Certainly, listening to the female comedians on cable TV today, they are not any the less raunchy than their male counterparts. Wanda Sykes and Tammy Pescatelli (the Foulest Mouth in Television Comedy) are a match for anyone in the raunch department. Seeing the women in the audience laughing their heads off at these routines tells me that women and men are no different in their enjoyment of such humor.

I like all kinds of jokes, dirty or otherwise, but only if they are funny. Four letter words do not, by themselves, make a performance funny and I am amazed at how many stand-up comedians use the ” f-word” gratuitously. Even Bill Maher whose forte is political comedy, is among them. I don’t remember this of him in his early years but, now, it is very pronounced. I have noticed the same trend in other comedians too and it is rare to see a stand-up routine which is not liberally sprinkled with f-words.

There are two types of jokes I don’t care about. One is ” insult humor” in which the comedian picks on people in the audience. Don Rickles, who pioneered this type of humor, was humorous at times but , too often, such comedy today is mean-spirited and nasty and not funny. Insult humor is also like bullying; the poor schnooks in the audience have no chance. If they try to retort, the comedian puts them down even more harshly and very publicly. The other genre is “sick” jokes, which leave me uncomfortable even as I laugh at them.

The unfortunate thing about dirty jokes is that they are all that spring to mind when I am searching for a joke to tell at party. Try as I can, I cannot think of a ” clean” joke and I wind up listening to jokes, many of them old chestnuts from twenty or thirty years ago. I guess the joke’s on me.

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Cross Words

I am depressed… and it’s all the fault of Amazon.

I wanted to buy some crossword books and decided to check them out on Amazon. There were several categories of crossword books available, among them Crosswords for Seniors. I clicked on that and the first title I saw was Easy Crosswords for Seniors for Dummies. . Other titles were:

Easy Large Print Crosswords book

Crosswords for the Elderly

Special Puzzles Designed to Keep Your Brain Young

and

Alzheimer’s Association presents The Big Brain Puzzle Book

Failing Eyesight. Loss of Brain Power. Alzheimers. Is this what I have to look forward to?

No wonder I’m depressed. Thanks Amazon.

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The Ohio State football coach was worried. The Michigan game was coming up and his star running back was on the verge of flunking out. Something had to be done so he went to the English Lit. prof to see what could be done.””

“Prof” , he said ” You’ve gotta do something about Bobby Joe Gunnison. If he doesn’t pass this course, he’s gonna be ineligible for the big game and we’re gonna get destroyed by Michigan.”

” Okay, coach”, said the professor ” I’ll ask him to write a one page essay on any topic he wants and if it’s halfway decent, I’ll give him a passing grade. Good enough?”

” Bobby Joe couldn’t write a paragraph to save his own life. You’ve gotta make it easier for him.”

” Okay. How about I ask him to write one sentence and if it’s grammatically correct, he’s through.”

” That’s better but we cant take a chance, professor. Can’t you make it easier ?”

” All right.. how about this? I ask him to spell one word and if he gets it right, he passes.”

” Sounds good, professor but just to be absolutely sure he makes it … how about you ask him to spell one word and if he gets one letter correct, he passes?”

” Not asking for much , are you, Coach? But I want us to beat Michigan so I’ll go along with it.”

So Bobby Joe went to class and the professor told him the format for the test. ” I’m going to give you one word. Take your time, think about it and give me the spelling. If even one letter is correct , you pass. You ready for this?”

” Yes, professor.”

” Okay. The word is coffee. Spell it.”

Bobby Joe thought about it ; then he thought about some more. Finally , he was ready. Slowly he spelled it out.

” K … a … w … p… h … y.”

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