The Dead Man Who Reached Over And Tickled Me

As the father of a four-year-old, I am no stranger to tickling. But it’s fair to say I don’t get tickled very often by anyone other than my daughter or my wife. My dad will be visiting in a week. The opportunity might present itself for him to tickle me, I suppose, but that’s about as long as that list is going to get.

Usually, I have to be somewhat surprised for any comedic gesture, tickling or otherwise, to make me laugh. What a great quality that is, too, to have the ability to make others laugh – and not just from tickling. I have always admired other people’s ability to cause laughter, and tried to be able to do it myself.

Heck, making people laugh at all is hard. How great a comedian must be, or an actor, writer, or author, to be able to make people laugh. Some classic comedians were able to do it more than a hundred years ago, and their films are to still be able to do it now.

Writing lines in a book in such a way as to make people laugh is even harder. At least in person, like a comedian in front of an audience, you can get a feel for the group, and start to understand what they are all about. Especially big gatherings; the bigger the better. My very limited experience in getting groups to laugh was: if just one person in the group laughs, it’s a signal to the others that it’s okay, and soon they all are. Then you have them. You can pace your jokes, wait until they take a breath, and hit them again, waiting for just the right time to add the topper.

Writing funny stuff is much more difficult, like trying hard to get one stodgy old man to crack a smile. You just never know what’s going to do it. So you just have to write what you think is funny, and hope for the best. Hope they laugh at the right places, that is; I have been told some of my work was funny, but sometimes it wasn’t intended to be!

I read an essay last week and it made me laugh out loud. That was one funny guy. That book had sat on a shelf in my office for years, among a pile of other books that I must have thought looked good, but obviously never bothered to crack open. It sat there, just a few feet away from where I spend so much time working at my desk.

One day, I needed to attribute a quote that I thought I came from a certain author, so I searched for it online. It was him, all right, but seeing where it came from, I wondered if I didn’t have that very book in my possession somewhere. Then I realized I had the book on my shelf, right there, just out of arm’s reach.

I went over and pulled the thick, heavy book from its dusty home and stood looking through the table of contents, seeing all the familiar stories, but also one that I had forgotten. And, seeing it, I could not resist reading a few lines.

By god, what an author. What an artist! I had to sit down and continue reading. It was a short enough piece, but I found myself with my feet up on my desk, leaning back in my chair, thoroughly enjoying the master at work.

And I burst out laughing at one spot, then read on, tears in my eyes, finally putting the book back when I finished. It makes my office a better place, knowing those great artists are just a few feet away, so close that they can just reach over and tickle me when they want to – if I let them. That’s what those books are doing there. To remind me of what writing can be. I won’t be such a stranger from now on, I promise.

I hope some of my writing habits and styles – which until now I had thought were original, and some of which I thought were bad – were instead an act of subconscious theft on my part. I will now use them with pride.

What a great legacy Mark Twain has. He knew enough about people to get them to laugh with him, and that is what he is forever known for. He could do it 125 years ago, and he can do it now, given the chance. To the extent immortality is possible, he and few others have achieved it. So his books are his headstones, in ways that a cemetery plot and a cold piece of granite never could be.

Which was an odd way to think about my own passing – hopefully a long time from now.

But…

I hope my books will be my headstones.

And if I think about it, I’ll tell that to my daughter one day. Maybe she will realize that the house where we lived and laughed is a better memorial than a cold stone in a place nobody visits, and that remembering me laughing would be best achieved through pictures and videos and books and stories, not a visit to a cemetery.

Scatter my ashes in the sea, so I can become part of it, and give you a big hug every time you swim at the beach.

Until then, I will tickle her, and allow myself to be tickled by a dead man a few feet away.

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5 thoughts on “The Dead Man Who Reached Over And Tickled Me

  1. […] I was working on a story and happened to need a bit of inspiration, and I remembered something funny I thought he’d said. I didn’t think to Google it, because why make life easy, so I went to Amazon to see if he had eBooks. I could buy the eBook, look up what I needed, and if the eBook was expensive, I’d just return it. Don’t look at me like that. You’ve kept the tag in a blouse for the same reason, and didn’t even get a story out of it. […]

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  2. Oh, I just left another comment on your latest and I had not read this 😀 Wow, I even put up Twain’s essay on my blog a few weeks ago.. Thank you, so much, Dan.. I wish I had stopped over on this post before commenting. You have said all that I have said over here 🙂

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      • This linear reading sort of makes us miss out on the good stuff. For example, my own blog, people do not read anything they do not see on the first page. It might be trouble to scroll down all the way (and to be fair to them, all my posts are extremely boring, lengthy and self-indulgent haha)… But I loved your posts… and my problem is I follow close to 150 people and I read every one of their posts every single day. I miss one day and my inbox horrifies me… it is filled to the brim.. and then I have to weep to read all those. So when I have sufficient time, I look at the archived posts of all those I follow. It does not make sense to either follow or “like” a post meaninglessly. I need to read it first and decide whether I like it or not, anything else is dishonesty. 🙂 That is all..
        but, oh, by all means, hide things there hahaha.. what a brilliant idea…:D

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  3. I noticed it by accident. I was looking for a topic I knew I’d written about, but I couldn’t find it. When I finally did, it had a few typos so I fixed them. The publish date didn’t change with the update, and the article had a lot of comments. I was like, I could probably change this post to something completely different and the comments wouldn’t make any sense. Or I could add to it. So I figured, maybe I’ll do that some time, and insert a bunch of hidden stuff, like a chapter of a new book, inside an old post, and then secretly tell only readers of the blog or something. I haven’t figured it out yet.

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