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Sunday, July 12, 2015


“Sex and Violence”, the ironically titled pilot for the classic Muppet Show, featured a muppetized version of Mount Rushmore, with Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln all secretly agreeing that George Washington is a dull-witted, crashing bore.  He doesn’t get any of their jokes and his own lame attempt at humor is met with silence, and finally a pitying, “That was a good one, George.”  This line has become a staple in my home in response to any story or joke that doesn’t pass muster.  I believe storytelling is an art, and not to be taken lightly.  My husband is the king of the bad story and I constantly have to remind him that relating dull facts that don’t cumulate in a point is not a valid use of verbiage; he’s also heard “That was a good one, George” from our son more than once.  So even though he was not able to join us for our annual beach holiday this year, he did inspire me to set and enforce a ground rule:  no telling bad stories.

I realize that vacations are supposed to be our break from reality and rules—theoretically, we can sleep late, eat too much food, drink too much wine and forget about exercise—and to the degree that vacationing with children allows these freedoms, my family likes to take advantage.  My new vacation rule was announced at our first family dinner after several glasses of the aforementioned wine.  Perhaps you are thinking such a mandate would go without saying, but I have found in group situations that sometimes people talk to fill a silence rather than talk because they have something interesting to say. I generously wanted to lift that onus from anyone who wasn’t brimming with scintillating discourse; I was poised and ready to smack down all family members who didn’t want to comply with my wishes.  But as it turns out, I only had to yell “That’s not a good story!” once--my younger sister had just announced to the room what the current temperature was in a tropical location she had recently visited—and once turned out to be enough, as there were good stories aplenty to be told.
My sister-in-law’s mother, who all the children call GJ, is a gracious Southern lady and born storyteller.  On the evening of my announcement she obliged us all with a riotous account of a malfunctioning carbon monoxide detector and the apparently Chippendales quality firemen who showed up at her house to deal with the crisis.  I could never do justice to the story here, as it requires both a Southern accent and GJ’s wide eyed expression of innocence which betrays none of her punchlines in advance.  There was a lot of clapping and hooting in response to her saga (mostly from me—the wine again!) and I feel it set the tone nicely for a long holiday weekend of no-bad-stories.  In case you are wondering what qualifies for me as a “bad story”, other than relating-dull-facts-that-don’t-cumulate-in-a-point, pretty much anything that is told for self-serving purposes bores me.  A tale told to elicit pity, kudos or to make anyone else feel guilty is categorically NOT a good story.  However, if you can combine all three, as my brother did, you just may have something!

My brother’s top story of the weekend involved a folding loveseat that our mother apparently browbeat some hapless clerks into selling to her for 12 bucks, an outdoor concert of music from the Harry Potter films that featured no music from the Harry Potter films, an unexpected downpour and a handsome stranger from his wife’s past.  You are interested already, right?  The situation was this:  our Mom had secured tickets to this event for herself and my brother’s family and she brought along this luxurious piece of camp equipment to enhance everyone’s enjoyment (without lightening her wallet too much in the process).  The first half of the concert and the love seat were a smashing success, although the orchestra decided to save the “main event” (Harry Potter music!) for after intermission.  My brother, eyeballing the approaching storm clouds, thought they might want to play it safe, but was voted down.  Clearly he missed his calling as an ace weatherman, because once the music started, the rain did too…and the stampede of people trying to get chairs, picnic meals and instruments out of the deluge.
Now as my brother told the story (his wife and children were witnesses to the version I heard; my mother may have to be deposed on details at a later date), Grandma and children huddled under an umbrella while he humped gear back to the car.  Simultaneously, his wife had found shelter with the mysterious stranger, who turned out to be an old school friend recently returned to the area.  The rain kept coming down harder—everything and everybody was soaked through and through by the time they were safely ensconced in the car—except my sister-in-law, who did not make an appearance again until the rain had stopped entirely.  She was dry and delighted by a fun conversation with her old pal (described by my brother as not just handsome but EXTREMELY handsome) before she entered into the sopping wet zone of seething resentment.  I like this story because I think it serves as a pretty good metaphor for how most men view marriage.  Also, if you reverse the sexes, it serves as a wonderful example of how most women view marriage too.

I have often opined that today’s bad experience is tomorrow’s funny story, and more often than not I am correct in this.  My own best story from this latest road trip features a mad dash for a train across Grand Central Station in ridiculous shoes and an errant bra strap that literally shot out my arm sleeve like a rubber band—no, I did NOT stop for it, I just kept on running.  I think with family vacations that in addition to the “no telling bad stories” rule, there should also be a “no dwelling on bad stories” rule too, unless the bad story can be turned into a funny one.  A lot of people in close quarters for several days means without a doubt that toes will get stepped on—this is the law of averages.  The trick is not to turn it into a bad story.  Ruminate on all the fun and positive and remember it’s a damned good thing nothing is perfect.  Consider this: if carbon monoxide detectors never malfunctioned, how would we ever get the Chippendales firemen to come to the house?

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