Commentary 31 May 2012 10:41 am
By Chris schillig The Review Published: May 31, 2012 3:00AM
So I’m late for work one day last week, but I need popcorn for my students.
Teachers understand what lay people don’t: The promise of popcorn to a hungry class cannot be broken lightly. In the ledger of “Crimes Against One’s Pupils,” forgetting popcorn or cupcakes or individually wrapped licorice sticks or snack-sized Kit Kat bars earns an indelible black mark. It will be carved on your tombstone: Loving husband, good father, forgetter of fruit punch.
Not many places sell pre-popped corn at 6 a.m., but a few do. I’m power-walking across the main concourse of one such establishment, past lottery tickets, cosmetics and a wall of sugary cereal, when I pass her coming in the opposite direction.
She wobbles along, Weeble-like, staring listlessly into space. If this grocery store were a roadmap, she would be on a Sunday drive in her Edsel, sputtering along a dirt road; I’d be screaming by in a Ferrari, foot on the accelerator, speedometer edging into the red zone that makes highway patrol officers drool with anticipation.
In her cart are two gallons of milk and about a dozen other items. I can’t tell what they all are because I’m moving so fast. I nod my head in greeting. If she responds, it’s lost in my metaphorical rearview mirror.
I take a moment to speculate, uncharitably. With her glazed look and lazy gait, she must be headed home to a sagging couch, Jerry Springer and Judge Judy while chewing, bovine-like, on chips and gummy worms.
I find my popcorn, pivot and trek back toward the checkout. That’s when I see her a second time, about 20 yards ahead, ponderously pushing her cart toward the only available register.
I feel like the character in Edvard Munch’s painting, “The Scream” — my mouth elongates, my eyes widen, my hands cradle my cheeks and I want to voice to the slo-mo scream of every cartoon character ever drawn, slobber shooting from my lips. Noooooooooooooooooo.
I could upgrade my power-walk to a full-on sprint and slide in front of her. I could run up the back of her sizable calves, do a forward flip over her cart and land, ninja-like, on the conveyer belt. I could tackle her to the ground and pull the hood of her college sweatshirt over her head, obscuring my identity as I toss $2.50 at the cashier and lope toward the parking lot.
Instead, I stand there — outwardly patient, inwardly a bundle of misfiring neurons, adding another anxiety-spell to the inevitable ulcer.
Except none of these things really happened.
Oh, there was a grocery store and popcorn and a lady with two gallons of milk and a single register. I mused on it for a second or two before stepping into the self-checkout lane. No big deal.
But where’s the interest, the poetry, in that? The art is in the storytelling — dramatization, exaggeration, visuals that distract you, if only momentarily, from screaming kids or demanding bosses or the eternal debate of “Do I watch ‘The Voice’ or “American Idol’?”
That’s why I don’t get why National Public Radio and its “This American Life” program have any beef with humorist David Sedaris and his work. He does what humorists do (and I’m no David Sedaris, believe me): Magnify and add to the kernel of a true story. (Don’t you like how I brought this back to popcorn? This attention to detail is the hallmark of my time on the top of this page.)
According to the Washington Post, NPR is considering a label at the start of Sedaris’ pieces to alert listeners that what they are about to hear contains a blend of fact and fiction.
Seriously, how unfunny is that? Have we reached a point where we can no longer discern intent by paying attention to a writer’s or speaker’s tone, when we can no longer understand that comedy bends the truth to get laughs?
I guess so.
So here’s my pledge to you: When I write about serious topics, I won’t make up anything. Ever. I might make mistakes, but they’ll be honest ones.
When I write about humorous topics, I’ll stretch and bend truth like old ladies at a taffee-pulling contest, but I won’t make up anything. Except when I do.
And if you can’t tell the difference between my serious and humorous topics, then I’m really doing something wrong.
If this ever happens, just pretend you’ve imagined my whole column and go buy some popcorn. It makes everything better.
Originally published on May 31, 2012, in The Alliance Review.