Thursday, April 8, 2010

Humor and age

I think it's good when people who are getting on in years retain a vibrant sense of humor. That's the case for my neighbor Madeleine, for example, who still gets a kick out of playing pranks. At the recent dinner for senior citizens of Choranche [display], Madeleine offered me the glass of white wine that had been poured out for her husband, who no longer drinks alcohol. Seeing that I appreciated this liquor, Madeleine soon got around stealthily to placing no less than three similiar glasses on the table in front of me. Tackling the first one, I discovered that Madeleine had simply filled empty glasses with water. That's a typically innocent prank that delights Madeleine... and I'm convinced that this kind of juvenile fun plays a part in preventing her from ever growing old. The other aspect of Madeleine's behavior that endears her to me is her taste for gossip, and tales about neighbors. That too prevents Madeleine, I'm sure, from growing old in spirits. How can you possibly accept the effects of aging when you still have so many wicked anecdotes to relate concerning folk in the commune? That kind of preoccupation necessitates an alert mind and, above all, an alert tongue. Besides, in the case of Madeleine, I'm joking when I use the adjective "wicked" to describe her anecdotes, because the amazing thing about the gossip of Madeleine (who has remained a fervent Catholic, imbued with pious and charitable intentions) is that her words could never even hurt a church mouse. It's an art of kindhearted tale-telling that Madeleine no doubt acquired and practiced over a period of decades, when she was running single-handed an old-fashioned grocery shop in the main street (well, you could almost say the only street) of Pont-en-Royans.

Personally, I've always liked to drag along with me a certain sense of humor, without ever knowing with certainty whether it might or might not be shared by those with whom I happen to be in contact... such as readers of this blog, for example. I consider, rightly or wrongly, that there's no better place for joking than in those modern tabernacles of society that are our supermarkets, both tiny and gigantic. I've considered for ages that the authentic reincarnation of the Vestal Virgins of Antiquity are the supermarket cashiers, particularly those whose smile and words would appear to be made out of plastic. (I'm joking unfairly. I've often been totally infatuated by certain local supermarket cashiers who have appeared to me as Martian nymphs within our consumer society.)

This afternoon, at the small supermarket in St-Jean-en-Royans, my shopping list was short, comprising merely two items: a glass bottle of white wine and a plastic bottle of bleach.

At a financial level, this transaction cost little, and I should have kept my mouth shut instead of wasting the time and intellectual energy of the Martian virgin who served me. But my extrovert behavior was encouraged, I know, by a silly anecdote that has always intrigued me.

The great French TV personality Léon Zitrone once came near to death when he got up in the middle of the night, feeling thirsty during a stay at his daughter's place in the country, and downed a bottle of bleach. This story has marked me indelibly, but in a funny illogically-backwards way. Whenever my daughter drops in at Gamone, I make sure robotically that there's no bleach (or avocados, for that matter) hanging around in the refrigerator...

Be that as it may, I felt mirthful, this afternoon, when I approached the Intermarché virgin with my two bottles.

William (tongue-in-cheekishly): Remind me, please. Which is the one for cleaning my sink?

Supermarket virgin (seriously, indicating the plastic bottle of bleach): This one, Sir.

William (pointing to the bottle of Alsatian wine, and wishing to appear more stupid than ever): So, I shouldn't use this...

Supermarket virgin (realizing that she's confronted by a terrible Alzheimer case): No, Sir, it would be silly to clean your sink with this fine wine.

William (realizing that his joke has backfired): OK, I must be careful.

Fortunately, the woman behind me in the queue burst out laughing. She, at least, would be a potential Facebook friend, or maybe even (who knows?) an Antipodes blog follower.

What we need is some kind of tangible smiley badge that could be worn by old humorists like me when we queue up, to pay, in supermarkets. Instead of identifying my political clan, my social affinities or my ethnicity (as was the case for the disgusting yellow star imposed upon French Jews during the frightful Pétain era), the badge would warn people: This silly old bugger is a dangerous joker.


  1. My father has the same problems. Now he is over 80, so people think that he got Alzheimer. I don't know what they thought when he was younger, but I remember pretty well all these surprised expressions on the faces of the salesmen/women when I accompanied him to the shops.

    It seems that I "inherited" this characteristic. I shall start a study - I think it depends on the shops: my jokes are misunderstood in supermarkets like Intermarché, but they are quite successful in a garage or a bricolage.

  2. Reminds me of my own father. One "Mother's Day" my father and mother went into a newsagent/tobacconist shop. The shopkeeper said to my father "Aren't you going to buy a card for your wife today?"

    My father's response: "She's not my mother"!