Tuesday, June 3, 2008


As my wife so magnanimously pointed out to me, Bill Murray is ONE of the great comedic actors of all time. His timing, facial expressions and his natural and relaxed persona make him one of the greats. But let's not forget Tom Hanks, Christopher Guest, and of course Michael Keaton. I've seen Mr. Mom like 500 times and I never tire of it. I'm reminded of another actor who is often overlooked when discussing comedy, Dustin Hoffman. His straight man style is as good as any I've seen. His performance in Tootsie went far beyond the make-up. Of course Bill Murray played a great little part in that film as well. Oh...Gene Wilder, another fantastic straight man.

One of my proudest moments as a father was when my oldest son explained the purpose of the straight man when he was about 8 years old, "He makes the other guy funnier by not being funny and that's harder to do."
I mean, we could go all the way back to Abbot and Costello but, Alan Alda, Carol O'Connor, BOB NEWHART, these are some big shoes you're trying to fill. Then there are those who had little time to show their full potential. John Belushi was fantastic in The Blues Brothers, among ther things, and Phil Hartman was just beginning to break out of the SNL personas into a real actor. John Candy is another who could bring the house down with his comedic sensibility.

What pain comedy comes from. I wonder if you just have to really suffer to understand joy and appreciate it fully. Or maybe the pain is just so pervasive that the only escape is comedy. It's important to have a release, a respite from the weariness of competing for survival. I think children have the natural ability to move from reality to fantasy without hassle but we insist on imposing reality on them for fear that they won't be able to handle it when it is thrust upon them later in life. I think we need to learn from them and be simple when we can and THAT will ground us for when life throws a curve and we're forced to face reality. I think we've become so distrustful of ourselves that we try to anticipate every sucker punch out there. But that kind of preparation is both exausting and impossible. I hope I can be more simple and see things flat on without trying to figure out the angles. It wears me out to put up the guard every time there's a decision to be made or a challenge to confront, to try to head off grief at the pass. I guess if I just take it on the chin once in a while I'd probably relax knowing that it just isn't as bad as I made it out to be. I just can't spend my life trying not to make a mistake. I'll never try anything if I approach it like that. Boy, we're a messy lot, we humans. How simple on the surface and yet so prone to confusion and self-destruction. Be good to yourself. Easier said than done but oh so sublime when done simply. Eat a meal slowly, sit in the shade for an hour, do nothing and receive something from it.

One day, last year I was hiking on the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff. I couldn't find a good subject for a photo so I just sat on a rock for a couple of minutes waiting for inspiration. It proved very fruitful as I remembered my trusty pocket-knife, the "Timinski". I bought the Timinski for a camping trip when I was in my early twenties. It's a black Swiss Army knife, the Camper. I named it for my late uncle Timmy Timinski, who gave me my first pocket knife. It was his old scout knife. I threw that knife into every tree in my path, taking great joy when it stuck, until it finally shed its scales and lost itself amidst the rest of my childhood. I remember my uncle's keen interest in my having the things a boy should have, a knife, a slingshot, an uncle. I remember him whenever I use that knife and I call it by name for that sole purpose. On that day on the mountain, intent on using the Timinski and perpetuating the honor of my uncle, I walked a few steps and found a dead aspen trunk. I pulled it from its rotting place in the ground and began to clean and shave it to become a walking stck. I don't use a walking stick often but I began to understand in that hour of cleaning and carving that the memories of that moment were being breathed into that small dead tree and that I would have it to remind me of who I was in that moment. I finished by carving the date on the stick, in hopes of remembering. I see myself reflected in that stick now. I see who I am when I'm alone on a mountain, hidden among the trees and rocks and soil, holding my knife and my stick. I like that person, a lot. I like how calm and sensitive that person is. I like how accepting and careful he is.
I like how simple he is.

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