My Aunt Joan nonchalantly revealed to her family near the very end of her 83-year-old life that she had a stand-up routine she was always working on.
Over dinner, Joan would do a little set piece—she had one about how weird it was that everyone seemed to die “surrounded by their loving families,” as if the dying person had invited them all to hurry over and watch ’em die—and then she’d say in exactly the matter-of-fact way that Joan Rivers or Phyllis Diller might, “That’s part of my stand-up.”
I don’t think she ever intended to deliver a stand-up set, even at the nursing home. But that didn’t seem to matter a bit. Kind of like my buddy Eddie Reardon who said he wrote poems in his head but couldn’t be bothered to do the administrative drudge work of writing them down. “Some of them are pretty good,” Eddie claimed.
Anyway, I thought of Aunt Joan and her private stand-up routine one day in the middle of a run, when someone texted me about some medical news a common friend was awaiting. “My fingers are crossed,” he wrote.
And I thought, is that the best we spiritual landlubbers can do?
I mean, whether you believe in the stuff or not, our religious friends are placing a direct call on a person’s behalf to the Being who they believe to be the Creator and Master of the Universe. That is not nothing.
Our more new age-y friends also set out to do something pretty epic when they say they’re “sending good thoughts.” That’s more than tossing a paper airplane, especially if they’re sending the thoughts from, say, New York to Los Angeles—against the jet stream!
Of course, we evidence-addicts want good fortune for friends in need as desperately as our church-going, incense-burning chums.
But we sure don’t show it. “My fingers are crossed”?
Think of that.
The expression we use to describe the minimum effort a human being can make is “lifting a finger.”
And the thing is, the person who says they’re crossing their fingers aren’t even crossing their fingers! It’s just an expression! They literally won’t lift a finger to wish you good luck. Sneer at “thoughts and prayers” all you like. But that beats what you’re doing!
And if we’re just going to be issuing empty expressions, why can’t we make a bigger commitment than crossing our fingers? “I’ll be doing jumping jacks the whole time you’re in surgery” or “While you’re taking the bar exam, I’m going to eat 20 hot dogs!”
Well, Aunt Joan, your former fellow comic Jerry Seinfeld said in his classic interview about how to write a joke that the last line has to be the funniest. That’s why he took years to write a dumb joke about Pop Tarts.
I don’t have two years to spend on this.
But Aunt Joan, wherever you are (if you are), you don’t have such time limits, and I bet your stand-up is getting tight. Anyway, this one’s yours if you can use it in your act.