I started thinking about one in particular the other day, and it hit with such perfect Zen-like precision that it lifted me up out of a temporary sinkhole of blues I had blundered into: a helium balloon, laughing gas joke.
It may surprise some who are reading this when I say that none of the ones Sgt. Venters sent me were Islamaphobic, misogynistic, or in any way offensive to anyone, though I’m sure this had a lot more to Sgt. Venters’s essential decency as a human being – he was one of the very best people I have ever been privileged to know – that it did with the general tone of "humor in uniform" at the time.
For instance – this was back when I had returned home from Iraq – I saw a news story in The Washington Post that began something like this: “The U.S. Navy’s Mediterranean Command announced today that PXs on their installations will no longer be allowed to sell t-shirts bearing images of mosque domes being blown up by bombs over the words “MOSQUE BUSTERS,” figures on camels in the crosshairs of weapons, the words
WHO’S YOUR BAGHDADDY NOW?, “KICK HIS ASS AND TAKE HIS GAS”. or similar images and slogans According to the Navy announcement, ‘Over the past three years personnel wearing these and similar shirts have reportedly caused resentment at ports of call such as Aden, Alexandria, Egypt and Istanbul’, etc., etc.
Sometimes truth is far funnier than fiction. “….reportedly caused resentment….” [emphasis mine]? And it took the Big Brains of our admiralty three blessed years to figure that out?
You couldn't invent this stuff if you tried.
But getting back to Venter’s missive. It was a copying machine copy of a drawing of a ragged terrier mutt, with one eye closed and other obvious damage here and there on his body. The print read:
$100 REWARD FOR SAFE RETURN OF SMALL GREY DOG. NO LEFT EAR, BLIND IN RIGHT EYE, LIMPS, HALF OF TAIL MISSING, FRONT TEETH GONE –
ANSWERS TO NAME OF “LUCKY.”
I don’t know why, but that strikes me as hilariously funny these days, in a cosmic kind of way, a summing up of the human predicament; not only in my case, but of just about everyone I know. But it beats the alternative, as they say. Like the old teahouse fable of the condemned man marching to the scaffold, who smelled the lamb kebabs sizzling on a vendor’s pushcart, slowed his steps and asked his guards, “Would you give me just a moment?”
The guards took in the scene, nodded and smiled; they worked for the executioners, but they were not bad men. The prisoner turned his face toward the pungent delectable smoke, and took a deep breath as the guards did the same.
They smiled at each other. The prisoner thanked them, and they nodded in acknowledgment; then they led him up the steps to the waiting noose.