WEST HOLLYWOOD—My daughter’s third-grade class in West Hollywood got handed the assignment of interviewing a V.I.P. Well, her mother was busy sleeping, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was smoking a cigar lit by I.O.U.s. As it turned out, I was available, vulnerably so. Now, the interviewee—moi—soon discovered, the kiddies had been plied with questions genetically designed to make someone feel old.
How old are you?
The encore to this embarrassing question was another, sure to plunge one into nostalgia about how fresh the air was and how cheap postage used to be: How did the world change since you were a child?
After two questions like this in a row, I started feeling old and decrepit, so I determined to make my own interview with questions that I wish my daughter had asked.
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You are a very wise man with a deep humanity and surpassing wit, what advice would you leave for future generations?
Now that’s a good question. Not in the sense that we need to Google it or look it up in the dictionary, but I mean, good, well I hope you know what I mean. What was the question?
You are a very wise man with a deep humanity and surpassing wit, not to mention a saintly character ready to help stranded motorists at the drop of a hat, preferably a Borsalino, what advice would you leave for future generations?
Here’s my advice: Stand straight and don’t laugh at your own jokes.
Why not laugh at your own jokes?
Why it’s funnier if you don’t laugh. People get to have the pleasure of discovering the humor for themselves. Humor lies in discovery
What are your earliest memories?
Sorry to say it wasn’t Mom. There was a time for about six weeks in the early ”˜60s when formula was the thing. Not being breastfed likely left me, and a generation of late Boomers, a legacy of insecurity issues”¦
Earliest memory, not mammary! Gosh I think you need a hearing aid.
One of my first memories occurred while riding as a toddler on Highway 17, an incongruity of autobahn that zig and zags through the Santa Cruz Mountains. At the summit of highway 17 was a Greyhound bus, stopped by the side of the road, in front of it, to one side, were the remnants of a VW Beetle, crushed like a rotten mango. There was something innately funny about the juxtaposition of the whale and the Beetle. I knew it, but couldn’t articulate my worldview, being only 3 years old. Dad, harried by the drive, didn’t have time to see the joke, and mom was almost constitutionally unable to get the joke. She often requires a rational explanation, which invariably kills humor. Let me give you an example. There’s Dick Cavett’s gem about the Chinese-German restaurant. “You know I went to a German-Chinese restaurant last night. The food was great, but half an hour later I was hungry for power.” I hadn’t told this in 15 years, and figured the hiatus would have added some funny bone between her ears. Mom still doesn’t get it. She’s like, “Could you please explain what that means that to me?”
You’ve often said that it’s important to learn something new every day. What have you learned recently?
That “expresso” is really spelled with an ”˜s.’ That endlessly fascinates me how it can be spelled for decades with an s, and it totally escaped me. In my mind it was an ”˜x,’ while it is really an ”˜s.’ Espresso. It’s flabbergasting; I feel as if there’s been a conspiracy of the spelling league and somebody changed it on me.
What is your secret to living a long, happy life?
Take care of the little things, and the big things will take care of themselves. I’d much rather deal with Salma Hayek than Kirstie Alley, put it that way.
What’s the strangest place you’ve ever composed a column?
To be perfectly honest”¦
I’d expect nothing less”¦
While on the john. That’s a comfortable place, relaxing and conducive to great creativity.
What’s your idea of heaven?
Being on the john and the sound of rain pattering on the roof.