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Work of Art - And what’s so funny?

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By Art Trujillo

What’s so funny? John Adams, a long-time member of the Highlands University English Department, often asked me that between classes at Mortimer Hall.

Unlike several other members of the Humanities faculty of yesteryear, Adams was an 8-to-5-er. If not in class, he was in his office. Therefore, he heard every giggle and chuckle that emanated from my journalism and speech classes down the hall.

His question was honest: What’s so funny? But before parsing the question, let me explain that in my experience, asking “What’s so funny?” is often a prelude to a fight, or at least to a disagreement. I believe my English colleague was sincere; he wanted to be privy to whatever ribald humor emanated from my classroom.

I’d invariably make up some Dallas Cowboy joke; he’d chuckle, and we’d go on. Now, before you accuse me of having wasted countless taxpayer dollars, let me explain that indeed I incorporated humor into my lecture-discussions, but not that much. Some people, I’m convinced, believe that learning takes place only with students’ heads buried in a book and in a silent room. I beg to differ.

But please believe me when I say I welcomed humor. And when a colleague other than Adams asked, “Why were your students laughing?” I’d ask, “Why not?”

Does the venue dictate the decorum? For example, when I was a student at Immaculate Conception School, our homeroom teacher, Sister Mary Non Fonaso, didn’t care for any levity in class, and certainly not in church. The church, we were told, was a holy place, not a laughitorium. But isn’t it part of the human condition to feel the urge to laugh precisely at the wrong time?

Trying to suppress laughter is painful, and the punch line to that joke we heard earlier on the playground suddenly comes clear — at the worst possible moment.

Prepping us for our confession, our homeroom teacher announced, “You must never listen to another’s confession, and no matter what the person has confessed, if you knowingly listen in, your sin will be even greater.” She added, “If you have to, make a little noise to distract yourself from listening.”

I.C. Church, then located on the spot of the former Allsup’s, at Grand, Fifth and University, was a drafty old building, a century old before the last brick went into place. It was raining that day, and my dog, Hannah, followed me to church and sneaked in when another penitent entered.

Soaking wet while trying to expel our cocker spaniel, I got in line to some glares from others who pointed to my head, indicating I’d forgotten to remove my cap.

Just then, we all heard the priest, ensconced in the confessional box, utter, “You did what?” Naturally a number of us in line wondered who was the Mary Magdalene whose confession must have been a whopper.

My “deflection” mode then kicked in: Remember, we were told not to listen to others’ secrets. Accordingly, I started to tap my feet while humming some nonsense tune. That drew more icy stares. I believe their irritation stemmed not from my noise making but from my preventing others from catching every word the woman spoke.

Well, that attempt to prevent others in my church from committing egregious sins of eavesdropping didn’t win me any friends. I learned that the place and occasion for reverence and/or silence matters a great deal.

I wonder if our teacher’s admonitions about looking for levity in all the wrong places primed us for later occasions such as our eighth-grade graduation, when a high-ranking church official, a Msgr. Bradley of the Santa Fe diocese spoke to our class.

He tried several tacks: He even cracked up as he described having “dipped little Peggy’s pigtails into the inkwell.” Our reaction: silence. He tried other ways to get some reaction out of us, and it was much later in his speech, after we all scanned one another to observe our reactions that we realized that on this occasion, a bit of humor wouldn’t hurt.

Even in church.

• • •

Do Sunday mornings with family make people giddy? Before church Sunday, I prepared, as is my habit, a quesadilla, slapping a piece of ham and slivers of cheese between two corn tortillas.

It was cooked perfectly, and I looked forward to the feast while I left the kitchen only long enough to collect the newspaper. When I returned, I noticed an almost perfect half-circle missing from my breakfast. It reminded me of those Reese’s patties advertised around Halloween, which show marks left by vampire teeth.

I knew our house cats aren’t into tortillas and cheese, and the dogs were outside anyway. What, then, or who was the culprit? My wife denied any involvement and gave me her patented I-think-you’re-losing-it look.

A forensic dentist might be able to sink his teeth into this issue by measuring and determining that my jaw is much larger than the cut-out part of the breakfast concoction. I then asked my son and daughter-in-law, who’d joined us for breakfast.

Connie explained that the answer must have lain with the factory worker at the Bueno corn tortilla plant. “There was a flaw in the machinery that made the missing half circle, and the worker was courteous enough to match the two tortillas together,” she said.

Still not convinced, I asked Diego, who explained that the missing piece was created courtesy of someone with a “slightly smaller jaw who wanted to make sure it wasn’t poisoned. She cares about you (and the quesadilla) very much,” Diego said.

Well, breakfast was a bit skimpier Sunday. But isn’t it great that there are people around who show so much concern for others?

I used that ruse on my own kids 35 years ago: “Daddy just wanted to make sure your cinnamon toast wasn’t poisoned.”

They thanked me until they grew older and wised up.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net.