Sunday, June 17, 2012

You’re never too old to get your feelings hurt

Carolyn J. Rose

Over the years I’ve developed a fairly thick skin. Things that once sent me racing to my room in a flood of tears now rankle for a few minutes and merit a philosophical shrug instead of a 14-tissue pity party.

At 5, not being invited to a birthday party was the end of the world. At 15, being dumped by the boy of my (misguided) dreams was emotional Armageddon. At 25, knowing my mother-in-law from my first marriage didn’t care for me was more insult than injury. At 35, disastrous dating experiences were revised from lamentable to laughable within a few hours after the events. At 45, taking unjustified heat from a boss made me disappointed (in said boss) rather than distressed. At 55, rejections slips piling up from agents and editors made me more determined than dismayed.

But, a few months short of 65, I found myself in a snit over the tone of a letter from the government, a letter I received because I was honest and proactive, because I acknowledged ownership of a debt before it came due and arranged to make payments.

You’d think those are qualities that would be recognized and reinforced. You’d think there would be the words “thank you” somewhere among the bold type and bullet points in the letter.

But those words weren’t there.

Not that I could see.

Unless it was in teeny tiny type.

Anyway, here’s what happened. To my surprise and delight, sales of my e-books have been brisk—not fantastic, but brisk enough that I will exceed the earnings limit set by Social Security and have to pay money back next year. Wanting to avoid getting a bill and having to work out a payment plan, I went to the nearest Social Security office and explained the situation, making a point to tell the very helpful man behind the counter that my monthly income was unpredictable and I wanted to set a total for the year higher than I anticipated in order to cover my financial butt and pay homage to optimism and possibility.

VHM did the math and arranged for my next few Social Security payments to be withheld in order to balance my unexpected income. I thanked him and went home, feeling proud of my forward thinking.

A few days later, the letter arrived. “We paid you more than we should have,” it said. “You owe us,” it said. “We must withhold your benefits,” it said. “If you disagree,” it said, “you have the right to appeal.”

Disagree? Appeal?

This was my idea. Did they think I changed my mind? Did they think I’m suffering from short-term memory loss?

I was still ranting when Mike came home. Pulling up a chair, he listened to me vent, keeping a straight face until I concluded with, “I should get a letter thanking me for stepping up.”

At that he stood, adopted his “poor baby” expression, and patted me on the head.

“It’s a bureaucracy,” he said. “They don’t have a letter like that.”

Well, maybe they should.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I'm soooo not laughing !!!

I like to think I have a sense of humor about myself. After all, as a tubby kid growing up in small-town Oregon, I had to learn to use humor to deflect the constant ribbing (bullying in today’s context) heaped on me by my classmates.

My 42-`year profession as an on-air radio personality involved a lot of poking holes in the balloons of the pretentious and (inadvertently) ridiculous. Movies like Waiting for Guffman and the original The Producers leave me gasping for breath, tears of hilarity streaming down my cheeks and into my mouth.

That’s why I found myself wondering why, while sitting through 6 episodes of Vancouveria, Brighton West’s spoof of life in “the Couv,” I could only produce a few wry smiles and a possible chuckle. (This last is in the process of being verified by the National Board of Giggles and Guffaws.)

Was my humor gland malfunctioning,? Did I need to find a donor for a future transplant?

Here’s the primary reason Vancouveria  wasn’t funny. While Portlandia, the spoof of Stumptown, takes the quirks of its downtown hipper-than-thou crowd and exaggerates them for fun and profit, there’s still a tone of fondness in the humor. Sure, some of the people depicted are absurd and hopelessly woo-woo. But there’s still a sense that what they’re doing is motivated by noble intentions cranked up to 11 on the 10-point humor amplifier.  Sure, they insist on eating free-range chicken that has 50 square miles to roam, but still, free range chicken is a life-affirming concept, right? Allergy awareness parade? Sensitivity gone mad, but even if absurd, still, kind of benevolent.  

Compared to Portlandia’s nudge-nudge wink-wink approach, Vancouveria is, in a hyphenated word, mean-spirited.  The people who live across the river from an “enlightened” Portland are hyper-patriotic borderline bigots who fuel their families on a steady diet of Big Macs and “Bloomin’ Onions”.  They delight in the right-wing propaganda generated by the likes of Lars Larson, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. There is nothing to see and nothing to do in Vancouver. We all drive gas-guzzling SUVs and revel in spewing poisonous exhaust fumes.

Portlandia comes across as local folks poking fun at themselves. We’re laughing with them. Vancouveria feels like a Portland hipster (West?) scolding the sullen masses who dare to oppose plans to build an iconic bridge across the Columbia and foot their fair share of someone’s high-concept vision.

Vancouveria feels mean-spirited and snide. At no point do you sense fondness for its subject matter. I could have overlooked this if one important criteria had been met. It needed to be funny and, with the exception of a few moments, it wasn’t. The jokes were badly crafted,  the punch lines half baked, and the situations reeked of cheap-shot cologne.

Vancouver is still fair game for satire and even ridicule. But simply basing a skit on ugly stereotypes that are, for the most part, not true, aren’t the material of belly laughs.