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The Fellow Who Forgot Not to Laugh

He is a throwback, a character. The boundaries of modern discourse--so cautious, so polite--cannot contain him. He tells rude jokes. He pokes fun at people. He warbles odes to beer and alimony and Lorena Bobbitt. He laughs loudly in public places.

His name is Ron DeLacy. He works by day as a journalist, roaming the Mother Lode for the Modesto Bee. He files conventional news stories about fires and high crime, and less conventional pieces about Gold Country rogues and strange disputes over barking dogs, swallowed gold pieces and the like. “My forte has always been the bizarre,” he says, “and up here, this is the Mother Lode of the bizarre.”

At night he sings in a two-man bluegrass band, Doodoo Wah, and dreams of “the big time.” He and his partner, Dave Cavanagh, perform at taverns and festivals all over the foothills. DeLacy writes most of the songs, mainly satirical bluegrass pieces. “We’re All Working for the Japanese” was his biggest success so far. Ray Stevens recorded it, and before the Toyota dealers mounted a protest it had reached No. 62 on the country charts. Other Doodoo Wah titles include “Since My Baby Turned Gay,” described in the liner notes as “a love song, no really,” and “B.A.R.F Construction (We Throw It Up)” and “The Men’s Crisis Center,” and so forth.

Political correctness is not high on DeLacy’s list of concerns. “Basically,” he says, “I believe in freedom of speech. I mean, it’s only words. I mean, it’s funny stuff. I mean. . . .”

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DeLacy wears a droopy mustache and tank-top T-shirts. He doesn’t own a tie and has written that the only people who should are “lawyers and pallbearers. Lawyers serving as pallbearers,” he adds, “should have to wear two.” Fifty years old, he looks a bit like a middle-aged Mark Twain. His writing also is reminiscent of Twain and the Gold Rush tradition of yarn-telling. He delivers his newspaper accounts with a sly, deadpan style.

Here, for example, is DeLacy describing, in a Metro page piece, a bit of judicial business that later would inspire a song: “A defense attorney said Wednesday he will appeal his client’s conviction, charging among other things that the prosecutor disrupted the four-week trial by repeatedly passing gas. ‘It was disgusting,’ said Clark Head, a Calaveras County lawyer. . . .”

And here he is, in a personal column, on the vagaries of snow chain installation: “It is impossible to install tire chains without using foul language. The foulest language you know is never foul enough. As you botch the job and grow cold, wet and frustrated, you reach down in the gutter of your soul, into a reservoir of vulgarity accessible only during the installation of tire chains, and you brew and spew verbal hazardous waste. . . . When they don’t do any good, you get up and kick the car.”

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And covering the news: “Forest Service special agents fed $6.7 million worth of marijuana through the Fibreboard Corp.'s steam boiler here Thursday. As a crowd of 6,000 people looked on, the boiler belched thick plumes of brilliant psychedelic oranges and reds and then forgot what it was doing, lost its ambition, shut down completely, and demanded peanut butter and potato chips.”

He insists his editors love him, and he loves them. And so forth.

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DeLacy lives in a double-wide trailer with a wife who laughs lovingly at his jokes, a daughter who is queen of the local rodeo, and a son who has fiddled for change on the streets of Gold Rush towns since he was 4. It’s not a simple life, though, for this retro renaissance man. DeLacy’s nights often are spent in rustic taverns, soaking up tales from strangers about vanished bikers with glass eyes and secret new gold diggings and amazing animal encounters. DeLacy laughs, barking like a seal, at every offering.

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In a quieter moment, he talks about humor, what makes it work, its curative powers. He wonders why some people will tolerate newspapers filled daily with murder and mayhem, but condemn as tasteless a little ditty about a lawyer breaking wind in court. He says those who take offense at his songs--feminists, gay activists, hardhats, dyslexia sufferers, lawyers, dentists and so forth--don’t grasp that the true target of his parody is the singer himself, lamenting in a forlorn and bewildered twang how the world has left him behind.

He picks up a guitar and runs through his latest. “Where’ja put it, Lorena, where’ja put it? Where is it, Lorena. I miss it, Lorena. Lorena won’t you puleeezzzeeee look around.” The ballad bounces down from his porch to a valley below, followed soon after by a loud, barking laugh. DeLacy anyway thinks it’s funny.


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