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The Middle Ages: It’s the little laughs, at silly things, that help us hang in there

Threads of hope: Strawberries big as baseballs. Then there’s baseball itself.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

“Life must go on; I forget just why,” to borrow from American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay.

I’ve never been much for melancholy, so we’re stumbling along as best we can, looking for the little laughs we covet like rainbows.

We hug a lot more than ever, even the dogs, who seem taken by surprise at our sudden neediness. The wolf, in particular, isn’t used to a lot of hugging. When I wrap my arms around her, kiss her on her freckled snout, assure her that life will go on, she looks at me as if I’ve been drinking, which might be the case, might not.

“The old guy … he seems to have gone off the deep end,” the wolf mutters to the 300-pound beagle.

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“He was never really right to begin with,” the big beagle assures her.

To be sure, she is the nicest wolf I have ever met, and we need each other right now, a month after her owner — my first son — died in a terrible freeway crash.

This is a difficult time, and I’m not exactly made of iron to begin with. I bob and weave my way through a typical day, a little fogged, hoping to stay out of the path of trains, buses and mopeds.

“What else is new?” you ask, and I see your point.

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You have to understand, life was never that good around here to begin with. We’ve always been a bunch of Irish hillbillies. Posh accused us the other day of watering down the hand soap, in that way mothers have of indicting an entire household with one simple swipe.

Who could resist such an opening? Most grown-ups have no patience with frivolous things, yet I collect them like prom photos.

I told my wife that her hunch was indeed correct. I confessed that every night around 2 a.m. I tiptoe into the kitchen to water down the hand soap so no one will catch me. I do it incrementally, so that she can’t be certain the hand soap was watered down, she’d just secretly suspect something was amiss.

These 2 a.m. waterings never happened, of course, but I got a lot of silly mileage out of it.

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“Hey, has anyone watered down the hand soap today?” I now bellow to the kids, and they always laugh a little. Then I scold them for not taking the alleged thinning of their mother’s hand soap seriously enough.

I have always been attracted to silly wordplay … old episodes of ‘Cheers’ and cheesy lines from stupid movies.

Dad jokes are the best jokes — we all know that. They are frequently mentioned in a pejorative sense, but I have always been attracted to silly wordplay … old episodes of “Cheers” and cheesy lines from stupid movies.

“The time has come for someone to put his foot down. And that foot is me.” (Dean Wormer, in “Animal House.”)

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So when dad jokes were identified as their own genre of lowbrow humor, I jumped aboard.

I tell dad jokes in the car pool on the way to school. Only one of the three passengers ever laughs, and he’s a seventh-grader. The other two passengers, both ninth-graders, never even crack a smile. That only encourages me.

“Wow, my head is really achy today,” I told them recently.

“Why?”

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“I got hit in the head with a can of Coke,” I explained.

“Ouch,” the seventh-grader said in sympathy.

“Fortunately, it was a soft drink,” I told them.

Some jokes I make up myself; others I steal from websites or a friend who apparently is some sort of dad-joke savant.

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“What did the elephant say to the naked man?” he asked the other day.

“What?”

“You breathe through that thing?”

That is a world-class dad joke, though a little risqué for the kids’ car pool. Despite beliefs to the contrary, I do edit myself, and show restraint on occasion. Lord knows I would never want to lose the car pool gig, my only regular public appearance.

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I did share the elephant joke with the little guy individually, and he immediately told it to one of his sisters (Rapunzel), who didn’t laugh, but she sneezed, which is close enough. Then she laughed and sneezed again. Laughing and sneezing are sort of cousins, apparently.

See, there are all sorts of reason for a reckless optimism. The farmers market strawberries seem plumper than ever this spring — big as baseballs — and the other day the mighty Dodgers actually scored a few runs.

Baseball is in the air, always Christopher’s favorite season. Like wolves, baseball provides unconditional love. “I like the roar of the mustard,” he’d say. “And the smell of the crowd.”

We’ll be out to the stadium a lot this year, celebrating him every inning we can. He always considered the old ballyard to be his favorite cathedral. I think it was all that organ music, like church hymns, that soothed his soul.

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Somehow it will soothe ours too.

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books

What: Chris Erskine is making two appearances at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: a signing for his new book, “Daditude,” a collection of his favorite Times columns, which will be released April 17, and a panel discussion with Times colleagues Patt Morrison and Steve Padilla, titled “The Newspaper & The City.”

When: 12:30 p.m. for the signing, and 2 p.m. for the panel discussion, both on April 22.

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Where: USC campus

Cost: Free, but seating is limited for the panel. Advance tickets are available for a $2 service charge.

Info: events.latimes.com/festivalofbooks

Chris.Erskine@latimes.com

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Twitter: @erskinetimes


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