Truly Maybe the Best from a Year in Grin & Tonic

We at Grin & Tonic decided to celebrate the holidays and the end of 2012 with an Editor’s Pick of some of our favorite pieces of the year. But then we didn’t do it. Why? Or — maybe better: Why not? Better yet: Why are we even telling you what we were going to do and then didn’t do? Betterest: Why are we giving you all these alternative rhetorical questions?

Worst of all: We lied. We didn’t decide to celebrate the holidays and the end of 2012 with an Editor’s Pick of anything. We didn’t even decide not to. We didn’t even decide not to wear a lampshade on our heads on New Year’s Eve, but don’t worry — we didn’t decide to wear a lampshade, either. Then why have we been lying about Editor’s Picks and 2012 and so on? Because, you see, lying in a way is the very essence of humor. None of the 2012 Editor’s Picks you’re about to read (that is true — you are about to read them – but only if you read them)  have a single true assertion in them. Because humor, like fiction, has to do with making things up,  in order to tell another kind of truth. Humor writing isn’t like fiction (another lie) — it is fiction, of a rarefied and caramelized and distilled sort. It’s not just somewhat funny or implicitly amusing  or with a vein of humor, the way serious fiction is or should be — it attempts to be funny in every word and letter but in a way that will leave the reader not only with a smile but also saying, “So true, so true,” of the larger satirical or parodic or lampoon point.
About the first piece, Letters of the Law,” by David Levinson Wilk, what we just said is mainly a lie, in that it is not about some larger truth or insight or epithelial growth factor receptor or anything. But it is all made up. And we are starting with it because it is about letters, which are the primary ingredient not only of all humor writing but of all writing, perhaps most dramatically “Stop” signs. So it seemed like a good place to start. Heh heh.
You are just about to find out, most importantly. at least to me, why I, the main editor of Grin & Tonic, wish my name weren’t Daniel Menaker but Duniel Moenaker, maybe with the “o”: and “e” jammed together, the way you sometimes see them in “amoeba.”

DEREK JETER, shortstop of the New York Yankees, having been called as a witness on behalf of the defense of LIFE OF E’S, after being duly sworn, was examined and testified as follows:
 Q         Mr. Jeter, I am going to ask you a few questions. I’ll ask that you speak clearly and direct your answers to the jury. Understood?
 A         Okay.
         Can you tell the court where you were the evening of December 7th, 2011?
 A         I was at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Brooklyn.
         What was the occasion?
 A         I was with other members of an organization I belong to called Life of E’s.
 Q         Can you explain for the court the exact nature and purpose of this organization?
 A         Life of E’s, to quote our mission statement, is “an exclusive society of thoughtful and committed citizens      invested in the preservation and advancement of the mutual condition of its members.”
 Q         In your own words, Mr. Jeter, what is that mutual condition?
 A         Basically, we’re all famous people who have the letter “e” as the only vowel in our names.

Click here to read the rest of “Letters of the Law”

Our next piece, With Child With Child,” by Hilary Leichter, fits in nicely with the one before, mainly because this is where we’re putting it. I suppose we could say that the first piece has the names of some real people in it, and this one has no names at all, and is about toys, so in a way it’s a 180, and therefore, we can’t think of a way to finish this sentence. Wait! Wait! We just figured the real segue out! They are both about being upset. But, you say, What isn’t? And we say, Lots of things.  Althoug very simple, standard phone chargers costing $25.99 are not among them.

Russian Nesting Doll: So, doctor? Am I…am I, you know?
Doctor: (looks upset) Yes. Yes, you’re pregnant.
Doll:  Oh, that’s just wonderful! That’s just the most wonderful news. What’s wrong?
Doctor: (glances at his chart) Well, there’s more. Would you like to have a seat? 
Doll: I can’t. I can’t sit down.
Doctor: Oh, right. Well, I want you to brace yourself.
Doll: Oh God.
Doctor: I don’t quite know how to say this.
Doll: Oh God.
Doctor: So I’ll just say it. Your baby is pregnant, too.

Click here to read the rest of ” With Child With Child “

 OK, the next piece, Jeremy Blachman’s We Book You Writer,” is not only about human beings with no stethoscopally detectable homunculi, so as to present a stark contrast — is there any other kind, really, if you think about it? — but it is similarly mendacious from start to finish, except that guy whose name is in the byline wrote it. So now we’re really getting into the swing of things. It is a make-believe send-up of vanity book-publishing services as offered by someone whose English appears to show strong influences of Croatian, Swahili, and Nepalese, with a late bloom of Afrikaans, undertones of pidgin, and a Basque finish.

Never thoughted you would right book? Not any more. Here at selfyoupubish.not we take the work from bookwork. If you have idea, we make book happen. You want typed? We do that. Printed? In most cases yes. You know how book has words on two sides of page and computer machine sometimes often only on one? We fix. You know about spaces between words? We do, and that is why we are what you need to help you make book. Maybe you want cover on book? We can. You want two cover on book? We talk. From A to V*, we handle all your book-related need.

Click here to read the rest of “We Book You Writer”

Now, The Macbethicist,” the next highlight, follows from the last because, unlike the scams exposed in it, this one takes off in perfect English from the work of a real writer, William Shakespeare. And it is also by a real writer, Matthew David Brozik. But then everything after the byline is, as usual, made up. (We have worked extremely hard to build these flimsy transitions, so don’t laugh, but please do.) But it may elicit a “So true, so true,” because it sort of gets to the cold, violent, tortured heart of one of the greatest works in our language, or any others or any combinations thereof. (By the way, if you know the works of Shakespeare and have heard in reference to his writing the phrase “folio edition” and don’t know what it means but nevertheless nod your head sagely, as if you do know, join the club.)

The Ethicist is on vacation. This week’s column features advice from the Macbethicist.
I am a vice-president — one of a dozen — of a multinational corporation. Recently, the president’s secretary left a document in the photocopier that was unquestionably intended to be confidential, as it contains information that if known by others would spell the end of his career. While I am not immediately next in line for the presidency — a position I would like to have eventually, to be sure — the removal of the president would move me that much closer to the job. Putting my own ambitions aside for the moment, however, do I have a responsibility to the company, its shareholders, and/or the public to reveal what I know, notwithstanding that I learned it by accident, even if would ruin another person’s career? NAME WITHHELD, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
Before we get to the crux of your question, I have to note my surprise that you managed to become a vice president of a multinational corporation in the first place — unless you are the favorite nephew of someone on the board of directors — because you obviously are unqualified to lead. You suggest that we put aside your own ambitions for a moment. A moment is too long to put aside your own ambitions. Ambition is everything.

Click here to read the rest of “The Macbethicist”

Finally, an epic humor piece, “Enormous, Blonde, Herring-Scented Etc…” which is — surprise! — drawn actually from author Laurie Rosenwald’s life and not so much of a lie. Which means I lied even more back at the top of this piece. The not-really-lying in this case has to do with Swedes and the Swedish way of life and modesty and cheese. The transition here is that Scotland, the setting for the work that gave rise to “The Macbethecist” is not that far away from Sweden. Oh, and the Swedes are very nice, as opposed to the Macbethecist.

There’s been some confusion. These are not the people who drill holes in cheese. They are not a fondue people, nor do they yodel. Their trains are sometimes late, their mountains are unimpressive, and their chocolate is adequate at best. No. These are the people who brought you The Nobel Prize, the Volvo, the smörgåsbord, free day care, suicide, and full frontal nudity. These are the blondes. Enormous blonde herring-scented nauseatingly fair-minded nymphomaniacs in clogs
When I lived in Paris, nobody said, “Paris? Why Paris?” But now they ask, “Sweden? But why?” And I don’t know how to answer. Sometimes I say, “Because nobody in Sweden has anything better to do than chat with me!”

Click here to read the rest of ” Enormous, Blonde, Herring-Scented, Nauseatingly Fair-Minded Nymphomaniacs in Clogs” Part I (and here’s Part II and Part III)

And that’s it. And that’s the truth. And we at Grin & Tonic wish you very Happy New Year, and that’s the truth too.

Daniel Menaker is — honestly — the Editor of Grin & Tonic and the author of A Good Talk: The Story and Skill of Conversation.