We got our first TV in 1954, and I grew up with comedians who, with a look, a scream, a prat-fall or an over-the-edge comedy routine, could have you in stitches. And they did this with no foul language, no defaming minorities and no obscene gestures.
Each of them were classic comedic acts--memorable, unique gems. An expert in their field of vaudeville, movies or television. With their talent, they influenced a nation of young starry-eyed kids.
I can't begin to name them all. My favorites were two red heads--Lucille Ball and Red Skelton. If they were on, I was watching and smiling and wiping tears of mirth. They had a way of poking fun at themselves in such a way we could see ourselves in similar situations. That takes a special talent. And they had it by the barrels-full. Yet they were humble.
I wonder if they knew how many children they were infusing with the love of comedy? Their influence still tends to flow over into my writing. Take a writing prompt our writers' group had one week. "Write about someone taking their driver's license test." Here's what I wrote...
Ethel Feaster wore her best wig and her lucky bingo sweatshirt to take her driver’s test. She even wore her dentures—uppers and lowers—just in case the tester was a man. After all, it never hurt for a woman to make a good impression, even if she was a young sixty-six.
She arrived early at the DMV testing center to wait at the double glass entrance doors. As soon as the attendant unlocked the doors, Ethel barreled in, grabbed him by the arm and yelled, “Quick! Where’s the bathroom? Taking this driver’s test has me off schedule.”
Ten minutes later, Ethel, barely five feet tall and marching with military bearing, exited the men’s restroom, grumbling to the startled, blushing man she’d found in there. “I’m glad we women get to sit down,” she stated. “Standing up to do…well, what you were doing back there… is animalistic.” She shook her head in disgust and took a number to wait her turn.
Within minutes, her number was called. Ethel walked to the eye testing station only to find it was manned by the same gentleman with whom she’d shared the bathroom experience. He rolled his eyes at her approach and then grumbled an oath under his breath. “Place your face against the viewer, please. A little closer. That’s it. Now, you’ll see four road signs. Tell me what each one means, starting with the one at the top and working down.”
“OK. No U-turns. Left lane ends ahead. School crossing. And…ah…road slippery when wet. Kinda like the bathroom floor after you got done.”
“Next screen,” the man growled through clenched teeth. “Read the bottom two lines.”
Squinting, the myopic woman, wearing glasses thick as Coke bottles, slowly read the bottom two lines, “M, Z, O, P, L, D and Made in China.”
Ethel watched with great satisfaction as the eye tester did a double take to check if “Made in China” was truly at the bottom of the screen. She had no clue, but she figured that since most everything was made in China these days, she just might get away with it. As for the letters she’d correctly recited, she’d memorized them from her previous nine attempts at taking the test.
The tester stamped her testing card with more gusto than was needed and jotted his initials in the appropriate box. He pointed to another set of chairs and barked, “Wait there.”
Ethel was extremely pleased with herself. One hurtle down, two more to go. Next was the question part of the exam. A pimply-faced young man sat behind the counter. “Ma’am, usually the driving candidate answers the questions on our touch screen, but it’s out of order today.”
“My, aren’t you the cutest thing.” She cut her eyes to the tester, noting that a red flush was traveling up his neck.
He cleared his throat. “Can you tell me what the different colors in a traffic light mean?”
She squared her shoulders. “Well, red means stop. Green, go,” She glanced at his bobbing head indicating her answers were correct. “And yellow means go like hell to beat the red light.” Ethel flashed him her most innocent smile.
“How far behind the vehicle in front of you should you be?”
Ethel slid her dentures around in her mouth. “Close enough to read the bumper stickers, but far enough away to avoid a lawsuit.” At his shocked expression, she said, “I don’t mean to be impertinent, young man, but I’ve already passed this portion of the test—several times, in fact. When they drug me out of here the last time, kicking and screaming, my lawyer and the Civil Liberties Union said I was being treated unfairly because of my age. That’s why I was so surprised to see that they assigned you to me. Have you been giving management trouble? You know—attitude. You haven’t been coming to work late, have you? Or been texting when you should have been testing?” She leaned closer and whispered conspiratorially, “I hear management around here is kinda sneaky. They might have stuck you with me, so they could fire you when I throw another hellacious senior citizen’s hissy fit.”
His eyes widened for a couple beats. Then he stamped her testing card and initialed it. “Next!”
Finally, Ethel faced the driving portion of the test. The bored police officer led her through the door leading to the driving course area. “Which vehicle is yours, ma’am.”
Ethel pointed. “The red Corvette sitting right over there.”
The officer’s jaw dropped. The front fender was dented sixty ways from Sunday. The hood buckled. The passenger-side mirror hung by a cord. And the rear bumper was held on by silver electrical tape.
Ethel buckled her seatbelt and rummaged through her purse. “Won’t be but a minute, hon. Just need to find my driving glasses.” Like Fred Sandford in the old sit-com “Sandford and Son”, she pulled out pair after pair and laid them on the dash. Red framed glasses, gold frames, lime frames, purple plaid frames, pink polka-dotted frames.
“Ma’am, which pair are you looking for?”
“My lucky turquoise pair with the rhinestone dice in the corners.”
“You’re wearing them.”
“Oh?” She touched the glasses perched on her nose and giggled. “Mercy, I’m just so nervous.” She pulled a .357 magnum out of her bag and laid it across her lap. “It’s just for luck, you understand.” She patted it with affection. “Would you mind if I pray before I turn on the engine?” Before the officer responded, she started, “Oh Lord, please guide my car. You know how it has a mind of its own. Don’t let it jump the curb again. And tamper down the car’s urge to run through shrubbery and hedge. Help me to remember which is the clutch and which is the brake, so I get stopped in time. And be with Horace Jenson, help his broken leg to heal. Why my triple-injected engine car chose to run him down, I’ll never know. And bless my driving instructor, Edna Mae. You know I didn’t mean for her to have a coronary the last time I drove. Now, you know how this demon beast loves to go from zero to eighty in point six seconds. Please, God, control this powerful, speed-crazed engine. Finally, Lord, bless this man beside me.” She opened one eye just a crack to see if he was paying attention.”Please help him to live long enough to collect his retirement…”
Ten minutes later, a smiling Ethel Feaster strode out of the DMV, drivers license in hand.