Howard Jaffe

Return to Workshop Writers' Space

 
 
Come Saturday Morning
 
My wife Joyce and I have a Saturday morning tradition involving eggs, bagels, frothy coffee and two different crossword puzzles.   This ritual is totally dependent upon The New York Times’ blessed practice of delivering vital sections of the Sunday paper with the Saturday edition.
 
Usually, I wake up first and check to see if the paper has been delivered.  If it’s not at our apartment door, the doorman will likely be standing by the intercom, prepared to tell me that, best case, it’s in the lobby or, worst case, it has not arrived.  
 
Even then here’s no need to panic.  Joyce cherishes the opportunity to sleep a little later on weekends and 99% of the time the paper shows up by the time we’re ready to sit down.
 
Mealtime depends on my response to Joyce’s first question upon awakening.   “Ready for breakfast?” she asks.  The significance of this question, and of our ritual, is that Saturday is the only day of the week when we not only eat breakfast at the same time, but also eat the same breakfast.  Other days, we each do our own thing on our own schedule. 
 
If I have not already done my morning exercises, I tell Joyce I’ll I need a little time and she says to give her a five-minute warning.  Then, when I’m good to go, the eggs come out and Joyce get’s cracking. 
 
Usually it’s scrambled eggs, sometimes a veggie omelet or possibly a nice frittata.  While Joyce is scrambling or frittating, I begin to peel a banana and she clears her throat, reminding me that Saturday is for sharing.  So I offer up the banana and she takes a token bite to make her point.  
 
We both limit ourselves to half a toasted bagel with our eggs and generally have a variety to choose from.  Joyce asks, “What kind do you want?” and I say, “Surprise me.”  It’s an oral tradition.
 
Most other days I drink tea at breakfast, but on Saturday we both have coffee that we fluff up with our handy little frother.  Joyce brings her cup to the table when she sits down to eat.  I leave my mug in the kitchen until I’m done with my eggs.  Then I go back and froth.  
 
My role in all of this, lest you think I don’t pull my own weight, is to set the table with the requisite utensils, napkins, Splenda packets (less weight to pull) and, of course, The Times.
 
The Book Review and Magazine go at Joyce’s place.  I claim the Saturday paper and set the other Sunday sections aside.   As we’re eating, Joyce reads the reviews and I peruse the slim Saturday sections, each of us eager to move onto the main event, the puzzles.  Joyce does Sunday, I do Saturday.  
 
We grunt, moan and then “aha!” when a light bulb goes off.  On occasion, if Joyce is stymied by a clue that refers to a 1930s songwriter, she’ll allow me to suggest a solution.   Or I might ask her to give me a hint when I can’t remember the name of the title character in one of our favorite TV series.  
 
There are also times when we both reach the limits of endurance and ask for assistance with the last couple of boxes.  Then our weekly ritual concludes as a joint effort, reflecting the nature and success of our relationship.  A marriage built on love, trust, respect, humor, shared interests and compatible tastes.  
 
With never a cross word.
 
 
 
 
 
 
When I was in college, I sent a letter home to my father in which the only written content was this question: “What did Kareem Abdul-Jabber get in his eye at a Hawaiian barbecue?”
 
If you know the history of one of basketball’s greatest players you should get the answer easily.  Kareem, of course, was originally Lew Alcindor and I’m sure it took less than a nanosecond for my father to transpose that fact into the obvious reply, “A luau cinder!”
 
Dad, after all, was an inveterate punster who, as a lyricist, made a living playing with words.  One song was actually full of riddles based on puns:
 
How does it feel ridin’ on a trolley, ridin’ ‘round to get some air?  How does it feel ridin’ on a trolley?  Fare, fare, fare!
 
In a little ditty called “I Never Harmed An Onion (So Why Should They Make Me Cry?”) the offenses against various items of produce include making an “arti-choke” and a melon bawl.
 
The side effect of these linguistic shenanigans is that my father became to his sons what the Pillsbury Doughboy is to aspiring bakers: a creative Roll Model.  It is not surprising, therefore, that my collegiate correspondence included the aforementioned groaner.  And when I say that punning is in my genes it doesn’t mean I carry a thesaurus in my Levi’s.
 
My sister remembers my father, brother and I salting our nightly dinner conversation with a competitive pun-off.  It seems that the unfortunate trait is more prevalent in males.  While females have two X chromosomes, guys get our words from the Y’s.
 
Thus afflicted, I have tried throughout my life to cope with adversity and make the most of it.
 
My high school classmates thought I was oh-so-clever when I wrote a story for the school newspaper about a boy on a quest, seeking wisdom from an oracle named The Ventricle.
 
Early in my career, writing for children’s television shows, I got away with jokes that made kids giggle and adults gag.  For example, a character known as Professor Fingleheimer would ask questions like, “How far is Little Rock, Arkansas, from Pebble Beach, California?”  (A stone’s throw.)  Or, “Where do mailmen go when they retire?” (Their old stamping grounds.)
 
Not exactly Emmy-winning material, but what’s a boy to do when he gets rewarded for trying to emulate his greatest literary influences.  No movie quote is more memorable to me than Groucho Marx’s response to his secretary in Horse Feathers:
 
SECRETARY
The Dean is furious.  He’s waxing wroth.
 
GROUCHO
Is Roth out there, too?  Tell Roth to wax the Dean for a while.
 
Similarly, no line of poetry made more of an impression in my formative years than the footnote that Ogden Nash appended to his classic work, “The Lama.”  To clarify the poem’s closing line, “…there isn’t any three-l lama,” Nash explains, “The author’s attention has been called to a type of conflagration known as a three-alarmer.”
 
Memories like these are my curse and inspiration, afflicting me with a Tourette-like habit that I can neither control nor condone, so ingrained and instinctive that I keep a list of pun-infested questions which I foolishly imagine might someday be dropped into a conversation.
 
Who does Art Garfunkel see to have his vision checked?  (Paul’s Eyeman)
 
What do they serve at the annual breakfast for Oscar losers?  (Bruised Eggos)
 
What was the title of Oliver Twist’s autobiography?  (“Gruel and Unusual Punishment”)
 
Somebody stop me!  If this is humor, waterboarding is a spring shower.  Yet I continue to torture my family and friends, ignoring grimaces and groans, not knowing when to stop or, worse, knowing but not stopping.
 
The really sad part is, I fear this punitive gene has not done my son Mark the favor of skipping a generation.  For better or worse, he’s got the calling, humoring me on family occasions while telepathically amusing a grandfather he knows only by reputation.
 
For enduring this confession, I share with you the words expressed by a tailor in New Delhi when approached by a tourist who had just ripped the beautiful new garment draping her body.  “You fix?” she asked ungrammatically.  “Yes, memsahib,” he replied mockingly, “I sew sari.”
 
And that’s what we call, in the field of semantic elastics, a stretch.