When you contemplate the taxes you're paying, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Definitions: The pessimist says, “Things can't get any worse.” The optimist says, "Yes they can."
This starts off my first annual joke column: I offer it as a public service as taxpayers painfully file their returns, and a tender mercy after my streak of about 100 serious columns. But Woody Allen's riffs on death are all soberly nervous: "It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens. . . . I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear. . . . I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying." So the jokes I'll tell must have a point as well.
For example, when I think of the disjunction between evidence of God's power and our reactions to it, this story comes to mind: A grandmother is watching her only grandchild playing on the beach. A huge wave comes and yanks him out to sea. She pleads, "Please God, save my grandson." Immediately a big wave comes and washes the boy back onto the beach, unharmed. But the grandma looks up to heaven and says angrily, "He had a hat!"
We so much like being the center of attention that we don't realize our foolishness. Example: Three women are bragging about how much their sons love them. The first says, "My son bought me a new car." The second says, "My son bought me a new house." The third says, "That's nothing, my son every week goes into a room, lies down on a couch, and talks only about ME."
Our illusions often make us like a man who complains to a psychiatrist that he can never get a girlfriend. The psychiatrist says, "No wonder! You smell awful!" The man said, "That's right. I work in the circus cleaning up the elephants' droppings. No matter how much I wash, the stink sticks to me." The psychiatrist reasonably answers, "So quit your job and get another one." To which the man of course responds, "Are you crazy? And get out of show business?"
And thinking of our pridefulness: What about the man who thinks his wife is losing her hearing? A doctor suggests that he try a simple at-home test: Stand behind her, ask her a question from different distances, and see when she can hear it. The man goes home, sees his wife in the kitchen facing the stove, and asks from the door, "What's for dinner tonight?" No answer. Ten feet behind her, he repeats, "What's for dinner tonight?" Still no answer. Finally, right behind her he says, "What's for dinner tonight?" His wife turns around and says, "For the third time—chicken."