I arrived at a decrepit, aging warehouse, in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, on a brilliantly sunny morning. Just inside the entrance was a modern waiting room, filled with lush, hanging ferns and several potted palm trees. I walked up to the counter and was greeted by one of my former roommates. We exchanged brief pleasantries, then he asked why I was visiting the radio station. I said that I had an appointment with the sales manager, Don.
While I was being ushered to my meeting, I remembered that I hadn’t seen Don since he resigned his position, and moved to Fort Collins, Colorado. It seemed strange that Don decided to leave his beloved Colorado home and return to his old position, selling ads for the radio station, again.
My old roommate opened a garage door, pointed to the large storage room ahead, told me that Don was waiting for me and that I should go ahead and disturb him at his duties. As the garage door closed, Don stood up from behind a massive, grey steel desk, greeted me warmly, then invited me to sit down and make myself feel at home.
With a grand, sweeping gesture of his left hand, he drew my attention to stacks upon stacks of variously sized cardboard boxes. Don said that selling advertising had ceased to present much of a challenge to him anymore. He had convinced the company that direct sales of merchandise held more promise for huge profits than radio ads ever could.
Don noticed the look of skepticism on my face, then smiled and walked to one of the stacks of shipping boxes. He picked up two medium sized boxes and placed them onto his large desk. He then pulled out a carton of “Kool” cigarettes and tossed it to me. After I caught it, he brought out a carton of “Kent” cigarettes for himself.
I thanked Don and noticed that, after all these years, he had not switched from his favorite brand of cigarettes. He reminded me that he has always been “loyal to the core”, and intended to promote his brand “to the end”. Don invited me to go ahead and smoke my cigarettes. He told me that it would take a long time to go through our entire cartons, so we needed to begin right away.
Don walked to a lavish fireplace constructed of mountain rocks and stones; removed a burning twig; then lit my first cigarette, and his own.
I had already smoked two of my “Kools”, when I lit the third from the burning twig. The cigarette fell apart and burst into flame. I tossed it into a large ashtray. Don told me not to worry, he handed me another carton of “Kools” and said, “These are fresher.”
I exclaimed, “huh?” Then I opened my eyes.
Lately, I’ve been experiencing extremely lucid dreams. It’s not my place to analyze them. They probably happen strictly for entertainment purposes. I rarely have nightmares. Most of my dreams are simply odd, bizarre, and usually absurd. The strange dream about my former colleague reminded me of the arrival of Absurdity Day.
Why is there an Absurdity Day? Why not? At first, I thought the commemoration had something to do with the insanely absurd “Monty Python Flying Circus” show. However, I could find no connection between November 20th and any of the stars’ birthdays nor the date when the program first aired.
I scanned today’s birthday list, but found few, if any candidates who are renown for their absurdity. There was cartoonist Chester Gould, who drew an often absurd “Dick Tracy” cartoon strip. A male athlete who posed as the female high jumper, Dora Ratjen, competing in the 1936 Olympics, was born on this date in 1918. Today is also the birthday of comedienne, Kaye Ballard and ventriloquist Terry Hall.
Today is also actor Richard Dawson’s birthday. Dawson starred in one of the most absurd television sitcoms, “Hogan’s Heroes”. It’s hard to imagine a more absurd setting for a comedy show than a Nazi prisoner of war camp. Comedian Dick Smothers of “The Smothers Brothers’ Show” fame was born on this date in 1939. The brothers’ humor was often quite bizarre and absurd.
Any or all of the above birthdays might be reason enough for choosing today as the day for Absurdity Day, but I doubt it. I think it was probably a random choice by an anonymous promoter. Maybe today is her or his own birthday.
There is a philosophical view of the absurd that evolved into an offshoot of existentialism, called “absurdism”. It is a school of existentialism, but the main body of existentialism does not necessarily subscribe to absurdist hypotheses. Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre felt that we must live in a world that will forever be hostile or indifferent towards us. Nothing in the Universe will actually, truly care for humanity the way we imagine and want it to do so. To cope, absurdists say, people have created stories and gods which fill in the need to explain why events happen to us.
Camus said we cope with the absurdity of the world and the Universe through revolt or finding ways to act out bizarre scenarios. Many absurdists say that the pursuit of the absurd is one way to fill the void created by living a life with no express purpose for existence. Other existentialists say that even though a purpose of life is not apparent, we still exist. Critics say that this hypothesis is, itself, absurd. The absurdists counter, by saying that line of thinking is exactly their argument.
Friedrich Nietzsche may have started this debate by writing, “In the consciousness of the truth he has perceived, man now sees everywhere, only the awfulness or the absurdity of existence, and loathing seizes him.”
It is the presence of universal absurdity that gives absurd humor its nearly universal appeal. What better way to cope with uncertainty and oddity, than to look it in the face, take it for what it is, then laugh at it? Absurd humor,ironically, makes us feel happier and gives us a twisted sense of hope.
The actor/comedian who most personified the serious and the humorous aspects of the absurd was Robin Williams. His brand of adlibbed, humor gave his audience a supremely absurd means of escape from daily life. The dark side of the absurd, however, overwhelmed the entertainer in the end. We are reminded that at the core of the best comedy, one will find the peculiar, absurd nature of tragedy. I think that a type of Schadenfruede, finding joy in other’s misfortune, is at the heart of our love of the absurd, and ultimately, comedy.
I hope you enjoy a happy absurdity day.