Wednesday, January 26, 2011


In high school I used to hang out with a guy who thought he was quite the comedian.  Let's call him Lenny.  We took turns doing what Ashton Kutcher would later term "punking" one another for our own amusement and the entertainment of those around us.  What the nuns would have referred to as "acting the fool."  I was reminded of one of his stunts after posting the previous article.

Lenny and his co-conspirators stood clumped in the hallway when I arrived.  Their furtive glances and subdued chortles piqued my interest so I took the bait.

"What's up?"

"Oh, man!  We just heard about Tony's brother!"

"What about him?"  I should add that Tony was a jock.  Varsity football, wrestled, thought of himself as an all around tough guy.

"We heard his older brother has been taking ballet lessons! Can you believe it?  "Super stud's brother in a tutu! We've been giving him grief about it all morning."

After a few minutes of chuckling over the rumored sissy-link to Tony I decided to join in the tormenting. I walked over to his locker and smirked, "Hey, man!  How's your brother's ballet lessons going?"

Tony turned with tears in his eyes and his lower lip trembling as he choked out the words, "My brother lost both his legs in Vietnam."

I stood gaping, caught between my sophomoric effort to embarrass him and the enormity of the tragedy that clearly was breaking his heart.  The best I could manage was, "Uh.... mmm...uuuuh" as all the smart-assery melted away and I edged closer to tears myself. Lenny's shrieks of laughter were the first clue that I'd been had.  Tony soon joined in and I knew I'd been set up as the whole hallway showed their appreciation for my discomfort with chuckles and jeers.

"Good one, guys.   Ha,ha, very funny.  Eat me!"

I never forgot that feeling of realizing I had violated a solemn taboo in search of a cheap laugh.  Last Friday, after publishing my entry about the unrest in Tirana I got the same feeling.  Three of the protesters had been shot dead and many more had been injured, both protesters and police.  My jokes didn't seem so clever any more.  Unlike the high school prank, there's no laughter from the crowd, only the grief for wasted lives and the dread of worse to come. 

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