Crescent Heights Boulevard Elementary School, circa 1940s

When former TV talk show host, Dick Cavett, who was nominated for 10 Emmys and won three, began blogging for the New York Times, it was a boon for me. I was and still am an ardent admirer. I remember Cavett’s excitement in the first year, as having been out of the limelight for a while, he was brimming with great ideas.

Within a month, however, he admitted the creative flood had slowed considerably. And seemingly a month later, he was at, “What the hell am I going to write about now?” I could empathize and was heartened by his admission.

In 2006, when I first started “Laughing Matters,” a friend innocently asked how long did I anticipate doing these columns. I actually hadn’t given it any thought. “Fifty-two weeks?” I blurted out, thinking a year was a lofty goal. It’s been 12 years and over six hundred straight weeks, which may sound impressive, except I’m still learning on the job.

In almost all of these weekly “get-togethers,” I’ve tried to at least be amusing. Judging from some caustic “fan mail,” however, my humor hasn’t always resonated with everyone. (Was it Lincoln who said, “You can make some of the people laugh all of the time,” or was it Jerry Seinfeld?)

One of these slightly less than endearing emails featured in the subject line, “Whatever clowns said you’re funny were a bunch of idiots!” While I think he overdid it a bit with both “clowns” and “idiots,” at least he said, “bunch.”

Leaving aside whether I am or am not funny, the origin (or as Trump would say, “oranges”) of wanting to be funny goes back more decades than I care to admit. It marked the very first time I told a joke, albeit inadvertently, and got such a huge laugh from my young classmates it was an unexpected thrill I remember to this day. But one, as you’ll see, that came with a price.

For context, I was seven and in the third grade at Crescent Heights Boulevard Elementary School, which I loved attending. I just discovered they’re now a premier magnet school with a special focus: Social Justice. Good on them!

For today’s tale, I should note it was during the Cold War, which figures prominently. On the day in question, at about 10 a.m. in an otherwise normal school day, a huge blast coming from a sonic boom of a jet breaking the sound barrier shook the room. Our teacher, Miss Mahoney, was convinced the Russians were bombing us.

I tried to explain it was just a sonic boom but she frantically ordered the kids to get under their desks and cover their heads (“duck and cover,” as if that was going to stop a nuclear bomb.) She then yelled at me to close the windows and lower the Venetian blinds.

In response to her well-meaning but frantic behavior, in almost sotto voce, I uttered, “Miss Mahoney, when was the last time you saw the head doctor?” The class broke up so uproariously. It was a thrill for me that something I had said caused such joy. (For everyone other than Miss Mahoney, that is.)

Maybe the kids reacted so as to release the tension they were feeling huddled under their desks. Whatever the reason, within a minute, Miss Mahoney seemed to realize she had overreacted and instructed the class to return to their seats.

After school, as I walked home the four blocks to my house, I didn’t have a care in the world. That is, until I made the last turn toward home and … saw my father’s car in the driveway. At 3:30 pm.! (Not good.)

The moment I walked in, my father, in no uncertain terms, informed me we were going right back to school. Apparently, Miss Mahoney had told our principal, a personal friend of my mom, the PTA president, and she called my mom who called my dad.

I knew I had done wrong, but on the ride to school, I at least tried to explain how erratic Miss Mahoney had been. That only made my father angrier. There was clearly no 1st Amendment in the backseat of our Pontiac.

Minutes later, in the principal’s office, Miss Mahoney, hanky in hand, was wiping her tears over something that happened six hours ago. Give me a break. I nonetheless apologized and, lucky for me, that was that.

The thrill of the class laughing at my immature joke stays with me to this day. That said, I definitely learned a lesson. That brings me to the present and the occasional mean-spirited and often racist emails I receive from angry readers. I’ve learned a lesson there, too, though. I’ve learned to hit delete.

To see Dick Cavett’s New York Times writing, go to

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1 Comment

  1. A old adage is applicable here: Nothing ventured, nothing gained. After only six years compared with your fifteen years, I will feel as if I’m In a drought, but suddenly I’ll be flooded with fresh ideas. You’ve stuck with it for more than twice as long. You and Cavett ventured…and look what has been gained: floods of new ideas.

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