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In gloomy times, let's try to find a sense of humor

By BILL MAXWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 7, 2002


I got out of bed on the Fourth, went online and read some rather heavy editorials and columns about the holiday, about the country itself and about patriotism. Some of the writing, especially in the conservative newspapers, was downright scary.

I got out of bed on the Fourth, went online and read some rather heavy editorials and columns about the holiday, about the country itself and about patriotism. Some of the writing, especially in the conservative newspapers, was downright scary.

Then, I read several articles in several newspapers. They also had an excessive solemnity. In fact, some were despairing. Reading on, I realized what was bothering me. Something was missing in all of these pieces.

Just to make sure I was not overreacting, I read letters to the editor in the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune. I consider letters to the editor to be one of the best barometers of the American mood.

These missives affirmed what I had sensed was missing in all that I had read: that universally famous American sense of humor -- the wholesome ability to laugh at and with ourselves when times are bad.

Even the usual lineup of editorial and op-ed cartoons lacked humor on the Fourth.

Then and there, I decided that I would not add to the gloom but instead offer some humor during this season of gloomy patriotism. As luck would have it, someone at Andrews McMeel Publishing in Kansas City had mailed me a copy of the book 1,003 Great Things About America, from which I offer a handful of excerpts.

This little volume is clearly an attempt to give Americans a collection of quotable gems to help us lighten up following the tragic events of Sept. 11.

Okay, a few of the 1,003 great things about America:

Frank Lloyd Wright buildings always look modern.

Hawaii is like a foreign country that uses our money.

Our judges don't wear silly wigs.

"The thing that impresses me most about America is the way parents obey their children." -- Edward, Duke of Windsor

Tattoo parlors are now legal in most states.

We have candy shaped like Life Savers and vitamins shaped like Rugrats.

Our religious leaders get into the most interesting sex scandals.

You can always find a star willing to humiliate him or herself singing the national anthem at the World Series.

Ivory soap is so pure it floats, although no one knows why that's such a great thing.

Every Southern state is convinced it makes the best barbecue.

"Eighty percent of married men cheat in America. The rest cheat in Europe." -- Jackie Mason

American grandmas aren't ashamed to wear tennis skirts to the mall.

Everyone, from all races, creeds, and genders, is free to try to get out of jury duty.

When Americans hear about a new healthy food, they eat so much of it that they get sick.

A survey of international travel writers says America has the best toilets in the world.

There's something strangely beautiful about a vast parking lot filled with yellow school buses.

"Half of the American people never read a newspaper. Half never voted for president. One hopes it is the same half." -- Gore Vidal

"The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has." -- Will Rogers

Botox and laser peels during lunchtime.

Only country to have a mascot with the word "bald" in it.

Younger that most European countries, so there is less history to learn.

"Californians are a race of people; they are not merely inhabitants of a state." -- O. Henry

During President Reagan's tenure, the White House bought 12 tons of jelly beans.

We proudly elect people like Jesse Ventura to high office.

Divorce ceremonies and divorce parties are catching on.

"If I were asked . . . to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of (the Americans) ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: to the superiority of their women." -- Alexis Tocqueville

Call her what you will, but Tammy Faye Bakker is an American icon.

We are the world's leading exporter of junk food.

Every American president with a beard has been Republican.

There is a generational nobility in having been a part of a failed dot-com.

Obviously, 1,003 Great Things About America is a tongue-in-cheek collection, intended to help us laugh as the first anniversary of Sept. 11 fast approaches. As for me, I am already girding myself against the inevitable outpouring of dolorous emotion. Most major newspapers will publish special sections and inserts to recognize the tragedy.

These efforts will be well-intentioned, meant to help us share our grief and pain. But let us not forget the other part of our character that makes us great -- that helps endure catastrophe and move on as a nation: our unique American sense of humor.

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