There’s a Zoo in the Basement

Some nights, I still dream about that house on Carter Street, the best of all my childhood homes. Small by today’s standards, it loomed large for me. It had everything a small girl could want. There was a big back yard, good climbing trees, and mimosas bursting with hot pink blooms crawling with fuzzy caterpillars perfect for mini-races down the driveway.

Mama kept the big kitchen warm with the best of her eastern North Carolina cuisine and all the hugs we needed. Daddy worked for Lindale Dairy and brought home so much ice cream we had a separate freezer to store it all. (We were popular with the neighbor kids on hot summer days.)

Lindale products were so good that Hopolong Cassidy himself came to town to advertise for them. Hoppy led a parade down Main Street, riding his white horse, Topper, and wearing his six-shooters. He gave Daddy, a Lindale manager, one of his distinctive black hats. Years later, after I moved to Colorado, I took that hat to a western wear store to have it cleaned and preserved. Word got around until every employee in the place came by to look at it like it was the Shroud of Turin.

As you can imagine, we were all inspired to play cowboys. I wanted to be Dale Evans, and watched “The Roy Rogers Show” whenever I beat my big brother to the Saturday morning test pattern. Otherwise, I was stuck watching “Sergeant Preston of the Yukon.” His dogs weren’t nearly as impressive as Trigger, Fury, or Flicka, much less Dale’s horse, Buttermilk.

But the television was all mine when my brother went outside to play his biggest hero, Tarzan. He, his buddy Dennis, and our cousin, Skip, spent countless hours in the trees and on top of the garage acting out their jungle escapades and crying Tarzan yells that would give Johnny Weissmuller and Carol Burnett pause. I was jealous of the boys only “Tarzan Club,” so promptly started a “Jane Club.” It wasn’t very popular.

Of course, the missing element was animals. You can’t be Tarzan without Cheetah, elephants, lions, and other jungle animals. Who would you summon when you were in trouble, calling out “Ungowa!” at the top of your lungs? When I nagged my brother about that little detail, he told me the Tarzan Club secret. There was a zoo in the basement. And the elevator to the zoo was in his room.

We didn’t even have a basement, but I believed him. Furthermore, I was determined to see that zoo. But there was one small problem. I didn’t know which bump on his plastered bedroom wall was the elevator button, and the club wasn’t talking. I spent weeks pushing as hard as I could on every single spot on that wall. My brother delighted in acting like he had just come through the elevator if he heard me coming into his room.

Hey, I was only three or four. I eventually figured out that the zoo in the basement was as delightfully make-believe as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But I like to think I won out in the end.

I kept Hoppy’s hat.

Freelance writer and educator Jean Sanders Shumaker is a native Tarheel, living under Carolina blue skies and the towering Rocky Mountains.

The Psychology of Humor

On why humor is about power, control and the balance of intellect and emotions

In ancient times, humor or comic was strictly censored. In places like Greece and Egypt, jokes were even forbidden in social situations. Considering the almost taboo nature of humor, it’s hardly surprising that humor never received particular attention from ancient scholars. Plato was averse to humor as jokes and sarcasm were not encouraged and men and women were expected to be serious rather than frivolous about all issues. Some ancient scholars went to the extent to argue that humor could lead to sarcasm, disrespect, vulgar or volatile discourse and finally anger, resentment and even murder.

Despite this there are some interesting anecdotal evidence that humor was used as a means to express wit and learning. Consider French writer Voltaire or even in relatively modem times Oscar Wilde and his extremely witty characters in The Picture of Dorian Gray. These writers used wit and humor to influence people, to stir emotions in their readers and their conversing abilities were fresh and exciting. Humor typically has an element of shock and awe and readers or listeners are shaken beyond their limits of self-control to burst into laughter. Uncontrollable laughter as related to humor was against the strict moral laws of Plato. Even Aristotle seemed to believe in some restrictions on humorous conversation. Humor was suited to a clown in restricted scenarios and serious self-respecting men and women did not engage in buffoonery.

In a way humor is like alcohol or an addictive substance. It makes you lose your self-control. Plato argued that humor can lead to violent reactions and laughter often results in a loss of self-control. Maybe, this perceived danger of humor, the fact that humor can make people a slave to their emotions is one of the reasons why humor has been so tightly controlled and censored by ancient scholars. Moreover the general belief was that humor could lead to jokes about serious issues as people may not be able to draw the line as to where they should stop joking and become serious.

A recent example of humor gone bad is the case of Charlie Hebdo. The magazine has been under repeated attacks as their humorous cartoons on Prophet Muhammad and on the aftermath of Italian earthquake were considered in bad taste and insensitive. The concept of humor has been anthropologically tied to aggressive and mocking behavior of apes. However historically humor has been linked with a type of play so humor is primarily applied to situations that are comic. However, laughter has often been associated with scorn, mockery and sarcasm.

Philosophically, humor has been explained with the superiority theory, the relief and incongruity theory. Superiority theory suggests that humor and ridicule are often used against an adversary as by joking about someone, we establish our superiority. This theory suggests that laughter helps us to establish superiority. The Relief theory suggests that humor is a form of relief of the nervous system and laughter acts as a valve and helps in relieving the pent-up nervous energy.

The relief theory is a popular theory in philosophy and is congruent with the Freudian theory of humor as Freud argued that humor is the release of sexual energy and repressed unconscious thoughts and emotions on hostility and sexuality are often given vent through laughter and jokes. This means that if you feel sexually attracted to someone or feel hostility towards someone, you’ll tend to joke to release some of that pent-up sexual or aggressive tension. Even our laughter at the comic represents some sort of venting of the excess libidinal energy.

One of the most successful theories of humor is the incongruity theory that suggests that humor or laughter is linked to the perception of something incongruous so a humorous act or comment may be outrageous, unexpected or do not fit our mental patterns. This is obviously a more plausible explanation and has supporters such as Kant and Schopenhauer.

Both the relief theory and the incongruity theory can be explained synergistically as when we experience incongruous or completely unexpected events, actions or comments, we go through a state of shock or disbelief and the nervous energy created as a result of this shock or disbelief is released through laughter. So I would suggest both the incongruity theory and the relief theory are relevant in explaining how we perceive humor. However most philosophers and psychologists have explained just one side of the story – the mechanism of perception of humor. There is very little research on why some people are more humorous than others.

Think of the comedian or clown, the witty speaker or author, the jester and the joker. Writers like Voltaire are exemplary for their wit, intellect and their ability to arouse strong emotions in people. I propose a theory of balance of the intellect and emotions and suggest that the witty humorist is capable of masterfully maneuvering his emotions in a way that allows him to express these emotions in a uniquely intelligent manner. I would suggest that humorists seem to have a balanced left-brain and right brain processing. Contrary to Plato’s understanding of humor, I would argue that a humorist is a master of self-control and one who is capable of balancing his emotions and intellect to come up with actions and statements that will have a definite impact on people. The primary intention of the humorist is to create shock and awe and make an impact on the audience through subtle indirect maneuvering of people’s emotions using his own intellect. Humor is about power and control of the humorist as much as it is a release of nervous energy of the audience. A comedian seeks to mesmerize you and control your emotions through his jokes and humor. You, the unsuspecting audience happily give in to the unexpectedness, the shock and awe of it all and stand captivated under the power of the humorist, ready to release your pent-up nervous energy through uncontrolled laughter.

No matter what Plato wrote or thought about the supposed vice of humor, humor is actually like alcohol or drugs, it helps you to lose control and you feel good about it. Humor is also like magic, it captivates you and you are in a state of disbelief and awe. When you laugh, the humorist has this complete control over you and you don’t even realize it. The humorist also releases his own tension through the audience. Plato and Aristotle definitely understood that humor is about losing one’s own power and control over the emotions. What they did not acknowledge however is that humor itself is a tool for power and that the humorist is often an individual of superior intellect, social skills, emotional control and personal power.

Mama Gets in Line

Not long ago, I saw Kevin Spacey do some hilarious impressions on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Spacey mimics the late host of that show, the inimitable Johnny Carson, particularly well. In fact, Spacey pretended to be Carson’s son in his younger (and much less famous) years to gain entrance to exclusive clubs, parties, and shows, “borrowing” tuxedos from prop rooms.

Kevin Spacey had nothing on Mama. She did such good impressions, she could (and did) call up her own mother to mess with her. And she could drop a name on a dime, but only if she realized someone was being pretentious. If she saw an opportunity to befuddle someone just a little too full of themselves, bar the door, Nellie.

Years ago (Mama would be ninety-one if she were still with us here), one of my uncles was at a major university hospital for surgery. I won’t say which one. I might want to visit my home state again someday.) Some of my aunts, an uncle, and Mama went to visit him for the day.

Of course, they got hungry while there, so off they went to the hospital cafeteria. I should say cafeterias. Things were different in those days. There was a separate, nicer dining area for the physicians and surgeons. Mama was having none of that.

Dressed to the nines, Mama and the others got right in line – with the doctors. They chatted about “their patient,” addressed each other appropriately, and dined in high style. All the while, those around them tried to figure out who these interlopers were.

They’d never get away with such pranks today. With tight security, credentials on name badges, locked doors, and carded locks, all good things, a person would find it almost impossible to pull such a prank. Besides, I never see separate dining facilities in hospitals these days.

However, Mama did train me well. When I was the age she was during her doctor escapade, I entertained myself by becoming a mannequin in fine clothing or department stores. You haven’t had fun until you strike such a perfect pose on a store pedestal you can freak out a grown man with a slight wink.

But back in time to the hospital story, Mama and her co-conspirators finished their meals, thoroughly amused with and proud of themselves. As they left the dining area, still calling each other Dr. So-and-So, a real physician whose curiosity finally got the best of him introduced himself and asked them who they were. He handed himself to Mama on a silver platter.

As they all walked confidently away, she turned to him and whispered loudly, “We’re spies from Duke.”

Jean Sanders Shumaker is a freelance writer, editor, educator, victims advocate, and former publications coordinator. A native of North Carolina, she has lived in Colorado for almost twenty years. She is a member of the US Press Association

The Woolly Bear

While out for a neighborhood walk, a woolly bear caterpillar boldly crossed my path. I stopped to look at it. Its body was black on one quarter of the area of the head. The other three-quarters sported a thick brown coat. I remembered that there was something about the coat of a woolly bear that is supposed to give you a clue on the severity of the upcoming winter weather. But, it has been too long since I heard the details.

So, I web searched. I found straight away that this caterpillar is supposed to have black on both of its ends. One wonders if what I saw was an impostor or a freak of nature. Perhaps he would be faster in a race. Some towns still revere the predictive powers of this caterpillar, and honor the insect with an annual festival. But, of course, a festival will not long hold the interest of a crowd unless there is some action in it. Thus, they hold caterpillar races, and they tell stories about the woolly bear, which is actually the larvae stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth. Did you know that these caterpillars are found as far north as the Arctic, where they freeze (enter a cryogenic state). They thaw out in the spring to eat and fatten up before they turn into moths.

Now, I know you don’t want me to leave out the winter weather predictive powers of “Punxsutawney Phil,” the groundhog. You know how he works. He comes out of his den, or gets dragged out, on February 2 (Groundhog Day), where he will or will not see his own shadow. If he sees it, the groundhog scrambles back into his den because he has predicted six more weeks of harsh winter weather. Of course, this is a trick. If the sun is out when he is dragged out, he will see his shadow. No one has said this, but should Phil cast his shadow upon a woolly bear that wears a narrow brown stripe, we should all go hide in his groundhog den because “snowpocalypse” or “snowmageddon” is coming!

I’ve heard weather guys and gals talk on television about the dew point, an occluded front, and the Tor Con, but when weather gets serious, like when a hurricane comes toward the east coast of the USA, they switch the talk to computer-generated models. Most of them hedge their bets on either the American or the European computer model. So, are we to believe that computers more accurately predict our pending winter weather and that our weather analysts merely read computer-generated data? What happened to the woolly bear? Have meteorologists lost confidence in its winter severity prediction power? I think not. My theory is that every one of those weather experts has one and they consult with their woolly bear before they tell us what the computer said!

The Cinderella Drama Comedy

During our childhood while we were at school, we had cultural shows where singing, dancing, drama and speech were performed by the school students. Among many such programs that took place in that school, one drama actually speaks out to me at the moment and gives me the belly-aching laugh. Read on to find out what it was about.

It was a Cinderella Drama that actually turned out to be a comedy. The person who directed that drama seemed to have focused on rehearsing her students only on the dialogues and conversations which were well performed by them.

But what about the get-ups of the performers? Well, that was poor. While Cinderella was a little beautiful girl, she did not wear anything fancy at the ball party nor did she were heeled shoes but home slippers and her slipper wouldn’t come off her foot when she was running away past midnight from the ball party. She rubbed it against the floor for more than one attempt and finally it gave away and she ran away from the scene.

That horrible missing slipper was found by the prince, who was actually a girl, dressed up as a boy and didn’t look like a boy. She held it up feeling ashamed to show it to the audience but nevertheless acted her part.

More flaws in the drama were that Cinderella’s step sisters were poorly dressed too at the ball party and neither her step sisters nor their mom looked evil.

In the end, a fairy tale drama turned out to be a comedy drama and everyone had hearty laughs at each scene and the acts of the performers. Since it could give so much entertainment to the audience it was not altogether a flop and the audience roared with bigger laughter and merriment and clapped happily as the drama ended.

Recreation like this is needed for school students. The programs don’t have to be fully perfect as this example story shows. They need to be organized in schools so that students can participate and enjoy being onlookers from the audience, share laughs and in the process free their minds. They don’t need any special skills but if teachers would take a little effort to make their students rehearse a bit and prepare for cultural programs like the one I mentioned here, students have a lot to benefit and be happy for a full day, which will be a wonderful memory for them to carry with for a lifetime. That is why organizing cultural programs on the part of a school is that significant.

Rosina S Khan has authored this article, highlighting about a comedy drama from her experience and the reason why cultural programs should be organized in schools.

Satiric Verses in Sanskrit Language

According to the Oxford Dictionary the meaning of the word Satire is, “The use of humor, irony, exaggeration or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

We know very well that Benjamin Franklin was the first to bring out cartoons to criticize the social happenings constructively. But in literature very few such poems or verses are available in most of the languages.

But in Sanskrit literature we find hundreds of satiric verses in the great works of poets for the past many centuries.

Take the case of son-in-law. Here is a verse!

More oft than not he’s crooked-true And ever and anon adverse too; In Virgin’s house he always stands And austere worship ever demands, Friends! What should be this object Pshaw! A planet tenth, the son-in-law (Sanskrit verse translated by Dr Velluri Subba Rao).

In the above verse the virgin’s house has two meanings. One is the house of the Virgin whom the son-in-law marries. The second meaning is the Virgin’s house indicates the Virgo of the Zodiac. And rightly the son-in-law is called as the tenth planet. Everybody normally fearfully worship the nine planets namely Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu and Kethu. Now we have to fearfully respect the tenth planet also, the son-in-law.

The poet drives his point in a satire manner here.

We have one whole work of the great poet Nilakantha Dikshita titled KaliVidambana containing 100 satiric verses in Sanskrit.

Nilakantha Dikshita lived in the seventeenth century. He was the son of Narayana Dikshitha and grandson of Accan Dikshita II, brother of the well-known poet Appaya Dikshita. He moved to the temple city Madurai and the great king Thirumalai Nayaka was attracted to him. He was the Prime Minister to this great king. He was a prolific writer. As many as eighteen works are known to have been composed by him.

In Kalividambana we may enjoy the satiric verses on various social characters in the family and outside, as well as quacks, doctors, poetasters, astrologers etc.

Adverting to the astrologers Nilakantha says that they are very clever in interpreting or forecasting things. If a man asks about the sex of the future child, the astrologer should reply that a son would be born: for a lady, the reply should be in favor of a daughter. This is the clue for the astrologer’s success.

If one asks about one’s span of life, the reply should be that one would live for long. By such a reply, those who are alive will naturally be pleased. Even if the person concerned dies, there is no harm because those who are dead will never ask the astrologer as to why prediction went wrong.

Regarding the creditors, he says that even the God of death waits for the time of death to demand the life of persons; but there is no time-limit whatever for the creditor to demand back the debt owed to him.

Coming to poets, with a slight dig at the indiscriminate descriptions of poets, he says that in their descriptions even blind men become lotus-eyed, misers become Kalpa trees (wish full-filling trees) and even cowards become Vikramadidtyas (the king Vikramaditya is considered to be the greatest Heroic King in Indian history).

It is indeed a great pleasure to read all the hundred verses of Nilakantha. Once we come through such verses we will know that the satire is not new to Indian literature. It is as old as that of Sanskrit language.

Nagarajan has written more than 3000 articles in Tamil in 18 magazines and published 52 books. He is revealing Eastern Secret Wisdom through T.V. Programmes, magazine articles, seminars, courses. He has covered various subjects in his wide range of articles which include Mantras, Yantras, Yoga, Meditation, Astrology, Astronomy, Space Science, Science and Spirituality, Hollywood cinema, Women’s progress, Aura, Significance of Colors, Reincarnation, Divine Geometry, Power of Prayer etc. As an ardent seeker of Truth, he has collected scientific experiments on mantras, mind, Auto suggestion etc. He has written many articles on para psychology also.

Well Done, Senor!

The city bus was not overcrowded, but most of the seats were occupied. So I had to take a seat meant for senior citizens on the front left side of the bus. An elderly lady was occupying the window seat alongside me. To add to my peace of mind two seats meant for the senior citizens and differently abled persons were still empty. So there was no immediate danger of losing the seat.

After the first stop one senior citizen boarded the bus, and to my surprise instead of taking the empty seat ahead came straight to me mumbling something. I pointed to the seat on the front rows indicating that he might as well occupy it. The elderly gentleman did not budge and muttered something again. I thought I heard the word ‘madam’ and so surmised that the lady on the window seat was known to him and that he wanted to give her company for the ride. Without much of a protesting mind I obliged him, and to my luck one of the seats on the last rows just got empty. Instinctively I kept on watching the senior citizen as I sat down on my new address. More surprise was in store.

Instead of sitting down he again mumbled something to the elderly lady, and the lady got up too. I was really confused now. What was he up to? The elderly woman moved somewhat stiffly towards the seats on the right side of the bus meant for ladies only. I immediately turned my focus to those seats, and found that one seat there was empty. As the senior citizen finally sat down satiated on the window seat everything, suddenly, was revealed to me. I laughed out inside me and I was not able to prevent the amusement infecting my facial contours.

It was a compact plan. While he was boarding the senior citizen took in the scenario inside completely and accordingly made his calculated moves. He disposed of me first which was not at all against the law, and then he eliminated the lady too which was also quite logical. His target was plain and simple-to have a comfortable ride occupying the window seat. Let it be on trains or planes or cars or buses the craze for the window seats goes on unabated. From childhood days we always fight for that and when we win we get overjoyed. No harm done, basically!

Well done, Senor! Keep it up!

Chinmay Chakravarty is a professional creatively engaged in writing. He has a special liking to see people happy and smiling always. So he has devoted a sizeable chunk of his writing time to humor pieces based mostly on daily life and observations.