At some magical moment in my childhood, my best friend Jamie informed me that 32 was a funny number.
The origin of this absurdity was nothing out of the ordinary for us as we lived to find the funny in everything. As Jamie recently reminded me, we arrived at the idea that 32 was funny independently. Then we found out later that we were not alone, as the number had a pedigree of sorts with one of the great writers of Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.
Copyright Dick Van Dyke Show Episode 18 - Season One- "The Curious Thing About Woman"
Jamie sent me this description from Wikipedia further explaining…
In the 1996 videoCaesar's Writers, former writers for Sid Caesar'sYour Show of Showsdiscuss a skit in which Imogene Coca places a bet on a roulette wheel. The writers tried out several numbers before deciding "thirty-two" was the funniest number.
Neil Simon, one of the writers, went on to writeLaughter on the 23rd Floor, based on his experiences writing for Caesar. He claimed the23in the play's title was a transposition of32.
Carl Reiner created the Dick Van Dyke Show based on his experiences as a writer for "Your Show of Shows." In a first season episode, "The Curious Thing About Women," Morey Amsterdam's character, Buddy, explains that a package in a comedy skit they are writing should contain 32 pounds of hair, rather than 15, because "32 has always been a funnier number. I hear 32, I get hysterical!"
We had our own way to bring the funny in 32 to life. In Junior High School during Mrs. Shapiro’s class, when the minute hand would click to 32, the entire class would crack up at once, much to her bewilderment. To us it was the funniest thing and like clockwork, we never tired of doing this each day.
L Roy (Larry) and James
Our friend Larry, at his summer acting school, put on a production called “32 is a Funny Number” and composed a theme song by the same name which he remembers, and his son Jonah can sing. The ditty goes something like…
32 is a funny number
we don't really know why
32 is a laugh a minute
laugh so hard you will cry.
Watch for the Broadway musical sometime in the future. (Say in 32 years).
I can recall sitting in class and a teacher would be reviewing the math assignment and as we learned that we had to do the problems at the end of chapter 32, we cracked up. It was as if 32 had a life force. Over the years, Jamie, Larry and I have exchanged all sorts of examples when the number would randomly make its appearance and we knew our number was up as we couldn’t contain our laughter.
Hawaiian Version of Thirty two
I know it is sophomoric but it filled our school days with joy and continues through today.
Mom sent me a photo of her stuffed cabbage - She made 32
Our childhood was filled with our search for things to laugh at or to develop into inside jokes. These rituals like our secret handshakes would somehow create a bond that has lasted close to 50 years. We memorized the serial number of our favorite bowling bowl and for years would repeat it. Jamie, having the superior memory, will remember it precisely. All I recall is IXW7741. I’m sure I got the number wrong, but it’s the sentiment that counts. As I type this blog post, I am laughing that we had a favorite bowling ball, but wondering why our favorite one didn't have a 32 in the serial number?
I love 32
Jamie has always been naturally funny in an ironic sort of way. Never mean spirited, his humor was crisp and targeted to deliver just the right zing. Perhaps my favorite Jamie zinger was when we were wandering the halls during high school without the required hall pass.
Along came the hall monitor (Senor Hall) who in an officious voice said, “Can I help you boys”? Jamie turned to the teacher, and replied, “No thanks we’re just looking”.
Our search for humor and laughter traveled beyond the boundaries of Springfield, New Jersey where Jamie’s parents and my mom still live. For several summers we went to sleep away camp at CampWinadu. This Haven for Boys nestled in the heart of the Berkshires in Pittsfield, Massachusetts was our summer playground. We were not natural born trouble makers but we seemed to find ourselves embroiled in things that in hindsight are only explained by our need to find a good laugh.
Next to shooting mashed potatoes off of the venetian blinds at the Tavern Restaurant when I was very young is the salami incident from summer camp. This story is so stuffed with memories that it brings tears of laughter to my eyes to share it.
Camp WInadu - A Haven for Boys
It was a typical camp evening in the Berkshires and my Timex revealed it was about 10:00 P.M. We were all in our bunk telling stories about the Salad Monster and tales of Willie Mays visit to Camp Winadu in the 1950’s. The OD (Officer on Duty) was prowling about to protect us from whatever lurked around a boys summer camp in the mid 1960’s. In hindsight, this counselor was probably a 17 year old kid whose job was to bring his flashlight into the bunk and scare us into going to sleep.
I can’t recall where the idea came from but I like to think that we jointly deserved credit and blame. We were hungry and remembered that we had a little kosher salami- I think they are called chubs and it was probably a gift that Jamie’s father Sam sent. I always suspected that Sam was the inspiration for Jamie’s unconventional humor as he still has an impish look about him and he always calls me Jeppers. I have always loved that we call him Sam and not Mr. Farber.
Salami from Sam
We determined that we should grill the salami and warm it. Obviously we would need a fire. Well, that was easy since we had a garbage can, paper and matches. But what could we use to sauté the salami?
Sweep the floor, saute the salami
The Dustpan Cometh…
I would like to give Jamie credit for this part since he is the engineering and technical wizard. Jamie is an independent audio engineer for great Jazz artists from musician like Brad Mehldhau, Wynton Marsalis, Eliane Elias and even mainstream artists like James Taylor. Jamie (or James as everyone calls him today) could take apart of 8-track tape deck and turn it into a DVD player with MacGyver-like ability.
So Mr Engineer determined that the bunk’s dustpan would work perfectly over our makeshift oven (aka trash can with fire). I like to think that this was one of my earliest cooking experiences and perhaps the root of my passion for fine cuisine. I guess heating the salami would bring out its true flavor.
I think we started the fire inside the bunk and fortunately the rest of the details from 45 years ago have faded away and gone up in smoke.
Light my fire
We were successful at heating up the salami and indeed the counselor never caught us. It’s a miracle we didn’t get kicked out of camp for almost burning down Bunk C. I would be lying if I said we disinfected or washed the dustpan. I don’t remember but I do recall that we didn’t get sick and end up in the infirmary with Old Doc Folb.
Many years later when Jamie got married, I knew what I had to give him and his bride as a wedding present. So I carefully wrapped up a dustpan, a box of matches and salami and presented it to him and his wife Varya. I think it is my favorite gift that I have ever given to anyone.
Knobs of Joy
These mushroom button-like knobs were on my bunk bed when I was a child
One of our standing gags became a regular occurrence when Jamie would steal the little wooden knob off of my bunk bed. My mother would occasionally ask, ‘what happen to those bunk bed thingies’? The next day I would find the bunk bed thingies in my school locker.
When childhood ended and I went off to college, the bunk beds disappeared but my mom was wise enough to save the knobs. Over the years Jamie and I would continue to exchange them back and forth. It was as if by passing these knobs back and forth, it allowed us to stay connected and to create an opportunity for laughter.
Celebrating the millennium
When I turned 40, Jamie mailed me a knob with the number 40 painted on it. When Jamie turned 50 several years ago, I couldn’t resist painting the number 50 on them and giving it to him on his 50th birthday. His response, why not 32?
Clearly the number 32, the bunk bed knob and even the dustpan story all connect together into a childhood rich with adventures and humor. We have our parents to thank for giving us the space to play and be a little crazy and to find our own way in the world. I know we pushed the limits quite a few times but generally speaking we were good kids having some harmless fun. It was the 60’s and we just didn’t like authority figures telling us what to do and we were always trying to channel Frank Zappa to decide WWFD? (What Would Frank Do?)
Mom's 1966 Gold Oldsmobile Toronado
Another example of our youthful exuberance occurred at age 17. My folks decided to go out of town for the weekend. They said have a good time and be responsible but whatever you do don’t take Mom’s gold Oldsmobile Toronado down the shore. I guess I heard blah blah blah take Mom’s gold Toronado down the shore.
Jeff and Larry waiting for Julian
As you can see, here we are in front of Julian’s Auto Body Shop as the gold Toronado started steaming up as we hit The Garden State Parkway. Through my teenage ears, all I heard was blah, blah, blah gold toronado and JerseyShore.
Jamie and I don't get to see each other often since Jamie lives in New York City and I am in Raleigh. But when we see each other or exchange emails, we are both instantly transported back to those days and memories. I’ll get a random email from Jamie reminding me of some prank we pulled at Howie Fleischman Bar Mitzvah that evolved into one of our catch phrases or he will remind me of the Miller twins- Holly and Sharon and Bonnie and Connie. (We had two sets of Miller twins in high school).
I like to think that I still have a lot of the same childlike playfulness in my life today. Humor is sustenance and helps me keep me centered. I don’t know how I would survive without it. Jamie has always been there to make sure I never get a swell head or take life to seriously and to remind me of that 12 year old Jeff.
About four months ago, I sent Jamie an email that had my work signature and title. I am the Global Director of Marketing for a company that makes wine corks. I am quite proud of my title. Jamie sent me a note and informed me that he recently broke his globe and since I was in charge of all things global, could I get him a new one?
I know it is 4th grade humor but I love it. I was tempted to send him 32 globes.