It is really strange that, thanks to the circumstances of my life, I have become so disconnected from the world, living in my head and in one corner of the Internet (the book publishing part), that I heard the news of the Newtown School Shooting only 12-13 hours later. My friend Ralph lives hardly 30 miles from Newtown, and as soon as I heard it, I sent him an email expressing my sorrow.
I am not mainly a humor writer; some of my writings tend to be described as funny (and I admit they sometimes make me laugh), but often as a result of the wackiness of the world we live in: a Vice-Presidential candidate telling the world that she can see Russia from her backyard; “heroes” who kill innocents with smart bombs and drones; and a country in which a large population thinks that the right to buy assault weapons to protect itself from marauding deer and moose is not a clear sign of insanity.
I am also a father. All my children were born in the United States; I was present at the birth of all three. When they went to school, I often dropped them there and picked them up, especially when they were in Kindergarten and Grade I. With my first son, then 3, in the child seat, I remember bicycling to the Montessori school in Melville, NY, to drop him off. (What delightful days.)
Those were the best days of our lives: of me and my family, with all my three children in the same elementary school that was just a two-minute walk from my home. The Play-doh, the library visits, the meetings with the teacher, teaching them to bicycle, visits to the park and IHOP . . .
The tragedy of Newtown is especially heartbreaking to me when I look at the photographs of those terrified children who survived, and observe that many of them look like they could have been my children’s classmates and playmates.
For a while, a tragedy like this stops you. And then, you carry on, doing whatever it is your normally do, or must do. The Onion, luckily, goes on (an amazing response, really). Bill Maher’s and Jon Stewart’s shows must go on. (Laughter is therapeutic; the more insane a society, the greater the need for it.) And so must my writing, which sometimes tries to find some meaning in a mad mad world, and other times does not even try, sometimes just playing the games I need to play so as to survive–but in a few cases, challenging the Establishment and the way things are. Bill Maher and Jon Stewart can afford to retire and be assured of very comfortable lives; I cannot afford the luxury of retiring even for a week. That was why I (unaware of the shootings) happened to be promoting one of my humorous books in spurts for nearly 12 hours until after the shooting. I dislike the promotion, I would rather leave the promotion to others and spend my time writing–much of my writing, especially the works in progress, have a social purpose, but I need a publishing advance or a sufficient level of book sales to make that possible.
I read this somewhere, and am inclined to believe it: that many humorists and comedians had tragic personal lives. The comedy in a few of my books is balanced by the more passionate and serious (though occasionally funny) tone of books such as “Father, Rebel, Dreamer” and “The Killing of an Author.” Perhaps laughter and tragedy are two sides of the same coin; there can’t be one without the other.
If there is a bright side to this, if there could be, then I can think of only one: an energized Obama, supported by a large majority of public opinion, takes this tragedy as his mandate to ban assault rifles and all firearms except the most harmless hunting guns, and also makes a more humane society out of America: one that sends 80 percent of its prison population home and abolishes the death penalty. Because you can’t have one part of your society being inhumane, and expect the rest to be untouched by the brutality that is everywhere.
(Which is why you may have noticed that no animals or human beings are physically harmed in the making of my books.) Here’s the Onion link, which is amazingly saner than the rest of the coverage: http://www.theonion.com/articles/fuck-everything-nation-reports,30743/