“Why does your face look like that?”–My Father’s Humor, Part I


On January 22, 2012, my family received the phone call.  My dentist-historian-comedian father had died, age 91.  He died just four hours after we’d visited his hospital bedside, four hours after Mom, sister Irene, and I sang folk songs to him with the guitar, four hours after my mother held his hand and spoke softly into his keenly intelligent and very sad brown eyes.

My parents were married for 67 years.  And now his humor lives behind my eardrum, whispering into my inner ear lest I forget. 

Ha.  Who could forget?

This is a tribute to him, yes.  It’s also a complete celebration of the most perfect comedic timing I’ve ever experienced–and by the most unlikely person ever, if you judge a book by its cover.  I mean: this man was an intellectual, a bookworm, not often understood or publicly revealed.  Yet friends described him as “Woody Allen-like” and a “Sit-Down Comic.”

That’s my Dad, Salvo Menasche.

Here is the “Why does your face look like in the morning” bit.

I was attending San Diego State University for my Master’s Degree and living with my parents a scant five minutes away from campus.  They were kind enough to let me take their guest room and save money.  They were kind enough to accept their travel-weary, not-all-that-impressively-responsible adult child back into the nest.  And we had fun together, most of the time.  We had fun sometimes at my expense, sometimes at my mother’s.  That was my father’s humor.  Wicked, irreverent, more than a tad naughty and juvenile.  If I am an apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree, then, well, the apple might have a worm in it.  But hopefully an entertaining worm, the cartoon kind with a top-hat and a cane.  Vaudeville, maybe.  Whenever I bring a friend home I hope that the “humor” won’t scare the hell out of them. 

San Diego had an earthquake that year, which jolted the garage with a huge BANG.  During a frighteningly lengthy aftershock, my father waltzed down the stairs in his bathrobe like a prince at his court debut.  My mother and I, already squirreled safely under the kitchen table, squealed: “Earthquake! Hurry up!”

To which he replied: “I’ll break my neck rushing down the stairs before any earthquake gets me,” as he calmly sat down to stir

and drink his appalling bran and apple juice thingie. 

Then he looked at me.  Feeling safer already, I had climbed out from under the table to sit in the chair across from him.  So this is no doubt what he saw: curly hair electrified in astral directions, features registering pain from acute caffeine withdrawal, pillow marks still etched onto my oh-so-sensitive skin…and my lips puckered out.

Not so flattering.  Okay.  But I do mash my face into my pillow when I sleep.  And my lips do pucker out.  Why?  Who knows?  Maybe I subconsciously like giving my father something to tease me about.  Not that he had any deficit of ideas all on his own.

“What’s wrong with your face?” he asked innocently.  “Why do your lips stick out like that?  They’re out to here.” 

He showed me.  Lovely.  His eyes buggered out too.  No way I looked, or look, like that.  Please.

But I made the mistake of laughing.  So did my straight-man-to-the-goofball-father mother.  If you laughed, you were done for.  Any reinforcement whatsoever would earn you hearing the same joke over and over again for…oh, decades? Eons?  Long past my father’s lifespan?

Which would explain why I still hear his words echoing in my head, especially in the morning when I wake up and look in the mirror.  Or why I still see his mug imitating my mug, and still feel the flutter of joy at the loony fun of it. 

When I had an 8 am class at SDSU, there he was in all his small-statured glory, in my doorway at 7 am, puckering his lips.  No comment necessary.  He was my alarm clock.  So I would groan and push past him and stagger to the bathroom, shutting out the sight.  Except when I opened the door again, LordyLordy, there he was.  There it was.  My face.  My lips.

“Dad!” I would cry, exasperated, and dart past him downstairs to escape.

But he followed.  Of course he did.  He sat next to me at the table.  He did not stop.  I did not escape.

Until the inevitable: I broke into laughter again that bubbled up from my belly.  I cried with laughter.

Until he died and the laughter stopped. 

Except I don’t really believe that either.  I believe that laughter woven into a relationship never stops.  It breathes on, little puffs of vibrant memory like balloons on a string.  Little pushes forward through thin air.  Little echoes of irreverent delight tugging my sleeve higher, toward the heavens.

Thus this particular blog.  Part I.

To Come:  Mimicking the Dog. Part II.

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