The other day a teenager told me, “Someday I want to grow up and be as funny as you.”
I smiled and said, “You only need two things if you truly want to be like me. You need to be middle aged and disillusioned.”
Truthfully, I like my life, but as a Midwesterner, I know better than to tell anyone that. We are taught upon birth not to brag. And if we do brag, we learn that whatever we are bragging about will come to a screeching halt, and enter the domain of crash and burn. It’s nature’s way. If you brag, you jinx yourself. Thus Midwesterners don’t brag.
On the other hand, Midwesterners are allowed to top one another by outdoing each other’s suffering. It’s a form of reverse bragging which allows us the perfect loophole to top one another without the fear of something bad happening to us … mainly because the bad thing has already happened.
Growing up, I remember visiting my grandfather in the veteran’s nursing home where they had their own game show called “The Topping of the Ailments.” The only rule was that you had to come up with a worse ailment than your neighbors so you could prove that you were suffering worse than them.
I used to hate going to visit my grandfather at the home because mom was always nervous about going to see him and would act out with a series of weird rules for the car. I think she made them as up as she went.
“Don’t stick your arm out the window,” she once told me. “A semi could drive by and rip your arm off.”
“Are you serious? We haven’t even left the driveway yet.”
Once at the Veteran’s Home it was a smorgasbord of poor health.
“I have gout, goiter, and gingivitis,” one man shook his head, attempting to use pain to cover the gleam in his eye from pulling off the trifecta of conditions.
Another man would slowly whisper, “I’ve got laryngitis, lupus, and leprosy.”
I turned away from the man with the enlarged Adam’s Apple to avoid seeing the look of pride slowly drain from his face. It was then that I noticed my grandfather’s roommate, a one armed man with a hook for a hand, sitting next to me soaking in the festival of bragging.
“Hey Earl, tell everyone how you lost your arm?” My grandfather demanded.
I had always assumed he’d lost it during the war throwing a grenade.
“I stuck it out my car window and a huge truck drove by and tore it off.”
Earl won that round of “Topping of the Ailments” and I earned another vehicle safety lecture on the way home.
I truly think the Midwestern way of topping one another’s suffering is actually passive-aggressive in nature. If we can prove that we have it the worst, then nature’s way will use the reverse loophole to actually make things worse for the other person. Once this happens, we become happy that we don’t have it as bad as the person with the change of luck. We are allowed to have the satisfaction that our life isn’t as bad as theirs. The only problem is that since we’re from the Midwest, we can’t brag about our happiness.
Chad Filley is a stand up comedian from East Central Minnesota. You can see a listing of his upcoming shows on his website, www.chadfilley.com.