Writing a humor column is risky business. I learned this many years ago, when I accidentally (no, I tell a lie; I completely intentionally) insulted a large metropolitan area in the southeast corner of the state. The piece was picked up by the local paper, and for THREE YEARS I could not look at a postmark from that area without cringing. Even now, I would not dream of mentioning the resemblance of the area to a K-mart parking lot, nor would I question the advisability of building housing developments in swamps.
Yes, I have learned that once in a while you have to step back into the closet of contrition and put on the hair shirt of humility, which is what I’m doing.
My first mistake, and this is so huge I cannot believe I did it, was to take the Research Department’s word when they told me that September 15 was not a notable day. The R.D., usually so thorough, did not turn up the fact that one of this column’s most distinguished supporters celebrated a birthday on that very day.
This is a supporter whose incisive wit and erudite commentary are so wonderful that we are grateful he does not take up column-writing on his own. He absolutely deserved a mention in the otherwise lackluster events of the day, and had we been aware that the illustrious and talented J.-P. B. was celebrating his birthday, we would have been there with streamers, balloons, and possibly a stuffed skunk. We repent in dust and ashes, and forthwith we will celebrate September 15 with music and dancing. Well, maybe just music. And possibly wine.
Then there’s the volcano fiasco.
My editor, who also stars as the first line of defense against wackos and people whose humor glands have been impaired, sent me an email last week which I will reprint here in its entirety, lest you think I am making this up. She wrote:
“Can you believe there are some people who took your volcano column as being a real news story and posted it as such on Facebook and other websites? A man called Monday to find out if it was true, and a woman from a debunking website called today to find out the story behind it. She thought it was hilarious and understood it was just a column, but said some people are spreading it on Facebook as the ‘gospel.’ It’s a sad day for humanity.”
This, you may remember, is the piece in which the National Weather Service issued a volcano watch for Southwest Virginia. It mentioned, if you’ll recall, the Disaster Grand Slam and sacrificial virgins. When I Googled my own work (and yes, Google is now a verb), I discovered a number of places where the voice of reason has yet to be heard. On one particular message board, a brave soul tried to suggest that the column might not have been serious, mentioning the virgins and the fire extinguisher as evidence, but he was shouted down by the others, who expect the metamorphic Appalachians to go all Mt.-St.-Helens any second.
Even now, beloved readers, even now, people out there are watching Peak’s Knob with apprehension and stockpiling virgins, which I’m pretty sure is illegal in Virginia, on account of them being the State state. I shudder to think that these folks are also assimilating fire-retardant clothing, fire extinguishers, and bottles of oxygen. They may also be driving around helplessly, looking for volcano shelters. I am sobered, perhaps even crushed by the responsibility.
So I have had to clean up my act in order to make peace with my own conscience. This week’s column on the Great Claytor Lake Tsunami had to be scrapped. The Ivanhoe Ice Age will never see the light of day, nor will the great Peak Creek duck migration receive any commentary from me. I will not upset the populace by predicting any more natural disasters – unless, of course, they’re really, really funny.