Knuckles twisted around the cane like knotted tree roots. She hunched over the stick. Beyond her thinning white curls, a hump rose from her back. Eyes with gauzy white lenses met my gaze. Her voice crackled, “Is this the humor group?”
“Yes ma’am,” I answered.
We – the Yale Writers’ Conference humor students – and another genre group were conducting public readings of our work. But the room to which we’d been assigned was dark and occupied. Star Wars-like music seeped under the door. An agitated professor stood guard and shooed away each person who attempted to enter. The film projected on the wall presented content for mature audiences. Those of us in exile with nothing to do but wait for room reassignments amused ourselves with off-color one-liners. I dipped my chin into my chest and giggled at someone’s crack referencing light sabers.
When I felt the presence of the elderly woman at my elbow, my cheeks flushed. She peered at me and asked, “Is this where the humor group is reading?’
“Yes ma’am,” I replied. “The room we were to meet in is being used, so our instructor is locating another for us.”
Minutes later, our moderator ushered us off to an available room. As we shuffled to the new location, the lady again asked me, “Is this the humor group?”
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “Come with us for laughs.”
We seated ourselves around an oval table. The white-haired fan of humor settled herself regally on the opposite side of the table from me. The room hushed at the sound of her clearing her throat. She looked like a regent preparing to convene a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting.
The instructor stood and explained the format: Each person would have five minutes to read; there would be no discussion; light applause at the conclusion of each reading would be appropriate.
Then he selected a young woman at his end of the table to begin. She was a representative from the other genre group.
“I entered Dr. Shemgale’s office and greeted him. His hand lingered on mine as he shook it and asked me to sit. I didn’t pull away. Instead, I looked deep into his eyes and told him everything with my own. He gazed back at me, still holding my hand in his. Suddenly, he swept my body to his and pulled me hard against him. I felt . . .”
The above portion accounts for the first 10 seconds. The other 4½ million minutes of eternity were devoted to an explicit XXX description that left no shades of grey for the imagination. The priest to my left gazed at the ceiling.
A prayer did seem more appropriate than applause. The woman from Boston to my right convulsed in silent tittering. A gentleman standing on the wall studied the veins in his wrist.
The white-haired old woman’s milky stare pierced me with guilt. Her facial expression promised I would be defrocked of my DAR sash posthaste.
“Time! Time!” the instructor called. Getting the reader’s attention, he collected himself and said, “Your five minutes are up.”
Someone from the crowd asked, “What genre is your group?”
I looked at the matron with the cane and blurted, “This is the humor group, too!”
“Sit down, dear,” she said. “There’s no need to make a scene. I enjoyed that reading.”
Well, dang if I wasn’t going to have to risk a cane beating to strip off her DAR ribbons.