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Assemble a Looney Bin
by Phil Truman

Something that goes hand-in-hand with consuming humor with regularity is building a humor file. And the good news is, you don’t need to have a piano bench to do it.

I have in the closet of my office at home an 18" X 18" x 18" cardboard storage box which my wife bought about fifteen years ago and covered with green paisley shelf paper. She originally got it to stick bank statements in, but I took it over as my looney bin. Since then, about fifteen years now, I’ve been cutting out newspaper columns, cartoons, magazine articles, whatever I find that strikes me funny or has the potential to have something funny written about it. I don’t plagiarize other peoples work, you understand, but I may take something and work it from another angle, inject my own writing style and brand of humor.

My bin also serves as a good brain laxative when I get the so-called writer’s block. Many times, after staring stupidly at the computer screen for hours trying to come up with, if not something semi-intelligent and interesting, at least something funny to write, I go to my little green paisley looney bin. Nothing like a stack of Dave Barry’s, Dilberts, or Far Sides to get the old funny bone rattling again. There is a downside to this though. Sometimes their humor is so brilliant I get almost paralyzed with intimidation. I overcome this by picturing the author as William Shatner in his underwear. That’s usually a sure cure, however, it can cause minor side effects, most commonly headache and nausea.

But here’s another thought about being intimidated by the masters. I’ll relate it in the form of an anecdote.

Back in my high school football playing days here in Oklahoma there was a team in our conference which was the perennial bully. Although to us they looked like Visigoths, they were called the Trojans. Yes, they were named after a condom. Year after year the Trojans were big and mean and tough and hairy and ugly and scary; and they usually won the conference championship. But conference champs or not, the Trojans beat us 56 to nothing every year. To say we were intimidated by them would be like saying Frenchmen don’t often bathe. It would be grossly understated. We were so intimidated by them the very mention of their name caused us to whimper in our beds, much like a certain ex-president would at the thought of his senatorial wife catching him in an act of amorous dalliance.

In my sophomore year the superintendent of schools (it was a small town) came into our dressing room before the game with the Trojans and gave us a little speech. He was a fiery, bandy little guy who, it just so happened, had once been a Trojan. "Boys," he said. "You don’t have anything to fear but fear itself. These guys aren’t any different than you. They put their pants on one leg at a time. There’s nothing they can do that you can’t do just as well. If you let them intimidate you, the game’s already lost. It’s all up to you. Now what are we gonna do!" With that we went roaring out of the dressing room and onto the field eager to take on the Trojans.

That night they beat us 56 to nothing. But that speech by the superintendent stuck with me. When my senior year rolled around the Trojans only beat us 22-6.

My point is this: there will always be someone, or perhaps tens of someones, more talented, better connected, more socially adept, more politically adroit, luckier, richer, prettier, skinnier, taller than you. But the thing is you can’t worry about them. That’s an absolute waste of time and energy. What YOU’ve got to worry about are your own talents, and how you work to develop your skills, and raise the level of discipline in your work efforts, and enlarge your territory. You don’t have to join the Army to be the best you can be. And nobody can bring you to your best except old number one.


© Copyright 2004, Phil Truman

Phil Truman's website is philtrumanink.com.

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