You’re a writer and you’ve clawed your way to the senior rung of life. But you probably haven’t gotten there without hearing at least one acquaintance suggest: “You have such wonderful stories! Why not write your autobiography?”
Don’t. Autobiographies are boring. Who wants to hear about your parents and grandparents, your trials in grammar school? Instead, follow Keith Connes’ model: write your memoirs. His book Not Your Everyday Memoir!: Humorous Essays, Lies, Rants, Short Stories and More! even has an essay entitled “Why You Should Write a Memoir.”
Throughout this book, Connes follows good memoir rules. First, he showcases his wonderful memory. He recalls his fifties radio interview with Carl Sandburg so well that he reproduces the way the famed poet pronounced his name. (“‘Connes,’ he declared, savoring it as if it were a fine wine. ‘Connnesss.’”)
Second, he’d made it funny. There are very few incidents that he recalls on which he can’t put a comic spin. Including the dark ones. I’ll get to one later.
Third, he doesn’t include tedious details about his life. Only the entertaining ones, please.
And fourth, he makes it not just about him. Like a George Carlin standup routine, the book is more about his role as a universal observer of the human plight. He’s had time to learn this fundamental truth of successful comedy: spotlight the lone individual’s conflict against a random and unfeeling universe of authority, stodginess, regulations, and doublespeak. Jonathan Swift did. Mark Twain did. Richard Pryor did. Connes is apparently in good company.
When I was in college, there was a name for individuals who performed skits in real life, sometimes to the amusement of onlookers, more often to the consternation of those-in-charge. They were called “screamers.” (I was often tagged with that moniker.) Keith Connes is a screamer. He would slip into pantomimes when checks were handed to him after a dinner. (Omigod, this bill is so much, I’m fainting with shock.) Other times he would wait for his wife to drive home and jump in front of her car in mock urgency. One day it backfired on him, but I’ll not say how.
He inserts three short stories into the collection. Two are humorous, one is sad. Their traditional elements include surprise endings and cross-purpose points of view. One even has a Twilight Zone-style science fiction theme, but with a comic undercurrent. (I’m thinking of the TZ episode “The Whole Truth,” in which a dishonest car salesman is sold a car that makes him incapable of lying.) While not my cup of Darjeeling, these stories will appeal to some readers for their retro charm.
In one of his essays, he mentions the curmudgeon commentator Andy Rooney, who used his 60 Minutes pulpit to complain about life’s minor annoyances. But Andy never complained about hearing aids not being able to work in reverse, so you could tune things out. Nor does he stoop so low to yammer about the two types of annoying children on airplanes: the squalling infant who won’t shut up and the restless adolescent who keeps kicking the back of your seat. Of course not. That would have brought angry letters from the “babyist” brigade. But Connes does, and how hilariously inappropriate of him! And how could you not finish an essay that begins with this teaser: “A recent airliner crash once again underscores the attempts that the news channels will make to create BREAKING NEWS! where there is none.” Isn’t that something we’ve all noticed? And doesn’t it – to borrow a catchphrase from the fifties – “get your goat”?
Here is one that neither Andy Rooney nor even modern curmudgeons would dare say on TV: “. . . then comes the warning that I feel really needs clarification. The announcer says, ‘For an erection lasting more than four hours, seek medical treatment at once.’An erection lasting more than four hours? I’m left to wonder, medical treatment for whom – the guy or his partner?”
I hadn’t thought of that twist on this ridiculous disclaimer. But I’m glad I know it now. I might just steal it for my next social gathering.
Speaking of “down there,” Connes has a piece entitled “Fun with Prostate Cancer.” In it he not only reveals that he has prostate cancer, but actually manages to put a humorous spin on his experiences with the dreaded disease. After the operation, notorious for the sexual problems it causes, he relates how he asked a fellow sufferer to show him his “malleable penile implant.” I won’t tell you how that went; you’ll just have to buy the book.
In Man and Superman, George Bernard Shaw wrote “[an artist] steals the mother’s milk and blackens it to make printer’s ink.” Keith Connes has taken blood and pain, annoyance, exasperation, and sheer eye-rolling incredulity and turned them all into glowing pixels of prose.