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Darrell Berkheimer: We still have to laugh, too

There are times to be serious, and times when we need laughter. The pandemic has spawned an increased need for laughter as evidenced by the more than the normal number of humorous emails I’ve received during the past six to eight months. With more people at home, they’re sending more emails.

So I felt a need to skip over my usual serious subjects for this fresh spring, Easter weekend.

News media folks harbor a deep need of humor, for a couple reasons. One is the nature of news work. Much of it is tragic and negative. Interjecting unrelated humor is one way media workers deal with overwhelming bad news.



Additional humor-demand occasions result from the all-too-frequent blunders that force us to laugh at ourselves. Despite news workers’ best efforts, errors are an expected result of the rush meeting deadlines.

During my editor positions at several newspapers, I occasionally was asked to speak about newspaper operations. I quickly learned to address errors during my short talk.




I explained newspapers contained as many words each day as a book. And that it would be a thick book when the newspaper has many pages, or a thin book when the day’s advertising yields fewer pages.

Book publishers often take three to nine months to produce a book. I have yet to read one that didn’t have at least a few errors. So when news workers process a similar number of words every 24 hours — well, by the minute with today’s online demand — elimination of errors is impossible.

That’s when the most humorous of errors are noted in wonky headlines with double meanings. Among my favorites is the headline that said “Kids make nutritious snacks.”

Yep, they taste just like chicken.

Another that appeared years ago said, “Marijuana sent to joint committee.”

That one was included in an email list of humorous headlines circulated recently by a local men’s group.

And then there was one I caught, before it got into print, when I was news editor at The Daily Herald at Provo, Utah. A co-worker wrote: “Father of nine fined for not stopping.”

The story was about a father, driving with a car full of kids, who was involved in a minor crash after drifting through a stop sign. That headline simply was not appropriate, especially in Mormon country.

It was at that same newspaper where I worked with a wonderful lady who daily typed the obituaries. When she was interrupted, her occasional response was, “Let me alone, I’m obitching.”

Signs also are a source of great humor. One outside a second-hand shop said: “We exchange anything — bicycles, washing machines, etc. Why not bring your wife along and get a wonderful bargain?

Another, posted at a field, said: “The farmer allows walkers to cross the field for free. But the bull charges.”

And I recall chuckling as a drove past a church with a sign that noted: “Sign broken. Come inside for message.”

Those three were part of a humor list included in one of my books.

But I think some of the best humor results from stories we’re willing to tell about our own blunders. You know, the “Duh …” types.

One day when I was news editor, I was advised at lunchtime that the computer system was down for a couple hours of maintenance, and that I should notify the news staff.

I muttered, “OK, I’ll prepare a note.”

Then I sat down at my desk to write a note into the computer monitor.

Duh!

On another occasion, my bank notified me that it failed to automatically renew debit cards for a group of us whose cards expired that week.

A few days later, after arranging an express delivery, the bank called to report my new card had arrived.

The next day, on my way to the bank to get the new card, I tried to buy gas with the expired one.

Duh!

Fortunately, I had enough cash with me to pay for the gas.

Another story I’ve written, and told to my own chagrin, occurred shortly after I became managing editor at a small newspaper near an Air Force base in Georgia. I informed the news editor that I would be out of the office for about 45 minutes to an hour to speak on newspaper operations at a meeting of retired civil service employees.

“I expect you’ll be gone much longer. That’s a large group,” he said.

“No, I’m not a long speaker,” I replied. I added that I usually speak for only five to 10 minutes, and then respond to questions.

“Oh, you’ll be gone longer than that. You’ll see,” he argued.

When I returned in slightly less than an hour, he remarked:

“I’m really surprised. I would have bet you would be gone a lot longer.”

“I told you so,” I said, as I walked over next to him, seated at his computer. “I did just what I told you I would. I talked for no more than 10 minutes before inviting questions.”

And then I decided to tell a little joke on myself, as I leaned over him and added: “But I told them everything I know.”

He got a smirk on his face, as he looked up from his computer and said in a slow, quiet voice: “You must have told them twice!”

I hope these items brighten your Easter weekend during continued pandemic-curtailed social gatherings.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.


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