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Confessions of a pun addict.

"Look, it's nothing to be ashamed of," the doctor had said. "Pun-making is not a vice, it's a disease. We're going to make you well."

I had been off the habit for six weeks, and self-respect was a wonderful adventure. My children said hello to me, and I was able to look myself in the eye when I shaved. (Although this was dangerous. My children came into the bathroom once, as I was shaving while looking myself in the eye, and told me I had cut my ear.) But I ws cocky. I mistook convalescence for recovery. The crack-up came on our first night out since my illness. My wife and I had been invited to dinner with some close friends, and our host had mixed martinis. Liquour is not my trouble; I can handle it as well as the next man, which is to say it makes me surly and incoherent and gives me surly and incoherent and gives me headaches. But as our host raised his glass, he said, with boozy inappropriateness, "Here's champagne to real friends and real pain to sham friends."

My hands shook. For an addicted pun degenerate, this was the test. Could I listen to my jackanapes of a host repeat ancient wordplays without giving in? My deterioration had progressed beyond the stage at which I could have indulged in a little social pun-making and then stopped. The idiot was still blathering: "... so I wnet to the doctor for immunization shots, and he said they wouldn't hurt a bit. But as it turned our--" he interrupted himself to laugh, heh-heh-heh," "--as it turned out, it was just an M.D. promise."

Now everyone was laughing. I felt dizzy. Resolution slipped off my shoulders like a 60-pound pack, and I seemed to float as I rose to my feet and coughed to get attention. "By the way," I said, avoiding my wife's eye, "did anyone realize that the animal kingdom is divided into two classes?"

"We're thinking of repapering the house," my wife said hurriedly.

"Imagine that," said one of the other wives, who was aware of my affliction.

"That's right," I said loudly. "The animal kingdom is divided into two classes, the aardvarks and --" (pause for emphasis) "--the aaren'tvarks."

The room was silent. People looked at their fingernails. I was past caring, unable to stop. "Which reminds me of the musician who played Prokofiev so badly that it sounded like amateur-kofiev." Someone coughed nervously. I lurched across the room and slapped my hostess on the back. "Don't be so lethargic," I told her, my speech beginning to slur. "What we need around here is mor argy, not leth."

My wife was at the phone dialing. "He's off again. Joe. You'd better come over. Bring Harry."

Joe and Harry were members of Logopsychics Monotonous, an organization of reformed pun-makers whose meetings I had attended. Joe had lost his job with an advertising agency when he had referred to his colleagues, in the presence of a client, as "peons of praise." Harry's life had been particularly tragic; his fiancee, also a pun-maker, had jilted him at the door of a Chinese restaurant and walked out of his life with the observation that "parting is such sweet and sour."

When Joe and Harry arrived, the dinner guests were crouching behind a sofa. I stood in the middle of the room, flecks of foam on my lips. "Perhaps some of you don't like puns," I said. "Well, as they told the surgeon who wanted to take out his own appendix, 'Suture self.'" The guests looked nervously at one another.

"Come on, old boy," said Joe, grabbing my coat sleeve.

"Just one more," I yelled, hooking my leg around a coffe table. "Ask me whether I like Turkish candy."

Joe looked at my wife and shrugged. "One more won't hurt him, I guess." He took a deep breath. "Do you like Turkish candy?" he asked.

"Not a halvah lot," I said weakly. Then everything went black.

When I awakened, I was at home, strapped in bed. "I spoke with his doctor," Joe was saying to my wife. "We're going to start him off slowly. Read to him. I'll send you some New York Times editorials on labor relations and a few old Johnny Carson transcripts. Nothing funny at first. Then we start on Eisenhower press conferences, Arthur Krock columns and 'Dar Abby.' After a few weeks, show him the dust jacket of a book of Bennet Cerf's puns. If he reaches for it, read him some more Times editorials. If he doesn't, ask him whether he likes Turkish candy." Joe smiled briefly. "You're a brave woman."

Gradually she nursed me back to health. She read aloud 16 hours a day, pausing only to nibble hardtack. From the Times there were editorials deep enough to require scuba equipment and long, nourishing columns of agate type reporting British soccer results. In a pile of old New Yorkers she found childhood memoirs by no less than 23 different Punjabis. From somewhere she came up with an anthology of Academy Award acceptance speeches. One day the doctor unstrapped my wrists. "He'll be all right now. He had a tic humorosa in the sector of the brain that controls good taste. Fortunately we have been able to paralyze this sector." He turned to my wife. "Has the treatment made him morose?"

"Why no," she said. "As a matter of fact he semms less ose." She smiled waspishly.

"I was afraid of this," the doctor muttered to me. "How long has she been doing it?"

"Well, yesterday I said she looked tired, and she said, I'm not fatigued, only thin-teagued.'"

He looked shaken. "Great Scott, she's in worse shape than you were."

"And then there are her number puns. Eleven-dency for an especially strong tendency. Also, she talks a lot about illusions and healthy-usions."

The doctor instructed me in shock treatment. I was to read junk mail to her for a month, then start on fund-raising appeals her alma mater had sent.

"Dear fridnd," I began reading. My wife turned her face away. "Listen," I said. "You have to want to get well."

"All right, I'll try. I'll face the future with fortitude. Or, allowing for occasional fits of faintheartedness, with the next thing to fortitude."

"You mean . . .?"

"With three-and-a-half-titude."
COPYRIGHT 1984 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Author:Skow, John
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1984
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