[Flash Non-Fiction] Onomatopoeia

2:05:00 AM

In my first manic episode, 18-years-old, I had been restrained to a bed in leather cuffs -- hands and feet (standard protocol for psychiatric units at the time -- early 90's); and, while chewing at on the leather restraints, I was pondering what, if anything, was funny about that joke: "Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side."

In the midst of reflecting on Fatherhood, the concept, and which came first -- the chicken or the egg, the paradox, and things like that, my dad walked into the room, and we both started laughing hysterically, because, turns out, the joke is riotusly funny. And, he "got it," and I got it, and we laughed together about it. He stood at the doorway laughing. He didn't come in, and I don't recall seeing him again during that first time admitted for this disease; though, I was moved to a private room shortly after that -- on the smoking side of the ward -- stage-left of the nurses station.

The unit was shaped like a dumbell: two round large living spaces with couches, books, a TV and recliners; and the windows were oval. The hospital building had likely been designed by Frank Lloyd Wrigt, it being a few blocks from the Wate Tower.

Many years later, fully medicated and adhering to the available treatments with religious zeal for more than a decade, it dawned on me that, while I was laughing -- busting a gut over that joke -- my dad had been weeping, not laughing. He had, likely come straight from the airport that afternoon.

I was home, convalescing yet again, and so was he, it being a weekend when it occurred to me that for him that moment was tragedy instead of comedy, so I went to his study, and I asked him: "That day in the hospital ... you were crying right?"

He replied flatly: "Yeah."

We never spoke about it again since. I had only seen him cry once before -- the moment he realized his dad would be dead -- iminently.

The only joke I can recall my dad ever telling me was when he turned and said, "Son. I'm on a new diet."

We were sitting in the lobby of the hotel, waiting for my mother to come down, having a beer before venturing at dusk for a stroll to that restaurant she had had a hankering for since their last visit

"O yeah, I said? Atkins?" I said.

"No. It's the chicken and bread diet."

"What's that about," I asked. He maintained a straight face. We were talking in spanish. The joke only makes sense if it's said in spanish, but the punchline loosely translates into english as this:

"You move one thigh over here; and the other thigh over there," he clenched both fists and repeated quickly the word for bread in spanish: "Y Pan! Pan! Pan! ... ."

There's a kenetic energy of hand movements that I belive would be implicit if you get the joke.

His eyebrows arched viscouly and he went into horse paroxysms of wicked laughter. So did I.

It's an onomatopeya, pan -- bread. It was funny, and he's still on a diet, but not, exactly, the same one. People don't change -- not really.

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