The Funnies

By Shieva Salehnia

Instead of being a dentist, I should be writing the funnies. 
Sitting next to the guys who cut up the classifieds. 

I would try out my lines on them, and we would play pun games
We’d lend each other cigarettes
Get burgers together at lunch
Beers after hours sometimes 

I could draw little figures in my notebook during meetings.
If anyone tried to razz me for not paying attention, I’d show them my notepad 
and proclaim, I was actually doing my job. 
And I’d laugh
‘cause who really needs cartoons or a used washing machine set to survive?

I’d laugh then instead of gnashing my teeth like I do now 
on the other side of my face mask as I glide a metal explorer 
in between another set of gums as
Top 40 radio pipes in from the dropped ceiling and 
blasts another ad for new lawn mowers
I stare up at the cheap acoustic ceiling tiles and wish to god 
my hands were getting covered in ink instead spit that smells like death

Hey Kev, what do you think about this for Thursday: A couple sitting next to each other on the train and one says to the other, “Babe you wanna go to a chilly picnic tomorrow?”
And the other says, “Why would we bring a pot of chili to a picnic?”
Kevin would chuckle. It’s a cheap joke, and I’d know it but 
I’d be grateful for him humoring me.
“Shit, I don’t know”, I’d say, and shrug and turn back to my desk and the drawing board.

It wouldn’t be easy being funny all the time. 
I would want to be sharp and real pointed, 
angry or vengeful
like the rusty switchblade with the handle 
made of mother-of-pearl
I had once convinced myself I needed to carry around but didn’t know how to use.

Even writing jokes, I would want to draw out my self-pity and shame, 
give myself over to the end of things
meet the dead, 
give in once and for all to being the burnt stuck to the bottom of the pan.
But at the paper, I could sit at my desk and find my way through any sudden, dense sadness to make scenes we’ve never seen before 
sketch ‘em out
print ‘em out;
Not just etching my good ideas into someone’s rotten head of decayed molars.

At the paper, things would be great even after
one night me and the guys from the classifieds would go out for happy hour, and
I would do a little coke with Kevin, 
and he’d tell his fiance and she would say to him, 
I swear to god if you ever do that again, I’m done
Even after I would show up the next day and ask Kevin a little too loudly 
How’s your girl, man? 
Yeah, she’s good, she’s good, Kevin would shrug tensely, What can I tell ya?

And isn’t that all more exciting than 
just trying not to heave into another person’s mouth all day?
Better than asking the receptionist to reorganize the X-ray files again 
‘cause it didn’t get done right the first time

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