Check it out: Mr. Front Porch USA sitting on the rocker, airing out his boots and reading the paper.
What's new? They're rioting in Africa, starving in Spain. Stock market's crashing, the local team took a trashing. Who needs it? What a guy needs instead of the woes of the world is back on the far side of the Piggly Wiggly coupons and the obituaries, tucked under the Poland strike story that ran a couple of inches shorter than the editors figured.
A crazy psychiatrist story. An exploding toilet story.
"Hey," he yells to Mrs. Front Porch USA, delivering himself of one of the great pronunciamento phrases in the language, right up there with "Now hear this!" on ships, and "Oyez, oyez" in courts.
"Says here in the paper that . . ."
Well, it might say: "Waldwick Soriano was singing a song called 'I Am Not a Dog' at an outdoor concert in Juazeiro do Norte, Brazil, when a dog walked on stage wearing a sign that read 'I'm Not Waldwick Soriano.
"Soriano, who was not amused, proceeded to insult the audience. A brawl resulted and the singer fled to his hotel."
Mrs. Front Porch USA doesn't even look up, she just hands Mr. FPUSA her pinking shears so he can cut it out of the paper to send it to one of the kids, who just might forward it to John Bendel at the National Lampoon. Bendel is editor of the True Facts column, and the book by the same name.
"I am Mr. Front Porch USA," he shouts over his cheeseburger, explaining that not only does he have a front porch, he spent 10 years driving a truck and he lives in New Jersey, and "those who are part of the job description for editing this column."
The column and book are nothing but stuff like Waldwick Soriano. That one is attributed to the Detroit Free Press, as is another of Bendel's personal favorites:
"One of three women who were arrested after they smeared their naked bodies with mustard and stole a UPS delivery truck told authorities in Lansing, Michigan, that they were trying to reach the Garden of Eden. They had used mustard, she said, because it was mentioned in the Book of Matthew. Charlene Roper, 27, Dohsaline McCuin, 30, and Sandra Lewis, 25, had been reading the Bible immediately prior to the incident and claimed to have been filled with the Holy Spirit, though Mrs. McCuin admitted, 'We don't understand why we took the truck.'"
Bendel has tried reading them on radio shows, the Walwick Soriano story, for instance, "but it just dies. The interviewer always says: 'So then what happened?' These things are meant to be in print."
Read the following aloud, for instance. It doesn't make it. "A British schoolboy was unable to remove a vase that had gotten stuck on his head, so he was rushed to the hospital on the city bus. The wireservice story of the incident noted that in an attempt to make the boy look normal to other passengers, his mother placed his school cap on top of the vase." (Edmonton Sun).
These are the stories that get Mr. Front Porch USA through the day, give him something to think about while he's punching the START button on his drop forge. Who needs Poland? The economic miracle of Singapore? The Law of the Sea treaty? What he needs is a duck story, or "Adventures of Fat People" or "Cows in the Wrong Place" or almost anything from Canada.
"Canada is the best. They have that English sense of humor up there, and they read the Lampoon," Bendel says. One clipping from the Kitchener Waterloo-Record reads:
"Blaine Gregory Gould, 22, of St. John, New Brunswick, was fined $250 after pleading guilty to the charge of misleading a police officer.
"The prosecution revealed that Gould had deep fried his pet gerbil and then pretended to find it in a box of fried chicken purchased at a local take-out restaurant."
Along with the true facts in the book are departments such as "Lives of the Great," listing quirks of the famous, and "What's Your Sign," which is photographs of those little everyday ironies and coincidences such as an ad for ice "of lasting quality."
Just the kind of thing that Mr. Front Porch USA points out to his wife's people to show 'em he does too have a sense of humor.
Also, there's a section of true fiction, which is jewels gleaned from unsolicited manuscripts by an editor who passes them along to the National Lampoon.
"From the moment he crashed Cora's skull, he knew it was going to be a rotten Monday."
Or: "The nurse peeped into my bedpan and put it on the floor, whispering sh. "
Or: "Bob was easy to recognize underwater."
Or: "It was the first rain in many months and the streets sounded like someone smashing potato chips."
"I get a couple of hundred pieces of mail a week," Bendel says. "I can only use 2 to 3 percent of it. Some of it doesn't have any attribution on it. We don't check the item if it's in print, but we want to give the source. Then there's the weird stuff. Lately I've been getting a lot of clippings about that guy Coury that the mob chased onto the subway tracks on Times Square. I don't understand how people find humor in that."
Then again, the following story, attributed to the Reuter news service, details more loss of life, but is somehow more suitable for inclusion: "A group of baboons attacked a classroom near Jaipur, India, jumping up and down on the roof until it caved in. Fifteen schoolgirls were killed instantly."
And what can be said about the pageful of those old newspaper favorites, bus plunge stories, mostly from The New York Times, as in: "Bus Plunge in Java Kills 45."
It takes a certain taste to cull out the wheat from the chaff, here, especially in an age in which newspapers tend to be so serious, so dignified, so gravely and constantly concerned about the public good.
When what Mr. FPUSA really wants to read is a UPI story about how "Police chased Mary Jane Williams at speeds up to seventy miles an hour until she finally pulled over. Then she told them she had assumed the wailing sound of the sirens was the screaming of her boyfriend, who had been clinging to the luggage rack of her car, since she had driven off during an argument."
It isn't humor, exactly. It's more the detritus and marginalia of our lives, little signposts that Chaos is still lurking out there, bits of reassurance that our lives are stunningly sane and relief from precisely the same fact.
Bendel, it would seem, is just the man for the job, having moved from truck driving to writing and editing humor by means of a run for governor of New Jersey in 1977, as the candidate of the Honky-Tonk Landmarks Comission. The Lampoon gave him a call, having read about the campaign. His motto was "New Jersey needs its own navy." His solution to the right-turn-on-red debate was a platform calling for "straight through on red." He said he stood for religious freedoms, "except for one group who worships the Pulaski Skyway, and those people have to be stopped before they hurt themselves."
Jersey! He loves it, it's one big true fact. You get talking about beauty spots like Paterson, and he gets a faraway look in his eyes (about 200 miles worth, at least) and he tells you that "The corner of Straight and Narrow streets is in Paterson."
He's the kind of person who laughs to himself while he's driving, he says, and it's easy to see him up there on the front porch, calling those immortal words to his wife: "Says here in the paper that . . . " All the News That Gives You Fits
In Upstate New York, a driver who had forced another car off the road refused to stop for police who followed him a total of 85 miles through three counties in what officers called a "low speed chase." Insulting comments were exchanged and at least one pursuing car ran out of gas during the episode. -- The Trooper
After Clint Bolin vacated his apartment in Long Beach, Calif., his landlord discovered 600 boxes containing 30 tons of rocks stacked to the ceiling in every room. Bolin left only a narrow channel connecting a couch where he presumably slept, and the toilet. Nearby motel owners claim Bolin had left rocks in their establishments as well, averaging several hundred pounds per overnight visit. -- Cleveland Plain Dealer
The Melrose Drive Church of Christ in Dallas, Tex., received a computer-typed letter from a correspondence school offering courses in electronics. The letter, which was produced by a new automated system which makes it possible to "personalize" mass direct-mail solicitations, was addressed to "Mr. Melrose Drive Church of Christ" and ended with the exhortation "Accept the challenge, Mr. Christ; don't waste your life in a dead-end low paying job." -- Omaha World Herald
Women in Ugley, England, changed the name of their cummunity-service organization from Ugley Women's Institute to the Women's Insitiute (Ugley Division). -- Edmonton Sun
A 350-pound man named Richard Avella entered a jewelry store on Long Island, pointed a gun at the clerk, announced a holdup, then tripped and fell to the floor. He was unable to get up before police arrived. t -- New York Daily News
In an attempt to boost morale, the Army Materiel Command held a contest to name its new national headquarters building.
More than 500 names were sent in and duty considered by the AMC's official Contest Committee to Name the New Building.
The winning name, submitted by Francis Sikorski, a civilian employe, was "The AMC Building."
Mr. Sikorski received $100 for his suggestion. -- Daily Iowan