Sunday, September 30, 2012


I grew up in a time and a place where wasting food was a serious sin. I was a Parisian kid in post-war France, and my family served a few repulsive dishes at least once a week. My least favorite—it still makes me shudder to think of it—was bouillie , a vile concoction of week-old bread boiled in salted water and seasoned with whatever might be in the kitchen on any given day. The dish had the consistency of watery oatmeal and, truly, it was foul beyond belief.  I do not know a single French person who has less than disturbing memories of such meals. Other delicacies included cow brains, pig intestines and other offal I am too delicate top mention here. Nothing was ever thrown away.

Yesterday night, I microwaved a bag of popcorn that Orville Redenbacher claimed should have been eaten before October 2010. As I munched on the perfectly edible snack, my thought was, Orville died in September, 1995, so what does he know?

I have a friend who, whenever he looks into my fridge or pantry, tut tuts the fact that I have not disposed of cans of diet soda dating from the late 90s. Those solid chicken tenders way in the back of the freezer? The hunk of equally hard filet mignon that has survived the ice age?  All perfectly comestible. As are the frozen string beans, the pasta I cooked a few months ago and decided to save for a wintry day, and the samosas with ice crystals on them. My position is that unless the food smells, looks or is otherwise guilty of unfortunate behavior, I’ll thaw it and eat it.

I have serious issues with expiration dates on pretty much anything, but on food in particular, I’m adamant. I think the giant concerns that manufacture and market the stuff we eat have found a nifty way of maximizing profits. They’ve instilled in us a knee-jerk reaction simply by printing faint dates on the packaging. We throw stuff away because we’re told to.

According to a May, 2011 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted.”  Key findings include:
        Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food — respectively 670 and 630 million tons.
        Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
        Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
        The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world's annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tons in 2009/2010).

Obviously there’s a lot more involved here than the average American family’s disposal of a sac-full of half-eaten burritos.
Last week on NPR, a show was dedicated to examining food waste in America alone, and the discussion included some alarming statistics.

Americans annually throw out $165 billion—that’s billions with a b—of food. A lot of this ends up in landfills where it decays and becomes methane, everyone’s favorite greenhouse gas. This is 50 percent more food than was thrown away in the 70s.  So what happened?

Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About it), noted that we have taken the expiration date as gospel, when in reality it has little to do with food safety and relates to the peak quality of what’s about to be eaten—or thrown away.  Additionaly, he says, there’s a lot of wiggle room built into these dates.

Dana Gunders, a food and agricultural scientist, added that, “over half the land area in the U.S. is dedicated to food production, and over 80 percent of the water that we consume goes into growing (and) producing our food. So when we throw out, say, half a hamburger, according to an estimate by the Water Footprint Network, that's equivalent to taking over an hour shower, in the water use that was required for that half hamburger you just tossed.” And just to drive home the point, she added, “in terms of the water embedded in the food that we throw out. Well, annually, we are wasting the equivalent of two times the volume of Crater Lake...

Institutions—schools, hospitals, cafeterias and self-serve buffets restaurants and such—are probably responsible for a lot of food wastage, but families are guilty as well. We search the stores for two-for-the-price-of-one bargains and we habitually overbuy. We don’t freeze enough. We don’t like leftovers, and we recycle only three percent of the food we waste.

There are, however, a couple of interesting trends. A couple of large cities on the West Coast, notably San Francisco and Seattle, have begun curbside composting where the end products—fertilizer—is used in city parks and recreation areas.  Starbucks has promised to recycle its coffee grounds and unsold pastries so they can be transformed into usable plastic’s and laundry detergent.

Me, I’m going to try to eat down my fridge and not buy food before I have eaten what I already have. Which, unfortunately, includes about a dozen bags of sweet potato fries.  So I know what’s for dinner for the entire week.



Wednesday, September 26, 2012

One Year Later, Part II

It took a couple of weeks for the biopsy results to come in, and one of those weeks I spent with a catheter, a medical imposition that can make life… interesting. Those of heightened sensitivities should probably stop reading here. Bluntly put, a catheter’s job is simple. It serves to give your bladder a rest and empty it as quickly as one fills it with liquid. I’ll simply say that it is amazing the amount of liquids one’s body discards in a matter of hours. It’s an ongoing process which seems to be unrelated to the amount one drinks, a sort of physical conundrum I have yet to figure out.

The biopsy results came back in two weeks and they were positive. The tumors were cancerous and would need to be removed. Not a particularly demanding operation, I was told, but one that would require going under once again. TGD (The Good Doctor) refused to use the word ‘cancer,’ I noticed. I found this odd and mentioned it to the psychiatrist my HMO had sent me to when the diagnosis was made. That doctor shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe he has an aversion to the word.”

Between diagnosis and surgery, I went through a deep depression which segued to anger, then to resignation. Bladder cancer is highly survivable (even though my oldest sister died from it), and if caught in time can be fully resolved. But still. Cancer is such an evil word. One out of two men in the United States will have a bout with it, and one in four men will die from it. I spoke about it to friends and noticed that some shied away. Initially, that mystified me, and in time I came to understand and justify their actions as fear of death by contagion. Never mind that cancer is not catching; I think somewhere in our reptile brain a few cells have ancient memories of plague, of leprosy, of deadly epidemics and cancer, in our times, is just that.

The second surgery was rougher than the first. More scraping, more serious discomfort. I had been given prescriptions for painkillers but my history is not good when it comes to addictive substances, so I kept the Vicodan in the back of the medicine cabinet and, in the end, never took any.  A few friends came to visit but I wasn’t particularly amicable. I wrote, I read, I watched bad television and all the seasons of The Wire and The Sopranos. I meandered around eBay and looked up cars I couldn’t afford and cars I once could afford. I got angrier. In time I came to terms that whatever was happening to me was small potatoes in the universal sense, even if it was trés grosse pomme de terre in my very small universe.

Three weeks later I received a phone call from TGD (The Good Doctor) that I was now cancer-free. The relief was enormous.

Three months after that, a routine post-op check-up discovered  I no longer was. There had been a recurrence, TGD told me, but it was hardly worth mentioning, just a small anomaly, an annoyance at best.  Still, it would require another surgical episode.

Once out and healed, I underwent six treatments of chemotherapy.

On October 29, I’ll be checked again. Right now there is neither fear nor optimism. It will be what it will be, and for the moment, that’s OK.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Year Later

So yesterday marked the end of the cancer treatment phase where a virus (really, not a virus, it was a bacteria; there was some confusion there but it turned out to be the latter) was injected into me by means that reverse natural functions. A collection of different medical people did the deed, some of whom were more gifted than others.

Every Monday for the last six weeks, I have gone to the office of my health care provider, dropped trou and traded witty comments with folks—all women nurses—whose senses of humor were strangely missing. This may have to do with the chore they were performing. I do not imagine that there is much joy to be gained from it, at either the giving or receiving end.

My understanding is that whatever live little thingies were forced up my urethra went into pitched battle with the cancer cells.  Hopefully the former won and I will emerge from the experience a better man.  But I’m not sure yet. There are more tests scheduled for the future.

It’s been an interesting year. I was diagnosed with bladder cancer eleven months ago after a pretty long period where I complained almost monthly of recurring UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) and was given varying doses of antibiotics that seemed, at least temporarily, to do the trick.  

Then one morning, a fleeting expression crossed my GP’s face as she brought up the results of blood tests done the day before. “I’m going to send you to the urologist,” she said. The she smiled, hit Escape on the keyboard and the screen went blank.

It took three weeks to get an appointment, and two more before The Good Doctor there (TGD) did a cystology. This is not a fun test. Basically, a long tube with an attached camera is snaked up the urethra to inspect the area. I was lying down with a television screen overhead showing what the inside of my bladder looked like when I heard TGD says, “Uh ho.” He manipulated the camera and I clearly saw three small tumors, pale little raised things that obviously did not belong in my bladder.  Then TGD added, “I’m going to have to biopsy that…”

Silly me. I thought he could do it on the spot, maybe with a clever pair of little scissors attached to the snaky thing, snip-snip and we’re done, but no…

Another two weeks and I am in the pre-op room, needles and tubes coming out of the crook of my elbow and the back of my right hand. I am scared. In fact, I am downright terrified. Cancer runs in my family. My mother, my father and one of my half-sisters all had it. I am told by the anesthesiologist that the medical facility will not be responsible if my capped teeth are somehow dislodged during the procedure. I remember that when I was interning at a rehab for medical personnel, anesthesiologists were our prime clients. They have a high rate of addiction to the controlled substances they routinely handle; this does not inspire confidence. Will my guy maybe sneak a little toot before the procedure and forget to turn one of the valves on or off?  

I sign a form acknowledging that the facility is really not responsible for anything that may happen to me while in their care, up to and including death and I think this is beginning to appear less and less promising. TGD makes an appearance in full surgical gear and asks how I am feeling. Peachy keen, I say. He nods, “Good, good.”

Sometimes later I wake up. There is a catheter in me, attached to a bag that is strapped to my leg. My friend Paul drives me home, asks if I’m OK and I say yes, more or less. My innards hurt.

I have been given two bags into which my urine will drain, because my bladder has been poked and sliced and is in no shape to do its duty. There is a large home bag that holds, like, gallons, and a much smaller traveling bag good only for a couple of quarts. With this smaller attachment I am supposed to be able to go shopping, eat with friends, be social, but I am thinking I will never leave my house again, ever.

My entire body is sore; I feel just like I did after a motorcycle accident of years before. Joints and muscles and even bones are unhappy and complaining. Peeing—something I have admittedly taken for granted my entire life—is now excruciating.

Life is not good right now…



Thursday, September 20, 2012

Muslim Humor

Today I am not myself. I am writing under the pseudonym of Alfonse Gaston because there is a possibility that what I write will anger some Muslims who might do harm to my family and neighbors (Note to angry Muslims: The neighbors on the right are fair game.) 

My subject is Muslim Humor.  An infidel priest, a rabbi and an imam are on a plane that's going down and there's only one parachute. The infidel says...

When I typed Muslim Humor into Google, my computer froze up. It appears that a sense of fun, of amusement and glee, are strangely missing from all those people screaming invectives and burning flags in protest of something that, in more civilized venues,  would not draw a second glance.  Has anyone actually viewed Innocence of Muslims? Seriously, you're getting pissed off by a video clip that has all the social importance of a recipe for crawfish étouffé.  Meanwhile your friends and colleagues and decapitating people they don't like and posting the executions online. Actually, I take it all back; in a weird and absurd way, it is pretty funny...

I'm curious about who the people with such deep grievances are. Obviously they're not home, cooking breakfast for their kids, or helping them with the math assignments. Judging from their state of dress, they're not doing the laundry too often either. My impression is, they're out in the street, or congregating at the internet cafés awaiting the next outrage. I wonder how they decide which demonstration to attend...

"Hey, Ali, the Russians just invaded Chechnya again! Let's destroy their embassy!"

"No, Abdul! I see on my 4G iPhone that the Americans have posted a YouTube item taking the  Prophet's name in vain. Let's go to their consulate and shoot them with our Kalashnikovs!"

"And tag their walls!"

"Stone their cars!"

"Burn down the Chik'n Bucket franchise!"

"Here's an even better idea: Lets take the few clothes our children have, make an effigy of Obama, and burn it!"   

Just a few days ago, Charlie Hebdo, one of my favorite French humor magazines,  published some less than tasteful cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, prompting some 10,000 people in Lebanon to march in protest. Where and how do 10,000 people spontaneously find the time to do something like this? I can't get five friends to play Monopoly on a Friday night! Are all these Muslim folks jobless, or is protesting a part of their employment benefits, sort of like the annual company picnic, but more frequent? Or maybe it's just something to do, a Middle Eastern version of bingo night at the senior center. 

Also, I'm curious as to where they get all the American flags, and I bet we could end all the protest by putting in an embargo on flag importation.

And here's the other thing I don't quite get: the garbage hasn't been picked up in weeks; your infrastructure is falling apart; the education system is in shambles; your women can't show their faces; your neighboring country hates you. Solution: Lets go kill some infidels. Unless, of course, you can come to the US, get a job, make some money and live a normal life.

Yeah. That works.

Alfonse Gaston, signing off. And remember, it's the neighbor on the right.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Writing, Part Whatever

For the past several years, I've been working on a novel set in Paris in 1919. I'am now on the fourth rewrite and I've trimmed more than 100 pages. I've tried very hard to heed the advice of Jane Feather,  a friend whose works regularly appear on the New York Times' best-seller list, and that of her husband, Jim, a noted editor. "Do not," they told me, "assume that what interests you, interests others."

This is the sort of advice most writers don't hear enough, or, if they do hear it, fail to heed; it is counter-intuitive and runs against the grain. After all didn't we get into this wretched and thankless trade precisely because we were captivated by the oddities of history,  emotions, or a combination thereof? Me, I am and have always been an avid fan collector of facts no one knows. I'm trying to become a member of the UK's highly reclusive Useless Information Society and I have every volume put out by Don Voorhees, master of the esoteric. (Example: The Rhode Island School of Design hockey team is called the Nads. Their team cheer is "Go Nads!") I am the quintessential garbage head, and I say this with a measure of pride.

The book with which  I've been struggling encompasses the lives of several artists whom I assumed are household names--Picasso, Modigliani, Satie, Renoir, Cocteau among them--and whose lives and works changed the course of art in the Western world.  Who wouldn't be fascinated by the fact that Cocteau was an opium addict? That Modigliani regularly smoked hashish and lived for weeks on sardines and bread? That his pregnant fiancée Jeanne Hébuterne committed suicide shortly after his death? Hmmm. Pretty much no one, it turns out. What I imagined would pique the readers' interests brought an oh hum reaction from agents who read the book, and I'm pretty certain some of them were so young they might not even have heard of Modigliani or Cocteau.

Well then, what about my fascinating serial killer character, Henri Désiré Landru, who between 1915 and 1919 murdered 10 women and a boy? He was one of the last people whose execution was with the guillotine, and he never owned up to his crimes.  In popular literature, Landru was know as the French Bluebeard and to this day there are some who believe he confessed all in a written declaration just recently discovered . Remarkable, right?

Not so much. "I don't do serial killers," wrote one agent whose specialty includes novels set in Europe between the wars.  ("Well, you should" was my imagined and unspoken response.)

Bearing the Feathers' advice in mind, I took to my book with a vengeance, wielding a pen sharpened not to edit but to slice.

The staggering statistics of World War I (the deadliest conflict in history. Total number of  deaths: 16 million.  Of casualties: 30 million. Cost? $186 billion.)?  Gone. I took them out. The secret life of Pablo Picasso? Trashed and on the cutting room floor.  The internal dialogue of most of my characters?  Deemed unnecessary and made to vanish. The number of ancillary cast I wrote about simply because they interested me? Reduced by half.

The more I edited, the more it struck me that I'd been writing by the pound, adding pages simply because it made the book heavier and more self-important. Also, I wanted readers to know how smart I was, how deeply I'd researched my subject. This book was no longer entertainment, it was a cry of,  "By-God-I'm-going-to-educate-you-Philistines. By the time you finish reading this opus, you'll realize you wasted your college years on a liberal arts education!"

In other words, I lost track of what I was writing--a story meant to entertain readers, if I'm lucky engross them, and, perhaps, provide an ah ha moment or two.

The agreement between writer and reader is a simple one. I'll give you the years it took me to research, write, edit and market the book. You give me a brief span of your attention, perhaps a bunch of minutes strung together while riding the subway. Allow me an afternoon or two at the beach, an hour at bedtime.

I know you're not asking for an education;  you're giving me the opportunity to entertain you. If I fail to do that, well, that's my fault, not yours. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Making Money

I do not have a head for business. I buy high and sell low, and the one time I ventured into a public offering, I bought into the worst IPO in the history of IPOs. I put $3000 into Vonage, the computer phone company--a sure thing, all advised me. My three grand is now worth $187. I took Econ 101 while at Georgetown University and even I can tell this is not a good return on my investment.
I have purchased land upon which I could not build, apartments that could not be rented without thousands of dollars of work, and vintage motorcycles that could not pass even the undemanding Virginia state inspection. The signed and limited Salvador Dali editions I own were limited only by the fact that the printing presses broke down after putting out several million prints and papering the landscape with them. When I was better off, I splurged on what was once a very expensive Italian sport scar. It was gorgeous, red with a tan leather interior, boasted 12 cylinders and a top speed of almost 200 mph. It is perhaps the only model in the company's history that has gone down in value in the past 10 years.
Most recently, I closed out an account with a broker who, I came to realize, never had my best interest at heart. When I decided to transfer my funds to another brokerage house, there was a glitch and for three weeks I had no money. That all worked itself out and I got a large number of airline miles by paying my mortgages with my credit card, but then the airline that issued the credit card went out of business. Such is life among the financially inept.
I am awed by the young entrepreneurs who are billionaires by the time they're thirty--awed and somewhat afraid. I do not know where the gene that allows some to take chances--and win--comes from. I'm pretty sure my parents didn't have it. Family lore tells of a maternal great-grandfather who bankrupted his upper bourgeoisie family by buying his mistress a candy store. The young woman--in her 20s, I was told--was a dancer with the Follies Bergeres and had about as much business acumen as I do. She ran the confectionery into the ground, then sold it and moved to the Cote d'Azure with a Portuguese playboy. Together, using the candy funds, they opened a charcuterie (the girl came from peasant stock) which did quite well until a shipment of tainted ham gave trichinosis to half the guests staying at the Negresco hotel in Nice. The erstwhile dancer and her paramour left town in the middle of the night, one step ahead of killers from the Corsican mafia. So obviously, they couldn't quite get the hang of it either. I'm glad I'm not the only one in the family...

Monday, September 10, 2012

How Smart I Am

Several years ago I briefly dated a woman who liked to show others how smart she was, because she was.  I remember once mentioning that T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was one of my favorite poems, and she quoted, in Italian, the section Eliot chose from Dante's Inferno to begin his lamentations. Then she quoted the translation.

Since then, I have valued both phrases and situations that allow me to demonstrate my smartness.  And so the members of the small group of writers that, for the past three or four years, has met at my house once a month to read and critique what we're working on,   decided to each list 15 ways to prove how intelligent we are. Here's a sample:
  1. "It wasn’t until I actually traveled to Azerbaijan that I realized just how funny their jokes are!"
  2. If someone refers to a beloved book by a favorite author, say, "That's really one of his lesser works.  You must read..."
  3. Parlay your 15 minutes of fame into 15 hours.
  4. When on a hike, tell everyone you are an expert on wild mushrooms and encourage them to pick and eat.
  5. If someone mentions numbers, do mathematical calculations in your head and incorporate  them into your response. ("I saw two rabbits in the yard today!"  "Goodness, at the rate they multiply, by the end of the year, you could have 856!")
  6. Create a list of 15 ways to show people how smart you are, and include 16 items, because you're just that smart.
  7. Intently study a dog's posture, then comment, "Look at what he's saying! Remarkable, don't you think?"  Then add, "And they say dogs are incapable of abstract thought!"
  8. When speaking to foreigners, point out how much you know about their country, and how fortunate they are to be living here now.
  9. As you search for a word, bring in as many languages as possible. "In Punjabi, that's..."
  10.  With a great sigh, say, "What do we know? What does any of us know?"
  11. Go to St Ives 15 times and each time meet a man with 15 wives, and meet the wives who each carry 15 sacks, and open the sacks to see 15 cats, and observe that the cats have 15 kittens, and each kitten wears 15 collars, and each collar has 15 bells, then tell the man how many are going to St. Ives.
  12. When writing a novel, introduce eight new characters in the last 40 pages to demonstrate the control you have over plot.
  13. When referring to something low-brow, apologize profusely about what led you to know about the subject. "As I saw in the National Enquirer, which I was perusing for my online American Studies course..."
  14. Move your lips while you read and say you like to taste words.
  15. Stare glumly out the window at the rain and say, "On days like these, I know exactly how Wittgenstein felt..."
Feel free to add your own!


Friday, September 7, 2012

The Rewrite

For the past three weeks I have defeated the Butfirst Disease (see 8/28/12 blog) and actually done some serious work editing a book I wrote a few years ago. I know my skills and my limitations, and I can honestly say it's a good read with a strong story line, characters you can love or not, a great location--Paris in 1919--and a couple of interesting subplots. I'm about two-thirds through and I've chopped more than a hundred pages. The original came in at 437, and I hope to end up with about 325.

First I did the obvious: I got rid of as many words ending in ly as I could. Depending on adverbs is like hiring cheap labor. The job will get done, but badly.  I followed this with a 'search and destroy' for the word that, possibly the most useless of all four-letter words. Then I looked for passive sentences and made them active whenever possible. Finally, I counted the number of times I used the word 'seemed.' I took all of them out save three or four out, because things either are or are not. If they seem to be, it means they're actually something else.

Like many writers, I've had to create my characters from an amalgam of both the real and the imagined. In doing so, I gave them particular appearances, demeanors and quirks, thought patterns, personalities, issues and secrets.  And, like many writers, I thought I had to share all this information with the readers: How else would the legions who will make this an enduring best-seller know what and who I'm writing about? This need to over-describe was a mistake.  It slowed the book down tremendously without adding an iota of interest. It pains me to say this, but it was boring. In writing, for the most part, you don't need the warts and goiters.

I also thought: Do readers, for example, have to know in excruciating details about the great influenza pandemic of 1918, and the deaths of a lead character's parents? In my mind, they did. Who wouldn't be fascinated by such a wave of death? Twenty to 40 millions killed in the greatest and most devastating epidemic in world history, with 28 percent of all Americans infected! Personally, I love having such information at hand; I  thrive on dropping significant factoids during a lull in dinner conversation, which may or may not explain the rolling eyes of my exasperated friends.  Me, I like this stuff. Others, maybe not so much.

I did this repeatedly throughout the book, using the lives of my protagonists and heroes to illustrate historical details I found interesting but which had no play whatsoever in the book's plot. 

Call it the James Michener syndrome. It worked back when JM was putting out his 900-page epics, possibly because (1) there were fewer distractions to readers--phones, emails, television, tweets, texts, etc., and (2)  many people now want some sort of instant gratification, even when reading (it's my sense that the need for instant gratification has hit the reading public. That's why we read writers like Lee Childs whose characters don't evince much thought or philosophizing and are constantly engaged in some form of action--hitting, killing and maiming, for the most part.)

The other stuff I'm getting rid of involves what I call characterial introspection. How often do we need to know what the character is thinking, and to what depth?

I believed it was necessary to the plot's development to have in black and white all the concepts, notions, and rationalizations needed for my people to act. What I didn't realize is that this sort of exposition is mortally dull to the reader, and a facile way for the writer to avoid doing the work that must be done.

What all this means, in the end, is that the reader has to be allowed a place in the book. I'll lose him if I crowd him by over-writing. In fact, ideally, the reader is lured into the work and becomes a character. A Joyce, Harris, Balzac, Hugo knows that when creating a universe, there has to be a door to let the reader in.  That's great writing.

I still have a lot of work to do...

Sunday, September 2, 2012


This is my favorite (clean) joke:

A woman at the beach is watching her toddler son play in the surf when suddenly a wave picks up the child and carries him out to sea. The woman, desperate, falls to her knees and implores God, “Oh please, please bring my child back!”

The wave stops, reverses itself, tosses the boy gently into the air and he lands in the woman’s arms. She looks at him, then up at the heavens and snarls, “He had a hat!”

This is my second favorite (clean) joke:

A man sees a sign in front of a house: "Dog for Sale."
He rings the bell and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees a black mutt lying in the shade of an elm tree. The dog looks up and says, "Hi! Nice day! You gonna take me home?"
The man is astounded. "You talk?" he asks.
"Yep," the mutt replies.
"So, what's your story?"
The mutt looks up and says, "Well, I discovered this gift pretty young and I wanted to help the government, so I told the CIA about my gift, and in no time they had me jetting from country to country, sitting in rooms with spies and world leaders, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable spies eight years running. The jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger and I wanted to settle down. So I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible dealings there and was awarded a batch of medals. Had a wife, a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."
The guy is impressed, goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog. The owner says, "Ten dollars."
The guy says, "This dog is amazing. Why on earth are you selling him, so cheap?
The owner replies, "He's such a liar. He never worked for the CIA."

I haven't heard a new joke in years. I'm not talking about throwaway one-liners, which are both common and, for the most part, uninspired. I am talking about a full-fledged joke with a strong lead-in and a walloping punch line. 

According to the About Jokes website, the first semblances of the “Joke” is said to have been originated in ancient Greece around 1200 BC by Palamedes, who legendarily outwitted Odysseus before the Trojan War. Flash forward to 10 BC when Roman playwright Plautus suggests the use of “jest books” in some of his works. Other Romans, such as Melissus, begin compiling collections of jokes. Then, in 5 AD, the Philogelos, the earliest jokebook known to exist today, is written.  It containing 264 “jokes”, some of which are duplicated in a different form throughout the book, suggesting that it is a work containing two combined volumes. Though the Philogelos disappears from existence, humor is still seen through folktales in Islamic culture, which makes its way to the southern Mediterranean countries. Around 1300 AD, the “Joke” is reborn during the Renaissance, and in 1452 in Italy, Italian humanist Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459) creates his best known book of jokes, the Liber Facetiarum or Facetia. This collection contains 273 humorous anecdotes, jokes, jests, puns and bons mots – taken from his travels around Europe. This is the first time a humorous work of this kind is published in Europe.

In recent times, the joke has been replaced by the sitcom one-liner, which generally doesn't have much going for it, which in turn explains why television comedy depends on a  very fast series of one-liners that barely leave watchers the time to appreciate the wit. We are served a bad banquet of for the most part not very funny observations, most based on insults (think "Yore Mama's so fat...")

Luckily, I don't watch much TV. as a matter of fact, I stopped watching comedy offerings about the same time Michael left The Office.   

My all time favorite joke right now?  Considering my present health situation, it's this one: Jacques goes to his doctor after a long illness. After a lengthy examination, the doctor sighs, looks Jacques in the eye and says, "I've some bad news for you... you have cancer and it can't be cured. I give you two weeks to a month." Jacques, shocked and saddened by the news, composes himself and walk from the doctor's office into the waiting room. There he sees his son, Alain, who has been waiting.

Jacques says, "Alain, I have cancer and I've been given a short time to live. Let's head for the bistro and have a Cointreau or two." After several Cointreaux, the two are feeling a little less somber and soon are approached by some of Jacques' old friends who ask what the two are celebrating. Jacques tells them they’re drinking to his impending end. He tells his friends, "I've only got a few weeks to live; I've been diagnosed with AIDS."
The friends give Jacques their condolences and they all have a few more beers. After his friends leave, Alain leans over and whispers,  "Papa, I thought you said that you were dying from cancer. You just told your friends that you were dying from AIDS."
Jacques replies, "I don't want any of them sleeping with your mother after I'm gone."