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It’s kind of a funny story l Chuck’s World


Last updated 3/6/2019 at Noon

David Letterman may be the last of a particular generation of comic dinosaurs, for me.

Jerry Seinfeld doesn’t really make me laugh anymore, or Leno. It’s not a loss of natural ability, I suspect, as much as familiarity and then just age. I tend to believe that funny people hit a wall at some point in the aging cycle, and their humor gets stuck in the mud.

But Dave still seems funny. Or I could have just been in a mood, but I heard him tell a story the other day and it made me laugh.

The conversation had to do with jokes, the sort with a narrative, a beginning, middle, and punch line to pay off. He brought up a recent joke. I’ll bring it up, too, if paraphrased a little.

A guy is interviewing for a job. The interviewer asks him to list three positive attributes about himself. He says, “I’m always on time, I’m a hard worker, and I’m always polite.”

The interviewer nods appreciably, and then asks if he has any negative traits. The other man thought for a moment.

“I’m brutally honest,” he finally says. The interviewer looks puzzled. “I don’t think that’s really a negative,” he said.

“I don’t care what you think,” the other guy says.

OK. I understand enough about humor, I hope, to know that it’s personal. That one made me laugh, so sue me. I just wanted to share.

And I wanted to be brutally honest, and I’m having a little difficulty.

“Brutally” is too harsh, although it gets our attention. We know what it means; it’s telling the truth without adding artificial sweetener. It’s plain and simple, painless or, more likely, loaded with unpleasant but necessary information. Let’s be brutal. But nice.

My problem is I want to pass on information, polished and buffed up a bit to get your attention. I need to tell some truth, then, but I have to be careful for privacy reasons.

Let’s start with an old story that never fails to come up in this household, every winter.

On May 4, 1990, Jim Henson got a sore throat while performing on a talk show. A week later, still feeling under the weather, he went to see a doctor about a flu-like illness. Three days later, he woke up in the middle of the night with a bad cough, and finally agreed to let family take him to the emergency room. In less than 24 hours, the creator and genius behind the Muppets, the voice of Kermit the frog, had died. He was 53.

Mr. Henson, whose passing left a huge hole for many of us reared on his quirky humor and quirkier puppetry, sparked a public conversation for a while about not ignoring symptoms, and a private conversation in this household that has never quite stopped.

Some honesty, then, not too brutal. Jim Henson didn’t ignore his symptoms any more than you or I would. He felt bad. He went to the doctor. He had what appeared to be the flu, or something similar.

In fact, he had a bacterial infection from a very common bug, Streptococcus pyogenes.

You probably have a few of these bacteria hanging around your personal ecosystem. It can cause sore throats and skin rashes, and in most cases it’s easily treated and not a big deal.

In a few cases, it can cause systemic infection, and, as in Mr. Henson’s case, toxic shock syndrome and death. That’s kind of the brutal part.

I’ve sat in the waiting room of a clinic on at least a couple of occasions due to this, mostly against my will. I usually figure I just have a cold, and then my wife reaches a point when she plays the Jim Henson card and I make my way to urgent care.

It’s easier to see a physician and get a work-up than wake up in the middle of the night to find my wife listening to my chest.

The honest part is this, though: I have a friend who developed a similar infection. I’m not sure how similar, but I took him to the emergency room over a week ago and he’s still hospitalized. He may be there for a while.

I took him to the doctor, because he thought he had the flu. He didn’t. Influenza is a virus, which we should all know by now. My friend had a bacterial infection, which apparently started in the skin and then entered his bloodstream. It then traveled to various other places.

And you know how it started, at least probably? It’s winter, and he has dry skin. He scratched. He opened up some small wounds; I’ve done this myself. He ignored them. The bacteria saw an opening and took it.

That’s it. I don’t think I’ve invaded his privacy, but I’ve told you the truth. There are so many things, and it’s so easy to ignore, and most of the time we’ll be OK.

But I’ve known this man for over 30 years, and for a few days I thought he might die. I don’t blame him for not noticing, but I wish he’d put on a Band-Aid. It’s dry and cold. Skin gets itchy. That’s my story.

Put on the Band-Aid, and be careful out there. The odds are in your favor, but trust me: You want them to stay that way.


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