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Sometimes I think the world is getting fundamentally goofier, at an ever-increasing pace. On the other hand, I've only been here a brief while (in geologic terms, at least), and can't help believing that the world has always been pretty doggone goofy.

Sputnik and I happened to arrive the same year, 1957, though Sputnik made a much bigger splash in the press. Here is a testament to the magnitude of orbital velocity: a 183-pound device, accelerated into Earth orbit, can drag an entire surprised world right along with it. F=ma, indeed.

At the time a key parameter in the acceleration of global goofiness was surely the simultaneous acceleration of the space race. We learned to count backwards - "T-minus" one second at a time - most of us blissfully unaware of the meaning of "T". One of the first things I vividly remember is watching an Atlas-6 rocket lift John Glenn into Earth orbit. My equilibrium had been forever punctuated. (I'd never seen a color TV before.)

There was a lot happening during those goofy years, and not all the voices were counting down in synchronized unity. While it's true that conformity was king, the muzzles of McCarthyism were loosening. Diverse voices once again posed probing questions, flatly eschewing pat answers. Of course, as soon as someone uses the word "eschew," half their audience is history. How, then, to make people listen?

It seems that if you make people laugh, they will listen to you. After all, laughing is fun; it feels good. So, if you happen to have a particularly outrageous - or even subversive - point to make, why not make it with humor?

It was a Saturday afternoon when buoyant humor rescued me from what had, so far, been a pretty mainstream float through childhood. Flipping through the channels (I think we got five or six), I happened upon a starkly rendered warning:

It is the stated position of the U.S. Air Force that their safeguards would prevent the occurrence of such events as are depicted in this film...

And so began Stanley Kubrick's dark comedy, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

On the surface, it's an unsettlingly scary premise: a plausible scenario, in which human frailty leads to nuclear Armageddon. (I am reminded of that "Buffy" episode, in which Giles says, "It's the end of the world. Everyone dies. It's rather important, really.") So why was it so outrageously funny? One possible explanation springs to mind: "goofiness."

Some years later, during that brief and shining time when I knew it all, my taste in music was singularly insular. Music, of all things, certainly wasn't funny. Rather, music was a profoundly ponderous accompaniment to the equally grave business of unbridled teenage lust: an ear-pounding backdrop to the perpetual pursuit of pulchritude.

Then, a great friend of the family introduced me to the musical genius of Tom Lehrer. I had found the contrapuntal companion to Strangelove, poking furtive fun at soberly spooky specters like irreverent Boy Scouts ("Be Prepared"), Dahmer-esque dismemberment ("I Hold Your Hand in Mine"), and nuclear conflagration ("We'll All Go Together When We Go"). That familiar melody, with a new lyric - "Down by the old maelstrom..." - inevitably evokes an irrepressible grin.

So, dear reader, I implore you: don't fear goofiness, embrace it. After all, it has been with you your whole life and always will be, so laugh at it when you can. In the words of Mary H. Waldrip, "A laugh is a smile that bursts."

Author Bio
Blair Wyman is a software engineer working for IBM in Rochester, Minnesota, home of the IBM iSeries. [email protected]

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