One recent example: PLTC's annual fund-raiser auction for our Project Discovery educational outreach program was last Friday night. During the champagne reception the main stage lobby gets crowded with champagne-swigging guests wandering around and scoping the assortment of items laid out in display for the silent auction portion of the evening. If you've ever been to one of these, you know the sort of things that get donated for this phase of the event -- hand-made jewelry, scarves and other accessories, small art items, and an assortment of services like a massage or a golf game at an exclusive course where the donor is a member. Bidders write their name and the amount of their bid on a form on the little clipboard in front of each item. If there's something you genuinely want, you can keep checking back throughout the reception to see if you've been out-bid, then up your bid accordingly. Bidding closes at the end of the reception, when everyone is shuffled next door for the dinner and live auction. All the silent auction stuff is resolved during dinner and the live auction, and winning bidders collect their booty at the end of the night. For intangibles like golf games, that's simply a matter of receiving information on how to arrange to redeem whatever it is. For a pair of earrings or a scarf, though, you collect the thing itself then and there. So we handle this "check-out" by setting up two lines, one for each sort. While setting things up, I came upon the sign for the latter category:
I knew almost immediately what it was, but seeing it out of context initially gave me such a good laugh I felt compelled to take the sign around and share it with a few folks who would appreciate the grammatical ambiguity.
Yes, I know my sense of humor finds satisfactions in odd places.
The other example, the one that spurred this post, is a bit different. I guess it's a case of a sort of frisson between knowledge of a thing's context and the way an element of that thing appears out of context. I was channel surfing this morning at the top of the hour and stopped briefly on TCM to see what was next. Up popped the opening titles of Marty, the 1955 film. I'd seen the film years ago but had completely forgotten how... well... perky the title music is. If you know the story, the bouncey tune seems incongruous with the pathos of the isolation in the characters' lives. Ultimately, I think, the disparity is a conscious choice, playing against the underlying emotions and reflecting the veneer of okay-ness that Marty feels compelled to maintain. It's the sort of arch move I suspect wouldn't work today, but then pretty much everything about Paddy Chayefsky's story is very much of its time. The movie has a style of film music that really doesn't exist these days, overt and expressive, literal and tied very closely to the action. The music approaches storytelling with a vocabulary cinema has all but abandoned. And, damn it, that tune is catchy. Without thinking about it, I was suddenly making up lyrics.
"It's Marty, it's Marty, he's Marty.
He knows not what he wants to do.
He's loyal and faithful, not naughty,
The truly bizarre part is the fact that there actually are lyrics. The closing credits, themselves done in an actor-and-character manner that was probably a bit dated even then, are presented over "Marty," the film's title song.
So I guess there are two threads to the second half of this story. One is, obviously, the fun in making up lyrics for tunes that feel like songs even if they weren't written as such. (Everyone remember Bill Murray's lounge singer spin on the Star Wars theme?)
The other is the pleasure in being reminded of a good drama that's genuinely sincere and free of irony.