Saturday, May 5, 2012

Billy Crystal Came To Make Her Laugh

For Saturday Side Show, I recommend 700 Sundays by Billy Crystal, a superb story of his family and life in a distant time and place. It will make you laugh while it breaks your heart and makes you glad you’re alive.

Let me know if you enjoy it. Here’s an exerpt:

And the day after she checked in, I called her up. It was a stormy day, very windy and pouring rain. I said, "Mom, I'm coming over to see you. I have a new routine, it's really funny. I want to make you laugh."

She said, "You can't come here, you have to be sixteen."

"So, I'll do it outside, " I pleaded.

"No, it's pouring. Don't come."

I said, "Mom, you can't stop me."

I hung up and ran the seven blocks to Long Beach Hospital. The courtyard of the hospital is a U shape, and in the front was a big garden area. Right in the middle was this young sapling, tree, about five and a half feet tall, no branches, very frail. They had just planted it. It was held up by some yarn and some stakes, but in the wind and the rain of the day, it was bending over very easily.

I stood next to it, looking up because I saw Mom in the third-floor window sitting up in a chair, looking out. When she saw me in the wind and the rain, she was not happy. She looked down at me in horror, and mouthed her words, broadly, so I could see what she was saying….

"Billy, no. I told you not to come. Go home, Billy. Go home."

I shook my head, "No." I want to make her laugh. So I started doing cartwheels and round-offs, back flips, all the things I could do back then. And then I got an idea. I took a run and I slid headfirst into the mud like a giant Slip 'N Slide, and I stood up, my face covered with mud, because I wanted to look like James Dean in her favorite movie, Giant. Again horror from the third floor.

"No, no. Crazy boy. You're a crazy boy. Go home. Go home." She pointed furiously at me to leave.

I shook my head, "No." I came to make her laugh.

Wiping the mud off my face, I remembered she loved Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin was her favorite of all time. I started imitating Chaplin as best I could walking around the tree, leaving Charlie's footprints in the mud. Then I got another idea. I started talking to the tree as if it were a beautiful girl, because Charlie flirted with everybody. And then I embraced it, and I bent the tree over, and stole a kiss just like Charlie would do.

I looked up. Mom was laughing, a big warm laugh, her shoulders shaking. She held herself, as if we were hugging each other. Then she mouthed, "Go home."

I got my laugh. She blew me kisses in the rain, and I ran the seven blocks to the house, my Keds never once touching the concrete.


  1. John that part of the book made me laugh and cry at the same time. I know that my sons would have done the same. I will have to get the book and read it.

    1. Yes, do. It is an excellent read, partly because Billy Crystal is an excellent story teller, and partly because it is an excellent story. It seems to make the mundane of daily life sparkle, and it shines in the mundane parts of my own life, my own memories. But be warned, "it will make you laugh, it will make you cry" is not just a cliche in this case.

      Thanks, Kathy.


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