Sunday, March 23, 2014

Morey's Act

While I was stationed in Germany in the early sixties, the great comedian Morey Amsterdam came to our Airman’s Club to entertain the troops. I did not know who he was at the time, never having heard of the Dick Van Dyke Show, where he played regular supporting funnyman Buddy Sorrell. I loved his act at the club, though, especially his spontaneous insults to hazers. He told one disruptive young drunk in the audience to go rub ointment on his pimples. I thought that was a very satisfactory comeback. Morey Amsterdam died in 1996 at the age of 88.

The most memorable part of his performance there in Germany was his depiction of a lost airplane. He spread out his arms like wings, started humming the sound an airplane makes while looking around down below. The expression on his face changed from confusion to despair and then he burst into fake crying. The act made such an impression on me that I played “lost airplane” with my children and they loved it even before they understood it. They could both perform very credible lost airplane crying.

My older daughter played the game with her two and my youngest daughter now has three daughters of her own now and she reported recently that she was playing the game with her very creative and intelligent three-year-old. (I am a grandparent so I have bragging rights). Mommy said, “Can you do the lost airplane?” She put her arms out like wings and replied, “I’m sorry, I have short term memory loss, can you help me?” My daughter later found out that what she said is a line in Nemo. Even so, it is quite brilliant to make that kind of connection, right?

Thinking about a lost airplane, of course, we sympathize with those who have waited so long to find out the fate of the Malaysian one that disappeared. We think this is a small world, but when something like losing an airplane happens, we realize just how vast our planet is. That “needle in a haystack” metaphor comes far short of describing the scope of the search. And we cannot imagine the agony experienced by loved ones who have no closure. That kind of limbo must be absolute torture.

Human nature wants to ascribe blame in some fashion when a tragedy of this magnitude happens in much the same way angry despots want to blame the messenger. I am thinking of how Creon in Antigone blamed the messenger for bad news. Indeed, it is similar to ascribing blame to media organizations for public opinion. I know that if I had a loved one on that flight, I would have doubts about those responsible for the search. Are they working hard enough? Did they give up too easily? Do they know something they are not telling me? Even so, the blame for the loss is not lodged in government, nor in the search, but in the tragic event itself. It is the loss we must mourn for.

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