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Backcover Copy and Excerpts

In 1990, Gordon Kirkland sustained a severe spinal injury in an automobile accident. In the years following, laughter helped him cope with the stress and pain of his slow and difficult recovery, and the knowledge that he would not be able to walk again without the assistance of forearm crutches.

Here's Kirkland's unique sense of humour and outlook on life in the '90s. Meet "commutus obnoxiousi," more commonly known as Other Drivers ("The male of the species is sometimes called the Wet-lapped Swerver, because he tries to simultaneously steer, hold a coffee, answer the cellular phone and insert a stress reduction cassette tape into the stereo"). Or one of Kirkland's sons, "a teenage-grocery- sucking-appetite-on-legs" who is being taught to drive by his mother ("Diane gave me a very important duty to take
care of while she and Mike are out driving. I'm in charge of
hosing down the driveway every day. She wants the ground she'll be kissing to be clean when she gets home").

And Kirkland himself, downright irrepressible, who, having been told that it takes fewer muscles to laugh than to cry, and being committed to energy conservation, chose to give his readers the chance to laugh with him, at him, and hopefully, at themselves.

It's Always Okay to Laugh - Unless It's at Me
Despite living with me all these years, my family doesn't seem to understand when something is funny and when it's not. I'm writing this so that they, and anyone similarly humor-challenged, might gain a bit of understanding about when it's appropriate to laugh and when it's not.

Basically it all comes down to who's involved in an event. For example, if something amusingly unpleasant, scary, disgusting or even mildly painful happens to someone in my family, it's funny, and therefore it's appropriate to laugh. However, if something completely and utterly unpleasant happens to me, the other members of the clan should realize that isn't funny at all and refrain from laughing - at least until I can't hear them.

An example of a humorous household incident occurred a few years ago. I entered a contest that required me to take twenty photographs in the order they appeared on a list. One of them called for an interesting scene that included an insect. At this point, I should say that my wife, Diane, is terrified of anything that remotely resembles a spider. If she turns the page in a magazine and sees a picture of one, the book will fly across the room.

Mike, my oldest grocery-sucking-appetite-on-legs, got a realistic plastic spider from one of those vending machines that gives a two cent toy in return for fifty cents. I placed the toy spider inside a carefully drained egg, with a couple of legs appearing out of the cracked shell.

The egg was placed-and looked quite photogenic, I might add-on the egg shelf in the refrigerator. After I photographed the scene, I went on to take the other pictures on the list. In my haste, I forgot to remove the eggshell that held the spider.

As soon as I heard the scream, I remembered the egg. When I got to the kitchen, Diane was just regaining consciousness on the floor in front of the open refrigerator.

Obviously the scene of my semiconscious, arachniphobic wife, who had discovered the realistic spider emerging from an egg in the refrigerator, might well be considered funny. Laughing at it would be a completely natural reaction. Diane didn't understand that, though, and as a result of her underdeveloped sense of humor, became quite annoyed at my laughter.

On the other hand, an event that could never possibly be considered humorous occurred more recently. I opened the refrigerator and spotted a snack item that my sons had obviously overlooked. There, on a plate, wrapped in cellophane, was some leftover pate.

I spread a generous helping on a cracker and quickly discovered why no one had eaten the rest of this culinary delight. It tasted terrible. I rewrapped it and returned it to the refrigerator because I knew there was one person in the household who could eat disgusting things like broccoli without gagging, so I assumed the pate belonged to her.

When I mentioned my unappetizing experience to Diane, she gave me one of her deer-caught-in-the-headlights looks and said, "You didn't ... ?"

She tried to tell me I had eaten cat food, but I pointed out that the cat food was clearly visible on another shelf.

"Dear," she said, already starting to laugh, "I put cat food on that plate and mixed in the cat's antiflea medicine to make it easier to give to her."

This wasn't funny at all, because it didn't happen to one of them. If it had, we could have all shared a good laugh. Unfortunately my
humor-challenged spouse didn't understand the important
difference in this situation.

Of course, she didn't want to keep her misplaced hilarity to herself, so she immediately shared my misfortune with my equally humor-deficient sons. They, too, laughed uproariously. Another round of laughter ensued when one of them questioned my intelligence for even thinking he might have left an uneaten snack in the refrigerator for me to find.

And did they let it drop? No way. Hours later, when I sat down at the dinner table, I discovered I had been served cat food.

"We know it's your favorite, Dad," said Brad, my younger grocery- sucking-appetite-on-legs.

Despite my misfortune, and the annoyance I felt at my family's lack of understanding about when-and when not to-laugh, I was still able to find an upside to this event. When flea season starts, the animals and I won't have anything to worry about.

Read This, or You'll Hear from My Lawyers

I was so proud. I thought it would take me a lot longer and a great deal more American publication credits to be accepted into the culture of the United States. After all, as a Canadian writer, I've had certain hurdles to get over down there, such as convincing people that Canadians don't have to write everything in both English and French unless we're dealing with the government.

Recently, in the mail, I got an invitation that demonstrated I was welcome in the land of opportunity, even though I continue to live north of the forty-ninth parallel. I could barely contain my excitement when I realized the document was indeed an invitation to join with others in the Great American Pastime.

No, not baseball, the other Great American Pastime.

I was invited to take part in a class-action lawsuit.

It wasn't anything spectacular, like the ones for exploding breast implants or corroding birth-control devices. My gender kept me from participating in those cases. Still, the case involved a corporation not living up to its responsibilities. I was surprised that the people who started the lawsuit were considering accepting a proposed settlement, even though it didn't include a provision for sentencing the company president to his choice of either lethal injection or electrocution.

A corporation whose product I bought apparently failed to deliver promotional rebates to some of its customers quickly enough. When I purchased a piece of computer hardware a while ago, the company was offering a small cash rebate, along with some software, as a purchase incentive. Neither the amount of money involved nor the software had anything to do with my decision to buy the product, but I sent in my coupon and proof of purchase just the same. After several weeks, the money and the software arrived, and I assumed that would be the end of it.

I forgot about the Great American Pastime down there in the Litigious States of America.

From the gist of what I was able to translate from the legalese in the document, some people felt it took the company too long to get those goodies in the mail. Since they had so much time on their hands while they waited, they decided to put together a class- action suit.

Excuse me? Let's get serious here for a moment. If we're going to start suing because a rebate took a little longer to get to us, then we should also be suing over much more important issues. I can think of several things I'd be more interested in hauling someone into court over.

When we bought our dog, Nipper, we assumed she came fully equipped with a functioning brain. Obviously the breeder was negligent in selling us a dog so stupid she can get lost on a single flight of stairs. Let's get all the people who have ever owned a cerebrally challenged canine to join forces in a class-action suit against the offending kennels.

When I was a kid, I had an incredible collection of bubble-gum cards and comic books. A lot of those cards are worth a fortune today. However, my mother threw them out when we moved after I finished Grade 8. I'd estimate my collection would be worth somewhere in the upper five figures today. Let's get together and sue every mother whoever threw out a Mickey Mantle or a Gordie Howe card in a deliberate and malicious act of housecleaning.

Even farther back there was an event that so traumatized me I hate even to bring it up. I'll bet I'm not alone. In 1958 I was fraudulently lured into joining a cult that held me captive for years. Oh, sure, they called it school to make it sound good. When my mother took me to visit something called kindergarten, I was shown a live rabbit that supposedly lived in the classroom. When I arrived the following September, there was no rabbit. It was all a sham to get me to sign up. I announced I wouldn't go if there wasn't going to be a rabbit in the room, only to be told I was stuck in a binding contract until 1972. Let's sue every teacher who ever tricked a small child into getting an education with the promise of a rabbit or other such incentive, and then failed to deliver.

I'd also like to warn Santa Claus about all this. I think this class-action-suit business might get him thinking about that new bike he promised me when I saw him at a department store in 1961. If I don't get it soon, he'll be ho-ho-hoing to my lawyers.

Anyone care to join me?