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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000456.txt from 2003/10

From: Dan Leeson <>
Subj: [kl] Don't try to escape. I have your names and remember your miserable
Date: Thu, 16 Oct 2003 12:53:56 -0400

There have been a number of recent postings about basset horns on this
list, and a few have even stooped so low as to make a pun on the name of
that glorious instrument.

Now that I am about to become a famous author (as soon as my "The Mozart
Forgeries" is published -- a fiction novel but for clarinet players --
and we are working on it as this is written), you will all be able to
say, "We knew him when he was modest and not so famous."

To that extent, here is a short story I wrote entitled "Basset Horn
Blues. It describes what happens to people who make puns out of the
basset horn designation.

I have your names. You can't escape.



In 1948, my parents moved to Suffern, New York, a small city
located on the New Jersey/New York border. One of the benefits that I
learned living in Suffern (and which could not have been learned almost
anywhere else for reasons that will be clear in a moment) was a lesson
about human deportment that affected an aspect of my behavior to this
day. Paradoxically, it had to do with the town's name.

When an occasion arose where someone asked me where I lived, I
would give and even spell the name of the town, "S-U-F-F-E-R-N," and an
astonishingly large number of people responded identically, probably
with the intent of showing how clever their shoot-from-the-hip bon mots
could be.

"Suffern?," they would say, sarcastically. "Are you suffering?,"
at which point they would collapse in a paroxysm of self-congratulatory

Now this doesn't sound like much. It's a small attempt at comedy
derived from observing a similarity of pronunciation, a sort of harmless
homophonic humor. But repetition of it soon began to drive me crazy as
I discovered that invention of the same tired play on words was an
unknown genetic flaw present in Homo sapiens.

Was that the way I spoke? When people gave me a fact on some
subject, did I independently create an unoriginal and not particularly
clever joke based on the sound of the words of that fact? I didn't
think so but it was time to pay close attention to how I spoke.

The first 100 "Suffern? Are you suffering?" statements quickly
grew to the level of a major irritant. After that, its exasperation
quotient spiraled upwards like an H-bomb cloud. Then my paranoia took
over and I began to believe that meetings were being held while I was
asleep, meetings to encourage additional strangers to repeat that dumb
line and, thus, drive me into an ever-deepening schizophrenia.

"Okay everybody. Let's keep it down to a quiet roar. Now listen.
I know its late, but we just found out that this idiot from Suffern is
going to be driving through here tomorrow and he'll probably stop for
gas. So we've called this 2 a.m. town meeting to alert you to the visit
that is going to enable us to create a faster slope for this jerk's
descent into insanity.

"Now listen up all you gas station owners. He is going to need gas
and if you happen to be the one he chooses, be sure to ask where he is
from. Then, when he says 'Suffern,' you all know what to do. But don't
get fancy. Just say the standard line: 'Suffern? Are you suffering?'
You got it? Don't deviate from orthodoxy. This guy doesn't have much
in the brains department, and he can't deal with change. Just keep it

"And Elsie, he'll probably want to eat something about that time so
if he goes to your diner, get a couple of customers to ask him where he
is from. And put him at Helen's table.

"Helen, make goo-goo eyes at him while you take his order. Let him
see two buttons worth of cleavage. He's a sucker for that. Then, when
he is defenseless, ask him where he's from. OK?

"We figure he's half crazy now what with raging hormones and his
lousy gene pool. By constantly using this same dumb, trite, threadbare,
shaggy, moth-eaten line, we can have him six bricks shy of a load in
four to six months.

"Folks. Let's get ready here. We don't want any criticism from
the governor. This is an opportunity for our city. You all know that
last week he was in Syracuse and they zinged him about three dozen
times. Let's see if we can Suffern him 144 times. That's a gross of bad
puns. OK? It'll be good for business and tourism.

Would you believe that this thing became a state effort and the
governor himself got daily reports on it?

I intended to begin injuring people who came out with the Suffern
line having read somewhere that courts will dismiss murder or mayhem
charges when the accused offers the defense of provocation through
multiple repetitions of the same tired, old joke. It was called the
"Joe Miller" law.

But despite my bravado, I rarely retaliated. Mostly, I turned up
the corners of my mouth to let the joke-teller know that I wasn't brain
dead, and then added a hatch mark on the total count of repetitions.
When we moved away from Suffern in 1958 it read 15,763. Thank God we
didn't move to Intercourse, PA.

My mental health got better. As I got older, I stopped being
furious at people who asked me where we I lived as a teenager. I
married a lovely woman who never once commented on the similarity of
"suffer" and "Suffern." I began what became a successful business
career, played a great deal of clarinet at a professional, long hair
level, and moved to Paris where jokes about suffering in Suffern would
make no linguistic sense. Life was good. I was playing a lot of
professional gigs in France and one of the finest French players, Louis
Cahuzac, once told me that I should broaden my horizons by investing in
a few of the rarer kinds of clarinets.

Cahuzac said, "there is always a need for players of the cor de
basset. If you own one of them, you play a lot, but if you get two, you
will never stop playing." It was the best musical advice I ever had.

The name "cor de basset" didn't strike me as particularly funny. I
had heard of the instrument, but in French, there is little room to make
a pun on the name. It was the English translation that would take me to
the perimeter of hell. Not until we moved back to the United States and
I was invited to play the Mozart Requiem (which calls for two "cors de
basset") was the magnitude of my colossal error made manifest. (That
was Cahuzac's gift to me. When you had two cors de basset, one for me
and one for rent to the other player, they had to hire you. At one
point I was the only professional clarinet player in the United States
who owned two cors de basset. And since I owned the bat and ball, they
made me the team captain.)

The contractor engaging me said, "We'd like you to play basset
hound, ... er, I mean basset horn (heh, heh, smirk, smirk, nudge, nudge)
for several performances of the Mozart Requiem."

My blood suddenly ran cold. Terror siezed my vitals. What had he

"Basset hound? Basset HOUND??

My God. It was "Suffern? Are you suffering?," all over again.

But the basset horn jokes were worse, for the homophonic
possibilities opened up undreamed-of opportunities to the punster.

"What long ears your instrument has," the conductor would say.
(Better to hear your imbecilic and contradictory directions with, said
I, silently and to myself.)

"What big eyes your instrument has." (Better to see your
incompetent stick technique with, you blundering idiot!)

"And Grandma, what big teeth your instrument has." (Better to bite
you on your goddamn ass with, you unoriginal, stupid bastard!!)

One conductor stopped in the middle of a rehearsal of Strauss'
"Frau Ohne Schatten," to say, "Basset hound, your entrance 'barked' too
much." And then he and the entire orchestra laughed at his cleverness
until they all wet their pants. The corners of my mouth would turn up a
trifle to show appreciation for his trite, commonplace lack of
originality. He was, after all, the conductor. That didn't mean he was
smart or knew anything about music. It meant only that he owned a baton
that cost $1.75 and with it exercised control over your income.

It was retirement and the selling of my basset horn pair that
preserved what was left of my sanity. And I can, at this juncture of my
life, look back and examine the valuable lesson that I learned at age 16.

Verbal puns simple enough to allow instantaneous riposte,
particularly those built on homonyms, were probably independently
discovered by at least 50,000 people before I had learned to pee without
a revolving team of adults to assist me. Realizing this fundamental law
of nature, I never used puns. Ever. And in this way beautiful women
were attracted to me because of my brilliant social dialogue, one that
was completely without homonymic puns. Several wealthy women
established me in private New York apartments because of my skill at
avoiding all homonymic humor, and not an evening went by without me
becoming sexually exhausted as a result of this knowledge, information
that I pass along to all those dumb enough to continue to use such
shoot-from-the-hip stupid jokes. You'll get damn little nookey if you do.

One of my last jobs before retiring, was to play Mozart's Gran
Partitta (which also requires two basset horns - merci mille fois,
Monsieur Cahuzac). It was in Reno. And there was this 98 year old lady
who was there, and she came up to me after the performance and asked me
if I enjoyed blowing into the dog. So I shoved my basset horn up her
nose, bell end first. And, due to the notoriety of the 1948 NY State
law that allows one to maim anyone who makes homonymic jokes, I wasn't
even arrested. The last I saw, the body of that 98 year old lady was
left propped up in a casino by a baccarat table, her head held up by
that portion of the basset horn that I was unable to get up her nose.
She could still be at that baccarat table, for all I know. She may even
be winning, but she no longer makes basset horn jokes.

(Postscript: during a spell check of the text of this story on my
word processor, I received the message "'Suffern' spelling appears
incorrect. Try 'suffer.'" I tell you those bastards are still trying
to get me and now machines attend their late night meetings.)

**Dan Leeson **
** **

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