Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Accounting Humor - Oxymoron?

Accountants don't get credit for having much personality at all, let alone a sense of humor.  A quick google search of accounting humor will yield such gems as, "Have you heard the one about the interesting accountant? We haven't either." Having worked as an accountant for many years, I have met quite a few accountants, and I have to admit that as a group we do not stray far from the stereotype. But every so often I will run into a square peg, someone who just wandered into the field of accounting and never wandered out.  It is among this group that one is most likely to find the quirky eccentric who will send an e-mail out to the Director of Accounting in January announcing that he is unavailable for auditors until March 15. That sort of dry humor is what I would consider the best of "accountant humor."   Comedian Bob Newhart actually did time as an accountant briefly before ditching his job for the life of a standup comic.  Newhart's deadpan delivery was the epitome of accountant humor.  My father was an accountant, and he was a big fan of Newhart. He listened to The Button Down Mind Strikes Back over and over again.  In one of the monologues on this album, Newhart stated that the reason he was unsuccessful as an accountant was that he just couldn't get upset about small discrepancies.  As I remember it, he said that his accounts were more or less accurate, "give or take a thousand."  This joke never failed to crack Dad up.  

Beyond the deadpan sarcasm, some accountants share a type of geeky humor that can eke a laugh from even the dullest moments. Unfortunately, this brand of "humor" is an acquired taste that most folks never acquire.  Here's an example.  Back in the early 80's I used to work with an old accountant named Owen.  He was a quiet, bald little guy who sat in his office and spent hours recording and analyzing production costs with pencil, adding machine, and a pad of greenbar.  One day as I was walking past his office he called out to me eagerly, "Hey, come in here, I want to show you something."  He proceeded to show me how two different numbers from two different sources were coincidentally EXACTLY THE SAME.  After revealing the miracle, he looked at me expectantly for some sort of appreciative exclamation on my part ("WOW!!!"), after which he exploded into a fit of giggles.  "You don't see THAT very often," he declared gleefully.  Which brings to mind another quip about accountants.  How does an accountant liven up a party?  By leaving.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pancakes for Breakfast

I have a prodigious appetite, or at any rate, I used to have one. As a child I learned early that in order to get second helpings, I needed to wolf down my first helpings very quickly. There were very few foods I disliked, but even those, I ate - just not with as much gusto.  My mother always used to warn me that I would become fat, but I was willing to take the risk. Being the austere person she was, my mother rarely kept sweets around the house.  She would go grocery shopping on Friday nights, while the rest of the family watched the Flintstones, and would usually come back with a package of Fig Newtons (my Dad's favorite) or Windmill Cookies among the groceries.  This was our allotment of sweets for the week. The rest of us did what any sweet-deprived group of people would do - we descended upon the cookies like locusts, and by the time the groceries were put away, the cookies were gone. The one exception to our spartan routine was when my mother would make pancakes for breakfast. She would fry up batch upon batch of pancakes until we could eat no more.  I was usually good for 2 or 3 helpings, slathered in butter and drenched in syrup.  I preferred my pancakes looking like islands in a sea of syrup.   My brother was also a great pancake lover. My sister never got into the spirit of the thing, but she married a pancake lover. I remember one particular morning that marked my family's apex of pancake gluttony. It was after we were all adults, on one of those rare occasions when the entire family was gathered together. We were all seated around the table as my mom fired up the griddle. The griddle was an industrial-sized monstrosity that plugged into the stove and actually covered one half of the stove's surface. Mom brought the pancakes to the table as they came off the grill , initially parceling them out to each of us.  My sister was the first to drop out after only one serving.  My husband and father dropped out after a couple of servings, but the three of us remaining had just hit our stride.  My brother, brother-in-law and I devoured batch after batch of pancakes, piping hot off the grill.  At one point Mom had to stop and make more batter. I don't remember which of us ate the most, but I can say this: I have never put away that many pancakes before or since, and I am pretty sure that it was a record for my brother and brother-in-law as well. My husband talks about it to this day.  It was truly epic. These days I subsist on low calorie foods.  I don't allow myself too many splurges.  But every so often I will order pancakes for breakfast. It's one of the things that makes life worth living.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Waste Not Want Not

As I have mentioned, I am a Midwesterner at heart.  My mother came from a long line of German farmers - a frugal, no-nonsense bunch of people if ever there was one.  Which is not to say they didn't enjoy their fun.  A weekend down on the farm getting drunk with the boys, followed by a boisterous round of fisticuffs, was one of my grandfather's favorite pastimes. But for the most part these folks were all business.  The concept of waste was alien to them.  In fact, if had they written their own Ten Commandments, the first one would have been "Thou shalt not waste."  (What the remaining nine would have been is a topic for another day.) 
My mother took this commandment to heart.  She was legendary for not letting anything go to waste. In fact, she was a recycler long before it became fashionable.  Her brand of recycling did not involve letting someone else recycle her cast off items, however; to Mom recycling meant that before she would allow anything to be thrown in the trash, she would carefully consider whether or not it could be put to some other purpose - and usually it could.  Whether it was margerine containers, milk jugs, coat hangers, stockings, diapers, t-shirts, buttons, or even those styrofoam trays that meat gets packaged with, she would find another use for it.  Margerine containers were handy for leftovers. Gallon milk jugs were cut in half and the bottom half was perforated with an ice pick so that she could drain her garbage before throwing it away (in the days of paper trash bags, it would never do to have wet coffee grounds soak through the trash bag). T-shirts were great for buffing rags for polishing shoes (or polishing the car).  Speaking of leftovers, no quantity of food was too small to put back into the fridge for another day.  One never knew when one might be just a little bit hungry for last night's leftover corn. But when heating such a small quantity, it seemed pointless to dirty a big old pan, so Mom confiscated the frying pan from my toy cookware set.  She used it for years.  It would be surprising if none of this frugality had rubbed off on me.  I do in fact save margerine containers, jars, plastic grocery sacks, paper grocery sacks, and even those little blue plastic bags that the newspaper comes in (they're great for picking up cat or dog poo).  The other night my husband actually threw away an empty spaghetti sauce jar, and it distressed me, even though I knew the reason he had done so was because there was no room for it under the sink in my jar cabinet. I remember once I was having an argument with my mother-in-law.  I don't remember exactly what it was about, but her parting shot was, "At least I don't save margerine containers." That was one of those moments in life when one is forced to see oneself from another's point of view.  I realized then that something I considered as natural as breathing might actually be considered quirky or eccentric to someone else.  The realization did not change my behavior, but it gave me a fond sense of kinship with my mother.  I may be a bit eccentric, but I come by it honestly.