Tuesday, February 22, 2011

two ways to break a coconut

so i've escaped winter by driving 12 hours south from chicago with my friend janet and her friend kenny, and we have arrived at the house of my friends, brad and kathleen, who are living in star, mississippi where he is the pastor of a methodist church and she is a personal trainer at a gym, thinking about grad school. they moved here 8 months ago from the bay area and the lack of culture and progressive peers and queer community is kinda getting them down. so it's an instant party when we show up this evening. the liquor cabinet gets raided and we all are having great and amusing conversation, playing with the dog and passing a bowl, working on the puzzle that is their amusement on other nights.
so, late in the evening, brad picks up a coconut from the fruit bowl on the table and decides its time to crack it open. he takes out a butcher's knife and kathleen gets really stern and says, 'brad, stop! there is no way i will allow you to try to chop a coconut in half with a butcher's knife.' he looks at her and says, 'honey, i'm not stupid,' and explains that, with the back edge of the knife, not the blade, he will whack the center line of the coconut all the way around and then hit it right on that line and it will fall in two. he swears this is how you do it. we all look a bit skeptical, but he is adamant that he knows this is the best way to crack open a coconut. so we watch and comment, and after he has whacked around the whole circumference, he gets a plate to put the coconut on and makes to hit it right in the middle. janet says, 'you are going to break the plate.' brad looks at her and says with conviction, 'no, im going to crack the coconut.' kenny is quietly mumbling skeptical noises until brad looks him in the eye and says with supreme confidence, 'i can do this.' kathleen is still not happy about it, but brad is on a roll now. before we even know whats happening, he has set the coconut on the plate and hammered down on it with the back of the butcher's knife. the instant of contact is unanticipated, abrupt, loud and beautiful and of course, leaves the coconut intact and breaks the plate into about 8 pieces. the instant directly after is completely silent with the comprehension of what happened, brad's utterly shocked face falling in failure and guilt, the rest of us hanging in anticipation of the aftermath. the very next instant, kathleen starts us all laughing uproariously. somehow she gasps out that it was her grandmother's china and then laughs even harder. we look at her and she says, 'its not the good china, don't worry,' and we all just fall over laughing. brad says, 'i was so sure it was gonna work' and janet says, 'i know, but i don't know why.' we can't breathe for almost 10 minutes and our stomach muscles are aching by the time we stop. kenny says, 'brad, i knew it wasn't going to work, but you somehow had me convinced that you could do it.' we all just shake our heads. kathleen is probably the most amused of everybody. im sure she thinks it was worth one of those plates for the perfect hilarity of that moment.

i believe the reason this situation was so funny was that there were two instants of comedy held together by a moment of anticipation. brad was so effing convinced that it was going to work, and his astonishment when he didn't succeed was the stuff slapstick comedy is made of. that would have been funny no matter what, but there was a one-two punch here. it wasn't just the funny situation, it was also the amusement at the funny situation. because they were both present, because kathleen found the whole thing so funny, especially when it was the family china that was sacrificed, this moment had me holding my stomach and wheezing like i haven't done in years.
i mean, she could have been stern with him after the fact, she could have shook her head at him, she could have said, 'i told you so.' and that still would have been funny in some ways. maybe not in the moment, or maybe just after the fact. but she didn't. however, we all knew that possibility was there, so that moment of anticipation between brad's failure and kathleen's reaction, heightened the potential humor to a fevered pitch. when she laughed the explosion was a letting off of steam built up from the absurdity of brad's belief, the extravagance of his failure and the near miss of confrontation from his wife. and the part about it being her grandma's china was just the extra punch in the gut.
(and not to add comic insult to comic injury, (or to try to get one more punch in there) but the coconut, when we finally broke it on the concrete floor of the garage, was rotten.)

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