I have a memory that popped into my head recently, for no easily discernible reason. It is a memory of something that would become one of my personal trademarks; an incredibly forced pun based on environmental signage/text. This memory is perhaps the first time in my life where I consciously recognized that a joke I had made was, to put it lightly, extremely labored.
In the memory, I am around 9 years old, which would make the year 1995.Summertime, it’s warm, and sunny out, but not so warm that I remember complaining about the heat. I am playing outside of my friend Laura’s house. We are playing pretend, with a number of dolls and toys. I don’t remember exactly what the game was, but in the memory I am holding a yellow stuffed duck, a “Beanie Baby” called Quackers, which at the time I was very fond of.
Laura is tall for our age, gawky, with a long, oval face covered in a starfield of freckles, with a cascade of ruler-straight bright red hair that I am positive had never been cut, only trimmed to make the bottom even. I remember at the time always feeling jealous of that hair.
We’re playing on the sidewalk, because the house Laura’s mother (Susan, a tall, gawky masseuse with a thatch of curly black hair) owned, like the rest of the houses on the street, butts right up with its front against the narrow road. The little space between the front door and the sidewalk is overtaken by large and rather wild flower bushes, that attract fat, fuzzy bumblebees, of which I am irrationally afraid. It is a city side street, on a steep hill, and almost no one drives down it aside from the people who live there. Neither of us are particularly worried about being run over while we play.
There is, however, a small commercial truck there. I don’t recall if it had just pulled in, or if it had been idling when we arrived outside to play. In either case, it is somewhat precariously braked a couple of houses down from where we’re playing. I don’t remember, or perhaps didn’t know, what exactly the truck was for. Looking back, I suspect it was a moving truck, or perhaps installing some appliance.
On the side of the truck was emblazoned the name “Hurtz”.
As I said, I don’t remember the context of the game we were playing beyond ‘pretend’, but I suspect it may have been a general babydoll/playing house game. Either way, when I saw the truck, the connection between ‘Hurtz’ the name, and ‘hurts’ the verb popped into my head and demanded to be shared with the world.
I don’t remember if I said it out loud, or if it stayed in my head. I suspect it might have stayed in my head, because I don’t remember Laura’s reaction to it.
“Mommy, mommy!” said Quackers the duck, using my voice as I waved him around in my hands, “It hurtz, it hurtz!”
In that moment I was suddenly, terribly aware that thoughts could be not as amusing as they were when I had them initially. It was a loss of humor based innocence.
And that…. Pun?…wordplay?….mistake?… was so memorably forced and bad, that I still occasionally cringe about it 25 years later. I do wonder if I managed to restrain myself from saying it, since I usually let them out, albeit I didn’t have such a finely honed sense of ironic terribleness at nine. Contrariwise I was a very serious and sincere child. So I wonder. But either way, I guess it’s thanks to that awful pun that I remember that otherwise pleasant summer moment, so, it certainly isn’t all bad. Just a bit labored.