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Pine Nuts – Commencement

June 2, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

Over the years I’ve had the distinct honor of delivering a few commencement sermons to some great graduates. So I dug down into a dusty bin to find out if any one of those ancient relics holds any water today. I shall share Sierra Nevada College here (abbreviated) and let you be the judge…

For the class of 2006 I have some good news and some bad. The good news is, as Bergson tells us, “Life, in all its color, warmth and complexity, is far greater than any intelligible formulation of it.”

  The bad news is, after today, the word “party” is no longer a verb. You are now a Republican, a Democrat, or an Independent. So keep in mind what our friend Mark Twain advocates, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.”

Yours will be the first generation whose foremost responsibility, whose foremost obligation, will be to stand up in an over-heated environment and shout, “Fire!”

It will take an intellectual process to predict the impact that greenhouse gasses will have on our environment in the year 2100.  You have the intellect to make the predictions and deal with the problems.  And, to facilitate this process, Sierra Nevada College will soon unveil the Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences, just behind us here…45,000 square feet of scientific space dedicated to the study of our Alpine ecosystem. 
  I come today equipped to offer our graduates one hundred life lessons, but will spare you, and offer five for your consideration.  

Life lesson #1:  Money, you might be surprised to find out, money is not for throwing from the back of trains.  Save your money.  Don’t gamble.  But if you do gamble…don’t split your tens.  And don’t waste time on Keno, it’s a 17% house-hold.

Life lesson #2: You must travel, far.  St. Augustine tells us, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  In your travels you will eventually come to appreciate what Mark Russell discovered: “The rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.”  Always pack a change of underwear in your carry-on.

Life lesson #3: Read good books.  The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.  Today’s literature is mostly about sex and not much about having children, whereas life is the other way around.  And when you consider having children, remember this caveat from Martin Mull: “Having children is like having a bowling alley installed in your head.” 
  For life lesson #4 we can thank Marcus Aurelius: “Waste no time debating what a good man should be…be one.”  And as an addendum to life lesson #4 we can turn to Robert Frost:  “You have freedom when you’re easy in your harness.”

For those who aspire to go into acting, I offer life lesson #5 from George Burns: “Acting is about sincerity.  If you can fake that you’ve got it made.”  George used to call me on my birthday, God rest his beautiful soul. And I asked him the last time I spoke to him, “George, I understand you’re still going out with young women…why!?”  He said, “Because their stories are shorter.”

Yes, on that note, I can hear William Hazlitt, an Essayist from the 1830’s, shouting these words to our graduates of today:  “Look up, laugh loud, talk big, keep the color in your cheek and the fire in your eye, adorn your person, maintain your health, your beauty and your animal spirits.”
           

Sierra Nevada College class of 2006:  Have a good life – have a good time – and God’s speed…

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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PINE NUTS – Love Potion Number Nine

May 15, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

I usually whistle past the obituaries, but Larry Young caught my eye. He was a scientist who discovered Love Potion Number Nine. Yes, Larry unearthed a chemical that heightens desire, not that the world needs it. A drug that would diminish desire might do the world more good in the long run. But Dr. Young was singing the praises of a chemical to make the heart flutter in a good way when he died of a heart attack at age 59.

Does Dr. Young’s work signal the day when perfect mates will be selected at the pharmacy? I can see the ads now: “Perfect Husband Drive Through.”

So what would Mark Twain say?

“Young people seem to think love is the swiftest of all growths, but in fact it is the slowest.  No man, no woman, can know true love until they’ve been married a quarter of a century.”

Why don’t they do a study on the mating drive of cicadas? They build-up a libido underground for 13-17 years before busting sod and singing their odes to Aphrodite loud enough to wake Muddy Waters in his Illinois grave.

Poets? Who will need poets anymore when we have chemicals to stir the passions? Poets will be out to pasture and will be hauling in their signs when Love Potion Number Nine hits the market.

So why have scientists failed to study the mating habits of the cicada? Probably because no scientist can wait 13-17 years for the cicada to come calling. Scientists as a general thing are not patient people. I went out with a scientist once when in college, and just as I was about take her hand she announced without emotion, “You blinked sixteen times in a minute, and that indicates irritable bowel syndrome.”

Personally, I hope the old-fashioned way of finding a mate prevails, that of hanging out on the corner near the ice cream parlor, and watching the girls go by…

But while I’m thinking about it, a person’s last words, as they might show up in an obituary, are so important. I tend to favor, “I done my damndest.” We just don’t want to go out mad, like W. C. Fields, whose fiery last words were to his long-standing mistress, Carlotta: “Damn the whole world and everybody in it but you, Carlotta.” (Carlotta must have been an exceptionally nice person.)

This causes me to consider the possibility of a future life. Hey, if a cicada can take a dirt nap for 13-17 years, and come up singing, why can’t we?

All I know for sure is, we have to make the most of this life we’ve got, choose a good mate, raise some good kids, and make the world a little better place. Above all, while I’m up on this soapbox, please, in this great land of ours, where we can be anything…be kind.  

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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The Third House – What Would Mark Twain Say?

May 6, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

Mark Twain was once given a pocket watch engraved, “Governor of the Third House.”

 Now unless you’re from Carson City, you might be wondering why. So I’m going to set out here to tell you why as best I can. You see, the Third House was a loose comingling of legislators, lawyers and journalists who would gather together at a groggery following a session of the Constitutional Convention away back in the early 1860’s to burlesque that day’s law making.  And Sam Clemens so enjoyed lampooning the legislators they made him Governor of the Third House. Here is a small sampling of his attentions…

“Mr. Youngs, how do you suppose anybody can listen in any comfort to your speech, when you are fumbling with your coat all the time you are talking, and trying to button it with your left hand, when you know you can’t do it?”

 Subsequently the Third House asked Sam to give a public talk to raise money for a new roof on the First Presbyterian Church. So he cobbled together his first public talk and had flyers printed up that were handed out in Virginia City & Carson…

The man lecturing has a very large nose and anyone whose nose exceeds its measurement will be admitted free.  All other noses must pay one dollar.

Well, two or three noses did get in free, but they raised $200 and put a new roof on that First Presbyterian Church.  One of the parishioners suggested that because it was Mark Twain who put a roof on their church, it would collapse and crush the congregation.  But it never has… 

I only wish we had a Third House in Washington today, as we Americans are getting better at throwing bricks than we are at laying bricks. I can just hear Sam following today’s Supreme Court hearing regarding immunity of a sitting president…

“Honorable Jurists, Complete immunity comes with knowing right from wrong.” (My words not Sam’s.)

As an impartial observer not living in a small corner of the internet, Sam might just go away from Washington today with a parting word, and yet another watch. 

“It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no native American criminal class -except congress.”

Finally, as is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain…

“I covered the legislature for the Enterprise, and in all these years, nothing has changed. Never have I seen a body of men with tongues so handy and information so uncertain.  They could talk for a week without ever getting rid of an idea.  If any one of them had been on hand when the creator was at the point of sayin’, ‘Let there be light,’ we never would have got it. No, the legislature meets every two years for sixty days, when they ought rightly meet every sixty years for two days. When the Nevada legislature is in session, nobody is safe.”

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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Mark Twain Days

April 26, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

We’re Back…bigger and better than ever! Please welcome the Second Annual Mark Twain Days, May 10, 11 & 12. For a listing of events take a gander at… www.visitcarsoncity.com/mark-twain-days/

You will find something of interest or my name’s not Mark Twain, or used to be anyways. And this year Virginia City is joining in on the fun. Wow!

The driving force behind last year’s Inaugural MTD, my hero, Debra Soule, has handed the reins to Nevada Arts & Culture Program Manager, Eric Brooks, and the BAC’s Valerie Moore. You might want to pass along this year’s MTD mementoes to your grandkids, as they will be worth their weight in gold come 2124.

Last year everybody sported a mustache, even the ladies. This photo captured many of us in time…

When I returned home from last year’s extravaganza I slept face down in my white suit for twelve hours…

So what might Mark Twain have to say?

“At last we disembarked in the Silver-Land, Nevada. This was in August of 1861, and back then, Carson City was the most uninhabitable place on earth.  Nothing grew there; even the birds when they flew over, carried their own provisions. But we climbed into the foothills and looked back on Carson City nestled in that flat sandy desert, and surrounded by such prodigious mountains that they seemed to expand your soul, until you felt yourself spreading into a colossus, and in that instant, you were seized with a burning desire to stretch forth your hand, put Carson in your pocket, and walk off with it.”

Somewhat retired now, I hope to visit as many events as possible to shake a few hands, slap a few backs, and thank everybody I can for honoring the Father of America’s Literature, who took his pen name right there in Carson City. That pen name would appear the next day in Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise as the byline, Mark Twain.

“The publisher of the Enterprise, Joe Goodman told me when I hired on, ‘Sam you have but one responsibility here. Get your facts straight. Then you can distort them as much as you like.’ I learned in Virginia City, a good lie can travel twice around the globe before the truth gets its boots on. But our little ‘quaints’ were obvious sagebrush humor, and Nevada was built on tall tales. We had three kinds of stories back then, ‘Stretchers,’ that stretched the truth beyond the horizon of fact, ‘Lifters,’ that actually lifted the furniture, and ‘Powder Burners. Here lately I’ve stopped lying all together since the amateurs have taken over the field.” 

So young and old, let us get out and celebrate the fact that America’s best loved author got his start in the Great State of Nevada. And should you see this old Codger wandering aimlessly around the grounds, do take a picture with him and pass it along to your grandkids. It might be worth an extra scoop of ice-cream come 2124… 

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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King of Bocce

April 19, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

Michael Lucido, raised at Tahoe by sterling parents, is now CEO of a Reno advertising agency, “Eighty 8 Studios.” Michael recently asked me to portray a fictitious character, Mr. Bundox, King of the Kingdom of Bocce. Michael’s objective is to promote the sport of bocce ball within the lavish courts of Reno’s Renaissance Hotel. So off we went, with his creative crew of six talented technicians, to focus the attentions of the world on the regal Sport of Bocce.

In full disclosure, I have never played bocce ball before. I cannot even spell bocce ball, but that has never deterred me, as, given an opportunity, I am always ready to pretend to be king of just about anything. And thanks to the art of special effects, I can do things with a bocce ball that nobody has ever been seen before, like spinning a bocce ball on my finger, and rolling a bocce ball around on my arms like a Harlem Globetrotter rolling a basketball, I can even pull a bocce ball out of my hat!  

Promising me that my wide-brimmed Panama hat will hide my face, Michael asked me to hop up onto the longest bar in Nevada and do a bocce ball dance. These television commercials are due out next month, and I sincerely hope Michael is right about that hat, for those who criticize my writing never saw me dance.

So what does the King of Bocce do when not coaching bocce ball? Well, most responsibly, he uses his bully pulpit as king to declare cease fires in Ukraine, the Middle East and Sudan. Who can say no to the King of Bocce? Here is his declaration…

DECLARATION

As King of the Kingdom of Bocce, and Pro Tempore Sovereign of the World, I, Mr. Bundox, do issue this Decree: All parties involved do hereby Cease and Desist Hostilities in Ukraine, Sudan and the Middle East, while allowing the United Nations to author Articles of Sustainable Truce and Lasting Peace. 

In order to tap the brakes on an escalatory path toward dire straits, I shall fly to the United Nations myself tomorrow and deliver this decree. The time has come in this year of our Lord 2024, to put violence on the dustheap of history as a means of solving problems.

Once the cease fires are firmly in place, I shall humbly step down as Pro Tempore Sovereign of the World, and return to my calling as Renaissance coach of the great sport of Bocce Ball…  

Your humble servant and dedicated middleman,

Mr. Bundox,

King of Bocce

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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Love for Kipling

April 17, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

What Would Mark Twain Say?

While waiting in line I always carry along a little Kipling, mainly to call upon this one little snippet to sustain me, “If you can wait and not be tired by waiting.” I do love his epic little poem, “If.” That poem has helped me to maintain my balance on more occasions than I can count…

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.” 

Yes, Mr. Kipling has allowed me to push the punchbowl away and avoid irrational exuberance, and on other occasions, allowed me to rise from the ashes of adversity with dignity, yes, and even joy.

Upon meeting Twain, Kipling wrote, “Blessed is the man who finds no disillusion when he is brought face to face with a revered writer.  The landing of a twelve-pound salmon is nothing to it.”

Kipling would write home to London, “Ihave seen Mark Twain this golden morning, have shaken his hand, and smoked a cigar — no, two cigars with him, and talked with him for more than two hours!  Once indeed, he put his hand on my shoulder. If hereafter, in the changes and chances of this mortal life, I shall fall to cureless ruin, I will tell the superintendent of the workhouse that Mark Twain once put his hand on my shoulder; and he shall give me a room to myself and a double allowance of paupers’ tobacco.”

Here again, I admire the economy of Kipling’s words, “We laughed with sheer bliss of being alive.” 

Twain, meanwhile, at age 70, is addicted to Kipling’s works. He rereads Kim every year, “And in this way I go back to India without fatigue.… I am not acquainted with my own books, but I know Kipling’s books. They never grow pale to me; they keep their color; they are always fresh.” 

In 1903 Kipling, would avow in a letter to Frank Doubleday, “I love to think of the great and Godlike Clemens.  He is the biggest man you have on your side of the water by a damn sight. Cervantes was a relation of his.” 

Kipling and Twain received honorary degrees at Oxford in 1907, about which Kipling would write, “When Mark Twain advanced to receive the hood, even those dignified old Oxford dons stood up and yelled.  To my knowledge he was the largest man of his time, both in direct outcome of his work, and, more important still, as an indirect force in an age of iron philistinism.  Later generations don’t know their debt, of course, and they would be quite surprised if they did.”

As is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain, “Kipling and I represented royalty as well as we could without opportunity to practice.  Some of those old Oxford dons maintained that between Kipling and Twain, we knew all that could be known; Kipling knew all that was worth knowing and I knew the rest.”

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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One Glass Eye

April 5, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

What Would Mark Twain Say?

My father was an optometrist, and everybody knew it because I was always making a spectacle of myself. Dear Old Dad had a collection of glass eyes that he kept in a drawer in his shop, and I purloined one of those glass eyes to showoff to my girlfriend when we were in 7th grade. I had it worked out in advance, whereupon I asked her if she’d like to see me wash an eyeball. She said yes and I commenced to fake twisting one of my eyeballs loose from its socket and placing it into my mouth, where I sloshed it around, using my tongue to effectively pop my cheeks out, while my girlfriend went, “Eeeew!”

What she did not know was that I had slipped my father’s glass eye into my mouth, and when I felt my eye was sufficiently cleansed, well, I peeked that glass eye out between my lips and my girlfriend let out a squeal that could be heard in Bangor, Maine. She hates me still.  

So naturally, I was drawn to Mark Twain’s frivolous little peace of literature that featured a glass eye, a portion of which we shall share here…

“Now ol’ Miss Jefferson, there was a good soul. Had a glass eye and used to lend it to old Miss Wagner, who hadn’t any, to receive company in; but it warn’t big enough. Miss Jefferson had a number seven and Miss Wagner was excavated for a fourteen! So when Miss Wagner warn’t noticin’, it would get twisted around in the socket, and look up maybe, or out to one side and every which way, whilst t’other one was looking straight ahead as a spy glass.  Oh, one little wink, and that hand-made eye would lay-over.  Well grown people didn’t mind, but it mostly always made the children cry.”

Happily, as an impressionist of Mark Twain, I was able to work ol’ Miss Jefferson right into my programs in full confidence and comfort that my father and my old girlfriend would approve. So just here, as is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain…

“Well, she was always dropping it out, and turning up her old dead light on the company empty, and making everybody so uncomfortable, because she never could tell when it hopped out, being blind on that side, you see. So somebody would have to hunch her and say, ‘Your game eye has fetched loose, Miss Wagner dear’ -and then they’d all have to sit and wait till she jammed it back in again -wrong side out as a general thing. Well, wrong-side out didn’t make much difference anyway, ‘cuz the glass eye was sky blue on the front side and gilded on the back side; so when Miss Wagner would get excited, it would give a whirl, and flash yaller and blue and yaller -No, it warn’t a Jefferson, it was a Hagadon is what it was!” 

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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Mr. Putin, Draw Down That Weapon 

March 28, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

To begin, let us call nuclear weapons what they are, “Weapons of Mass Annihilation.” Call them what we will, their very name strikes terror into our hearts as their presence presupposes an unleashing of enough radiation to poison our air, our soil and our seas…

Those of us who might be vaporized in a nuclear blast will be the lucky ones,

as those who survive will face an ignoble end. So let me be the first on my block to shout out, “DRAW DOWN NOW GOTDAMMIT!” The United Nations will follow, including the United States and Russia, also the seven remaining nuclear armed countries, totaling 13,000 nuclear weapons gone forevermore.

We the people are not warring tribesmen in this 21st century, it is only the politicos who threaten to use nuclear weapons. We can no longer allow politics of power and military technocrats to jeopardize our very existence. We either DRAW DOWN NOW or face the possibility that next month, or perhaps next winter, there very well could be nothing left alive on Earth but cockroaches, and maybe one final performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. Let us make our shout heard loud and clear: “DRAW DOWN NOW GOTDAMMIT!”

When we shout this mantra to guilty parties, and this means you, Mr. Putin, they will hear it coming from every direction, and well, please do accept my congratulations in advance for ridding the earth of this nightmarish threat.

As is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain: “There has never been a just war, never an honorable war -on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change.  The loud little handful, as usual, will shout for the war. The pulpit will, warily and cautiously, object -at first; the great big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, ‘It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is not necessity for it,’ then the handful will shout louder.
             Statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting blame upon the nation that is attacked and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities; thus he will by and by convince himself the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception. There are no holy wars, only alleged holy wars, and I have noticed, God is on both sides in this war, so history repeats itself. All war must be the killing of strangers against whom you feel no personal animosity; strangers whom, in other circumstances, you would help if you found them in trouble, and who would help you if you needed it.

Well, before I had chance to be in another war, the desire to kill people to whom I had not been introduced had passed away.”

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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Visiting the Dentist?

March 22, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

What Would Mark Twain Say?

My first visit to a dentist here in the Village of Incline, was to see the intrepid Doctor Cherry away back in 1983. I had heard that he was very good at his craft, and that he sometimes practiced pulling teeth on iron rakes. While in the waiting room I read the license that hung on his wall and was surprised to see that we attended the University of Oregon about the same time. Just then, Dr. Cherry popped his head into the waiting room and said, “It won’t be long.”

You know how it is, when you meet someone about your own age, you always think they look older than you. So I was sure Dr. Cherry must be a few years ahead of me, and when I took a seat in his dental chair I mentioned, “We were at U of O about the same time.”

He looked closely at me, and asked, “What did you teach?”

We became friends, and I learned from Bill, well, let’s let Mark Twain tell us…

“The dentist who talks well -other things being equal -is the one to choose. 
Dr. Cherry for instance, tells anecdotes all the while and keeps his patient so interested and entertained that one hardly notices the flight of time.  For he not only tells anecdotes that are good in themselves, but he adds nice shadings to them with his instruments as he goes along,
and now and then brings out effects which could not be produced with any other kinds of tools at all.  All the while he is plowing down into a cavity and has discovered a nerve that he only visits at intervals, according to the needs of his anecdote.
          The suspense grows and you can hear your heart beat as his voice diminishes to a murmur.  Then with lightning suddenness the “nub” is sprung and the drill drives into the raw nerve! The most brilliant surprises of the stage are pale and artificial compared to this.”

While boating out on Lake Tahoe, Bill would instruct me on what things were best to eat and drink to preserve my teeth. I was tempted to protest, “Sounds like the only way to keep my teeth, Bill, is to eat what I don’t want, and drink what I don’t like.” But I held my tongue. Bill proved to be the best dentist, and even better friend.

As is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain…

“Dr. Cherry invented an instrument, combining the properties of the screw, the lever, the wedge, the hammer, and the incline plane.
              A patient came in and sat in the chair. One turn of the crank, and out came that tooth! Its roots were hooked under the patient’s right big toe, and his entire skeleton was extracted with the tooth. They had to send him home in a pillowcase. But no matter, Dr. Cherry got a patent on that instrument, yes, as a turkey de-boner.”

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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Fear of Public Speaking

March 17, 2024 | McAvoy Lane

What Would Mark Twain Say?

Public speaking is one of mankind’s greatest fears. A young lady once told me that she would rather have a coyote gnaw on her arm than to have to speak in public. This does not have to be. Once you understand that the public does not care to hear a message, but would love to hear a story, it’s like wrapping your dog’s medicine in a treat, and the public speaker need only wrap her message in a story.

        As our mutual friend Mark Twain tells us, “A good story should have a little humor in it. The comic story is English, the witty story is French, and the humorous story is American. The English and French stories depend upon the matter for their effect, where the American story depends upon the manner for its effect. 

Here’s an example of an English story…

In the course of a battle a soldier whose leg had been shot off appealed to another soldier who was hurrying by to carry him to the rear, whereupon the generous son of Mars, shouldering the unfortunate, proceeded to carry out his desire. The bullets and cannonballs were flying, and presently one of the latter took the wounded man’s head off—without, however, his deliverer being aware of it. He was hailed by an officer, who shouted:

“Where are you going with that body?”

“To the rear, sir—he’s lost his leg!”

“His leg? You mean his head, you booby.”

Whereupon the soldier dispossessed himself of his burden, and stood looking down upon it in great perplexity. 

“It is true, sir, just as you have said. But he TOLD me it was his LEG!” 

(It’s enough to make you want to renounce joking and lead a better life.)

  No, the humorist’s job is merely to show us the good-natured side of the truth. And the humorist is not looking for a laugh. The humorist is looking for a nod of acknowledgment, or the hint of a smile. There is a vast difference between the comedian and the humorist.  The comedian’s job is to make us laugh, and laughter is good for us, it’s like massage on the inside, it’s like money in our pocket because it cuts down on the doctor bills. But laughter, without a thread of philosophy woven into it, is but a sneeze at humor, genuine humor is replete with wisdom. Yes, the humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular. So don’t be afraid to use it while public speaking. Tell your story from the heart, and it will be well received.  

As is our custom, we shall leave the last word to Mr. Twain: “If a piece of humor is to last, it must do two things, it must preach and it must teach. If done effectively, that piece of humor will last forever -which is thirty years.

Audio: https://open.spotify.com/show/7Fhv4PrH1UuwlhbnTT23zO

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