< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor

March 22, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

Just as there is a vast difference between the comedian and the humorist, 

there is an equally vast difference between the opinion columnist and the journalist. 

But let me try to make my case…

The comedian’s job is to make us laugh, and laughter is good for us, it keeps us from souring, and cuts down on the doctor bills like crazy. Albeit sometimes the comedian incites laughter at the expense of another person, and we leave the hall feeling a little guilty about being provoked by pejorative comedy.

Laughter without a thread of philosophy woven into it, is but a sneeze at humor. Genuine humor is replete with wisdom.  And if a piece of humor is to last, it must do two things, it must preach and it must teach, not professedly, but if done effectively, that piece of humor will last forever -which is thirty years.

The humorist is showing us the good-natured side of the truth, and is not looking for a laugh, but merely looking for a nod of acknowledgement, or perhaps the hint of a smile that appears when one recognizes effective irony or satire. But most importantly, humor lessens people’s hatred. In today’s congress the only bipartisan common denominator appears to be humor impairment, though there will always be those who will laugh at a senator’s bad joke. 

Now, the difference between the opinion columnist and the journalist is similar to that of the comedian and the humorist.

As Mark Twain might like to remind us, “The heaven-born mission of journalism is to disseminate truth; and elevate the tone of public morals and manners, and make all men more gentle, and in all ways better, and holier, and happier.” Twain’s humor is like that of his friend Howells, it “flows softly, is pervasive, refreshing, health-giving, and makes no more show, and no more noise than the circulation of the blood.”

In full disclosure, the stump-tail opinion columnist deals in sagebrush humor, malaprops, hyperbole, half-truths, innuendos, double entendres and assonance.  These are tools a journalist will not touch with a bargepole.  No, a journalist will not risk her reputation by reaching into the grab-bag of tools available to the opinion columnist, as it should be. The author John Irving reminds us, “It’s hard work and great art to make life not so serious.” 

The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor will be (or was) awarded to Adam Sandler at a performance featuring some of the biggest names in comedy at the Kennedy Center on March 19. Watch Sandler’s acceptance speech, and just for fun, decide for yourself whether Adam Sandler is a comedian or a humorist. 

In closing, a former winner of the Mark Twain Prize, Jon Stewart attests, “Comedy doesn’t change the world, but it’s a bellwether. We’re the banana peel in the coal mine.”

Listen to the Audio: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – Embarrassing Moments

March 14, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

As I wind down a gratifying career as an impressionist of Mark Twain, certain hilarious, if embarrassing, moments come to mind. Back in ’88, having discovered how much fun it can be to stop time and step into history, I accepted an invitation to the governor’s mansion to present, “Becoming Mark Twain.” Excited? Yes. I donned my new white suit, grabbed a cigar, and headed down to Carson City. Full to the brim with pride at having memorized an hour-long program, I forgot to put gasoline in my vehicle and ran out of gas at the top of Spooner.

So I stood out there on Highway 50 in my white suit, waved my cigar, and hoped somebody would recognize Mark Twain and give him a lift.

Several folks passed us by before an elderly gentleman, perhaps the oldest person ever to sit behind a steering wheel, pulled his chicken truck off the road and took us in.

As I climbed into the cab, feathers flew everywhere and I started sneezing. I thanked the elderly gentleman, and once we were back on the highway, he looked me over, and said, “You look like, maybe…somebody I should know.”

I smiled, and feeling full of myself, extended my hand, “Me, mui viejo, Mark Twain!”

He scratched the stubble on his chin, smiled, extended his hand, and boasted with no little pride, “Me, Ponce de Leon!”

So there we were, Ponce de Leon and Mark Twain, riding in a chicken truck down Highway 50 into Carson City. He was kind enough to take me straight to the governor’s mansion and drop me off. We shook hands again and I hoped he might always remember meeting Mark Twain, because I knew I would always remember meeting Ponce de Leon.

Another amusing, if embarrassing incident happened at the Nugget, when John Ascuaga brought out his pet elephant Bertha to warm up the crowd for Mark Twain. While Bertha was enjoying a round of applause, Bertha’s handler saddled up to me and said, “You brought me some trouble, Mr. Twain.”

Quite surprised, I asked, “Well now, how could that be?”

“Mr. Ascuaga and his daughter are giving me conflicting orders. Miss Ascuaga is telling me to follow Bertha, while Mr. Ascuaga is telling me to follow you around with this shovel.”

The very next day I was elated to get a call from Carol Piper Marshall, asking if I would present two shows a day, six days a week at Piper’s Opera House for the four months of summer…wow. I was able to try out Twain material on 200 live audiences and find out which passages recite, and which passages I should save for a rainy day. If Carol had told me back then, that we were launching a career to span 35 years, and that I would be presenting the last hurrah back at Piper’s in September of 2023, well, I should have asked for her hand and kissed it…

Audio:  https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – Maui’s Race to End the Arms Race

March 8, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

Fifty years ago or so, I cut a football in half (lengthwise), attached a chinstrap, and with the football atop my head, ran Maui’s, “First Annual Race to End the Arms Race,” as an MX Missile…

At the winner’s podium (there wasn’t one) I made a long-winded speech appealing to all nations in the arms race to lay down their arms, at least their nuclear arms. When I finished my plea, I noticed I was alone on the beach with my dog, Digger. Everybody had gone home. 

Fast forwarding fifty years, Vladimir Putin announced in his State of the Nation address, that he is suspending the Nuclear-Arms Treaty between Russia and the United States.

Hand me the football. It’s time for another Race to End the Arms Race, only this time, we are going to have one runner entered from each of the world’s 195 countries. This international ten-k will be held once again on the peaceful Island of Maui, though this time we will have a podium for the male and female winners to posit their appeals, and this time their pleas will be heard around the world.

What is President Putin to say when runners from all 195 countries stand together and say, “ENOUGH!” The court of public opinion carries weight, and when world opinion is unanimous, well, it carries the weight of the world, so it’s high time we all got on the same page.

Those who know me know I like to reside in the 19th century alongside Mark Twain, so please indulge me as we remember what “The Moralist of the Main” reminds us in his essay, “What is Man?” 

“Man is the only animal that deals in that atrocity of atrocities, War. He is the only one that gathers his brethren about him and goes forth in cold blood and calm pulse to exterminate his kind. And in the intervals between campaigns, he washes the blood off his hands and works for ‘the universal brotherhood of man’–with his mouth.”

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 was signed on July 1st. Let us embrace Maui’s Race to End the Arms Race on Saturday, July first of 2023, and for once and for all, let us put an end to this grotesque theater of the absurd, the very real possibility and constant fear of annihilation.

Preparations are now underway for registration that will be limited to one participant from each of the world’s 195 countries, registration to commence on June first… 

Listen to the Audio:  https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts: Huckleberry & Emmeline

March 1, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

Friends who stop by Twain Haven are sometimes greeted by my pet Jay, Huckleberry, who just today learned another trick to get my undivided attention. I’ve mentioned before how he will bang on the window with his beak to wake me up if I sleep late, or jump on the flagstaff and wave the American flag; he has even faked his own death to get a beer nut, I kid you not. 

But today he showed me a new trick that made me guffaw. I was awake, though still in bed, gazing out the window at the beauty, when Huck flew onto the screen door attached himself to the screen, spread his wings. and stared at me, as if to say, “Hey, Sleepyhead, let’s get some breakfast going out here!” He stayed plastered on that screen until I got up and started whistling his favorite song, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.”

Huck was so self-satisfied that he puffed himself up to about twice his normal size, and then I noticed why. Huckleberry has a girlfriend, Emmeline, and there she was, egging him on, as if he needed it. He’s such a ham anyway, but with Emmeline watching, well, I suppose he could put on an entire Broadway show. She, on the other hand, is shy and reserved. It’s going to take some tender loving care to gain her trust.

I sometimes recite a little of Mark Twain’s “Blue Jay Yarn” to Huckleberry and he loves it, especially when I get to the part where, well…

“A jay hasn’t got any more principles than a congressman has.  And he can out-swear any gentleman in the mines.  You think a cat can swear?  Well, a cat can.  Most people think it’s the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain’t so; it’s the sickening grammar they use.  But you give a blue jay a subject that calls for his reserve powers, and where’s your cat?  Oh, a jay’s everything a man is, he loves gossip and scandal, and he knows when he’s an ass, just as well as you do, maybe better. No, it ain’t no use to tell me a blue jay hasn’t got a sense of humor ‘cuz I know better. They bring jays here from all across the United States to look down that hole in the roof, every summer!  And they all laugh; except for an owl that came from Nova Scotia to visit the Yo Semite, and he took this thing in on his way back.  He said he couldn’t see anything funny in it.  But then he was a good deal disappointed about Yo Semite too.”  

Huckleberry always gets a good chuckle out of that last line, but Emmeline just stares at me, as if to say, “Well you certainly can make an ass out of yourself, too.” 

She’ll come around eventually. Meanwhile, I’ll love them both…

Listen to the Audio: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – AI is Not for Me

February 21, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

With the omnipresence of AI, I feel compelled to wrap myself in the 19th century, and make myself at home in the Sandwich Islands of 1866. Presently, I’m on my surfboard, along with a few Hawaiians, awaiting the perfect wave. Every sixth wave is near perfect, and then along comes the Big Kahuna. I’m in the perfect place to catch it and ride it to its tubular end, but so is the Hawaiian surfer at my side, and as there is not room for the both of us, he gives me a gentlemanly nod, and off I go on the ride of my life.

All the information I needed for this ride came with a courteous nod, and I bought that Hawaiian gentleman a Primo at the end of our afternoon together. A Shaka sign is a communication that can never be duplicated by artificial intelligence, “artificial” being the operative word.

AI can be programed to disseminate misinformation, so it remains irrevocable that resulting information is no better than the programmer.

I ask you, what sort of AI program could understand the following scenario from 1866, when Mark Twain offered his sage advice to prospective visitors…

“And just here I would caution those of you who intend to visit this archipelago, against bringing wines and liquors with your baggage, lest you provoke the confiscation of the latter.  I was asked by the customs agent what I had in my small bag; I told him, ‘Pajamas.’  He took the liberty to inspect the bag and discovered therein a small bottle of scotch whiskey, which he held up on high.  ‘Pajamas!?’ he asked.  I stuck to my story: ‘My night cap.’” Let AI try to work that one out.

And, let us return for a moment to 1866, when Mark Twain described a scene that AI could never get its head around…

“The missionaries pointed out to their congregation that it’s hard enough to get into heaven fully clothed, but to attempt it naked might seem like blasphemy.  Then they imported a quantity of hats, bonnets, neckties and other wearing apparel, distributed them, and begged these descendants of Adam & Eve not to come to church naked next Sunday as usual.  And they didn’t. But being a generous people by heart, they divided up with the neighbors. So on the following Sabbath, in the midst of the reading of a hymn, a stately dame would stalk in with nothing in the world on but a stove-pipe hat.  Another would arrive with a flourish, with the sleeves of a bright calico dress tied around her waist -the rest of the garment dragging behind like a peacock’s tail…off duty.” Good luck with that one, AI.

AI has its merits, like fighting diseases, but for me it’s as cold as an untipped blackjack dealer’s stare. No, you can go ahead and access Jasper Chat. Me? I’m going to ask a librarian…  

Listen to the Audio: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – What To Do

February 14, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

I’ve been contemplating possible new ventures to tackle when I retire, small businesses that do not require driving or flying, and I’d like to share them with you here. First, is the possibility of opening a Mark Twain Bookstore here in the village. I remember falling in love with Ashland, Oregon because Ashland had three thriving bookstores, and I like people who visit bookstores. People who visit bookstores are easy to talk to, and I always learn something from them. Also, I’ve found that people who visit bookstores like to be among books, so, I ask you, might they also enjoy visiting with a retired impressionist of Mark Twain?

Given enough time with a customer, I might even be able to sell a book of mine about the future of Chautauqua, that is due out any day now, Living Twice. I could sign that book, and once we are old friends, inscribe something amusing in that book. 

I might even like to have other things on sale besides Twain books, like Twain socks that are always fashionable, and wine glasses that boast, “I Drank with The Ghost of Mark Twain.” There is no limit to the number of Twain things I could have for sale. If you could see my living room here at Twain Haven, you would see what I mean. My only fear is that I would inevitably get caught up in an interesting conversation and fail to close the sale. 

So okay, here’s another idea, and with this one, I would not even need to leave home: 


Yes, you could send a friend a cordial audio salutation from yourself and the Ghost of Twain. The greeting would have to be in good taste, and no more than 30 seconds in length. Of course you could write your own greeting, and include a photo, or not…

A modest honorarium would be payable by PayPal. Here are a few samples that might bring some cheer into the lives of your distant friends… 

“Richard, Ronda says you can be saved, but the angel that does so will require all eternity to rest himself.” A Happy Anniversary salutation might follow. 

Here’s one more for fun…

“John Doe, he had no principles, and was delightful company.” 

And one final one for the fun of it…

“Rebecca sends you forth feeling like a bottle of champagne that’s just been uncorked.”

Naturally, you might like to hear an audio to decide if this venture might work or not, so I shall record this column and make it available here: https://anchor.fm/mcavoy-layne

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – A Future Life

February 7, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

What might be my favorite Christmas present I have yet to open. It‘s a gift from a young man I admire, Bryan, who has some issues to deal with in his daily life. You see, Bryan does not talk, or walk, but is a hidden treasure of Nevada history and folklore. And once science taps into his vault of knowledge we might be the first to get to read the next great Tahoe novel. 

I imagine Bryan’s book will start out with his parents, who have been ever so patient and loving in raising him to be the man he has become, strong enough, with a little help from his friends, to take a swim in the waters of the Hawaiian Islands this past summer. I have the picture…

Bry’s Christmas present is a yet unopened bottle of Bareknuckle Brandy with instructions on the label: “Serve with a cigar you cannot afford, and a quote from Kierkegaard.”

Well, as Mark Twain loved his cigars, and Kierkegaard was my go-to-guy in college, Bry’s gift is on the top shelf, patiently awaiting a deserving toast, a toast to be made next week to a person of noble character, gone to another shore. I like to think she will be back, for as our mutual friend Mark Twain tells us, “I have never seen what to me seemed an atom of proof that there is a future life.  And yet – I am strongly inclined to expect one.”

On a lighter note, my college sweetheart just released a memoir, My Three Lives by Tina Cole. If you’re looking for a page-turner, this is it. While working on the set for Hawaiian Eye, she actually turns down advances from Troy Donahue and Bob Conrad. I might be the only living soul to believe that, but I do…

I remember talking to her from a phone booth at the SAE House at the University of Oregon, where we had been pinned, when I heard a banging in the background of her hotel room in Hawaii.

“What’s that banging” I asked, a little annoyed.

“Oh, that’s just Troy, wanting to come in.”

I’m only in Chapter Thirteen and have died three times…

On an even lighter note, photographer and consummate Tintype artist, Rie, just created a classic portrait of Julia Bulette, as portrayed by the intrepid Kim Harris, that will be most helpful in promoting, “Julia Bulette Meets Mark Twain,” during Carson City’s Mark Twain Days in April. 

There is something consoling about living in the 19th century that I can’t explain. What I can say is, participating in Chautauqua is one of the most gratifying endeavors one can ever partake. Becoming someone else and presenting that someone else to a live audience or a classroom is not reincarnation, but it’s the next thing to it. I would encourage the gentle reader to consider taking up Chautauqua, to discover for yourself how many layers Chautauqua can add to an already interesting life.   

Listen to the Audio >

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – One Lucky Boy

January 31, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

Nevada is a state of mind. Before you roll the dice, you say, “C’mon, Honey, Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” And everything outside of Las Vegas is Cowboy Nevada, except Incline Village, where we either have two homes or two jobs. Those with one job and one home are rare as a straight flush. I just happen to be one of those lucky boys to draw a straight flush.

Forty years ago, I was living on the Island of Maui, and happy as an ophi clam at high tide, when I vacationed at Tahoe to discover Ski Incline, now known as Diamond Peak.

While riding up in the chairlift I looked over my shoulder and saw a blue lake that seemed to stretch out to the horizon. The lady sitting next to me asked what I did, and I told her I had a job my father thought should be illegal.

“And what might that be?” she asked with a smile.

“Morning radio on the Island of Maui.” 

Following a pregnant pause, she put her hand on my arm and asked, “How would you like to do morning radio here?”

So over the next two weeks I went from surf bum to ski bum while maintaining the same job my father thought should be illegal.

I had fallen in love with places before, and lived in the comfortable confines of Cape Cod, Carmel and Kauai, but never wanted to marry a place, until I met Incline village. 

On morning radio here, I got to tell the kids whether it was a school day or a snow day, and they followed me around in Raley’s while I shopped, “Mr. McAvoy, do we have to go to school tomorrow?”

“I don’t know, we’ll see how I feel in the morning…” 

The esteem was almost too much, and as if that were not ridiculous enough, because I reported ski conditions I was invited to ski free at all resorts within driving distance, including Diamond Peak, where I became the lucky owner of a locker!

 Then Mark Twain tapped me on the shoulder, and I started visiting as many as ten schools a week while teaching Nevada history and folklore. It became a magical journey that has spanned 35 years and 4,000 programs, ending with a perfect offramp this coming summer with “Mark Twain’s Nevada” at St. Pat’s cozy outdoor amphitheater here in the village, and Piper’s Opera House in Virginia City, where it all began.

There will be a few fun events between now and then, and the one I am looking forward to most is Carson City’s First Annual Mark Twain Days Festival, April 21, 22 & 23. Check these sites for fun events: https://youtu.be/T6CYwH2cNyQ  & Mark Twain Days Website. (Sam would be so damn proud.)

On my way out, I’m encouraging folks like you to consider giving yourself another life through the art of Chautauqua, and I sincerely do hope Chautauqua might start you on a journey as enjoyable as mine… 

Listen to the Audio >

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – Corporate Trust

January 22, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

News reporters tend to mingle with a wider variety of people than those in most other professions. I happen to know this because for fifteen years before Mark Twain tapped me on the shoulder, I was a radio reporter, a malnourished profession at the time that I might have killed-off single-handedly.
Unlike investigative reporters, my motto was, “If It’s Catered It’s News!” And it is amazing how much news you can carry away from a catered corporate event. However, I must caution you, if you are considering getting into the profession of radio news yourself, it can be dangerous…

Not that long ago, maybe forty years, I was covering a swanky corporate soirée when they decided to hold a team-building event. They formed a couple parallel lines of colleagues and called for a volunteer to fall backwards and be caught by this trusting procession, but nobody stepped forward. Well, I was just young enough, and full of enough champagne, to volunteer my services.

While waving bravely to a smattering of applause, I stepped up to the podium of trust.

A big lady, who looked like she had the night off from Big Time Wrestling, helped me into my position, where I was to fall backwards from a slightly elevated perch.

There turned out to be one flaw to this arrangement that had not occurred to me; they did not know me from Adam, and could not have cared a farthing about me unless maybe Eve had been standing up there next to me in period costume.

Just as I was getting situated in my fallback position and everybody was positioned to catch me, there boomed an announcement over the loudspeaker, “LAST CALL!”

A chill ran through my body as the Big Time Wrestling Lady patted me on the chest, and pushed me backwards into my mosh pit, which was suddenly migrating to the hosted bar.

So there I was, falling confidently backwards in midair, alone with my thoughts, waiting for my trusted colleagues to catch me before hitting the hardwood floor, when I realized my trusted colleagues had left me to fend for myself. I actually heard a parting farewell, “Sorry Pal!”

As good fortune would have it, my brother had loaned me a Farmer’s Almanac before leaving home for my reporting assignment, and that Farmer’s Almanac, that I had stuck into my pants, broke my fall to the hardwood floor. The thud I made caught the attention of the Big Time Wrestling Lady. I laid there a moment, hoping somebody might bring me a drink, but nobody did. Then bless her soul, the Big Time Wrestling Lady brought me a pig in a blanket, and confided to me with an earnest whisper into my ear, “You’ll never make it in Big Time Wrestling, Honey.”

I got out of radio news the next morning, and as I was too skinny for Big Time Wrestling, what was next? To be continued…

Listen to the Audio >

< Back to Community News

Pine Nuts – Mercury in Retrograde

January 8, 2023 | McAvoy Lane

Mercury is in retrograde and will remain in retrograde until the 18th of January. So what does that mean? Well, three times a year, the planet Mercury appears to be floating backwards across the heavens. This mirage carries with it certain superstitions and suppositions that the same thing could be happening to your life, you could be living your life backwards.

Allow me to chronicle a few examples of what can happen during Mercury’s retrograde, as they happened to me last year…

I wrote a love letter to an old girlfriend telling her how often I thought about her, and how much I would like her to come out and spend some time with me, then mailed it off to her sister, who showed up on my doorstep with her three kids, two dogs and a cat.

While Mercury was in retrograde last year, I bent-over to untie a shoe and somehow untied an abductor in my gluteus maximus, causing me to stay bent-over for several hours, and to spontaneously grab my buttock when out in public for several days thereafter. 

On another occasion I was invited to a high-end auction in Reno, not to take anything home with me, but to juice the action for the sponsor. She knew my bids would never “hold ground” as they say in the auction business, so I jumped right into the action without capital to back my bids. This was all in good sport, and I never had so much fun until my bid for two Bruce Springsteen tickets came home to roost, and suddenly I became the proud owner of those two tickets at a thousand dollars each.

Not to be undone by a round of applause, I strode proudly up to the winner’s podium to accept my Springsteen tickets and make a humble speech…

“I have been a Springsteen fan since he first recorded, ‘Born to Lose.’ And what a coincidence it is that I thought the concert was be to held in Oakland, when actually, it turns out, the concert will be held in Aukland, a place in Australia that I have long desired to visit.”

My little speech was followed by a moment of silence, and I overheard somebody say, “I thought Springsteen recorded ‘Born to Run,’ and I thought Aukland was in New Zealand.”

Anyways, I reached pensively for my wallet, which I knew was not there, assumed a look of wonder and puzzlement, and clawed the air with my short alligator arms to indicate I could not find my wallet.

The lady taking the money gave me a sideways look like she had just recognized me in a lineup as the very person who had escaped from Alcatraz and had stolen her purse.

I could go on about what can happen when Mercury is in retrograde, but I see I am fast running out of space. Just be careful… 

Listen to the Audio

Sign up for our weekly SnapShot newsletter