The Thrill of the Unexpected

Do you recall a TV show back in the day, People are Funny? It was hosted by Art Linkletter. A theme from that show became a very popular book, also by Linkletter, Kids Say the Darndest Things,” and the phrase became a part of our national lexicon. Other such humorous shows have delighted us across the years. The fact is that people are funny and when one has the sublime pleasure of encountering such a person in such a rare moment, it is something to marvel at, perhaps even to cherish. Last week, I had such an encounter. I am still smiling about it.
It all started when my bestie from the fourth grade, Leanne, learned that her out-of-state twenty-five-year old granddaughter, Raven, was coming from Colorado to stay for a few days, to be accompanied by her friend Lauren. Lee and I had been prone to laughter as girls and teens and pretty much giggled our way to adulthood. Anyway, as Lee got to planning their stay, she discussed possible itineraries with me. Recalling our sun-kissed growing up years, I enthusiastically volunteered to be “Uber” driver and tour guide, as I knew four of us gals together would have an enjoyable time.
SoCal put on its best show for the out-of-staters, gifting us with 80 degree Santa Ana days, the kind of days which Easterners only dream about as they dig out their snow covered cars. The first day, was filled with browsing the boutiques at Balboa, ferry rides and feasting at the historic Pavilion restaurant. The second day was a tour of Ole` Hanson’s Casa Romantica on the cliffs above San Clemente Beach Pier. All of it was as much fun as we had hoped. On the pier, overlooking the surf, our visitors marveled at the California beaches and wet-suited surfers. We stuffed ourselves with delicious seafood at the Fishman Restaurant overlooking the water.
Sated, we strolled along the rough planks of the pier, admiring the day, when we came upon a strikingly beautiful seagull. We stopped and stared at the elegant bird. He did not blink. He stood like a sentry, feathers gleaming in the mid day sun. Lee commented on the beautiful spots on his tail feather. I noted the red mark on his beak. Raven considered its relationship to albatross. We stared. The bird continued to stand erect. We four studied him in awe. We were transfixed.
Suddenly, from across the width of the pier a fisherman appeared, speaking in a falsetto to mimic the seabird, he declared, “Five dolla to look!”
A bit startled, all of us glanced across to the ventriloquist’s grinning face. We, all four, are experienced international travelers and understood at once his joke. In many parts of the underdeveloped world, it is common practice for visitors to ask to take a photograph and to tip for such an opportunity. It is considered a great faux pas to simply take a photo without seeking permission, nor sharing a small payment. Knowing all this, we grinned back at the beaming fisherman, as we began to chuckle.
Soon we moved off a bit from the bird. The fisherman understanding that his audience got his jest persisted, louder this time, still in the bird’s high voice, “You wanna picture? You pay ten dolla!”
That cinched it! It was too funny and we nearly doubled over in giggles as he had hit a nerve of common experience. Between gasps of hilarity, Lauren offered a memory. She explained that as a student in Ghana, she was the first white woman many villagers had ever seen and people often stared openly. Smiling at us and recalling her own joke, she would grin at those gathered around her, and say, “That is five cedi.” We laughed some more.
We had a golden visit, perhaps all the more enchanting for enduring the endless months of mask wearing and fighting to avoid the ubiquitous coronavirus. In any event, the next day the young women made their way to Venice and the sights of Los Angeles. We had luxuriated in their energy, laughter, and in seeing our own corner of the continent through new eyes. My favorite take-away, however, was our delight in the unexpected. Imagine a chance meeting with a fisherman ventriloquist! Maybe the thing about joy, is that it can pop up anywhere, proving once again that people are funny.