Thursday, February 08, 2007

University Wit

Certain jokes you hear when you are a kid are burned into your brain. They are not separable from that moment of discovery of certain nuances of humor you had not thought possible. They are entwined around the root of your awareness of the laughter that arises from causes other than watching fat people fall down, or hearing the rich music of your own bodily functions.

So it is with the phrase "Age before beauty," which I considered so amusing when I first heard it -- since it was situational, a spontaneous joke and a kind of a put down, too -- that I would literally jockey for position on approaching a doorway just to have the opportunity to use it.

Obviously, it made one's politeness less obsequious; it was the passive aggressive's delight. Of course, one used it with comrades. Accuracy to the hour and day of birth was not the issue. Back then, we had no age. We were eternal. We were beauty itself.

But when one grows older and one is in the presence of youth, there is no context for such humor to operate. To say it as you usher someone through a campus door would either be idiotic if you are ushering through a youth -- it would seem a vain dream and an empty insult -- or rude if you usher through an older colleague, a category increasingly rare at my time of life, its membership unlikely to enjoy having their withered ugliness pointed out. No, you are stuck with mere politeness, and there's no zest in that. All you can do is hold the door.

Except. If you usher through a student. And say:

"Tuition before salary."

Respectful. Appropriate. Deadly accurate.

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