June 28, 1937 – November 3, 2014
I remember the day Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Car Talk’s hosts, “Click and Clack–The Tappet Brothers”) congealed on my cognitive landscape. I was sitting in my car listening to them at a neighborhood shopping center. A caller was explaining that his expensive Italian car (I am pretty sure a Ferrari, but don’t quote me) had significant transmission problems. Reverse gear did not work at all, he said. He had taken it to several “boutique” mechanics known for their prowess with imports, to no avail. Tom and Ray of course had a field day with him. How, they chided, could he possibly drive the car without reverse gear? The caller, enjoying his Car Talk moment in equal measure, explained his creative driving and parking strategies to the delight of the hosts.
Eventually the chatter turned to the pragmatic, the how-to piece that is usually buried somewhere near the end of the conversation. Tom and Ray told the guy that really his only option was to ship the car back to Italy, where he could have it repaired by proper Italian mechanics with access to proper Ferrari transmission parts, which was of course out of the question. In all seriousness, though, they went on (now they had the full attention of the caller and their radio audience): there was a better solution. BUILD A CIRCULAR DRIVEWAY, one of them bellowed, and then both exploded in laughter. IT’LL BE WAY LESS EXPENSIVE THAN FIXING THE CAR! (More explosive laughter.)
With the passing of Tom Magliozzi on Monday the world lost a giant (and you can just imagine him turning that phrase to spawn more thigh slapping). I never thought of him quite like that for the decades I listened to the show, though. He was half of a twosome who made a lot of people grin and giggle on Saturday mornings, end of story. Still, an NPR radio spot yesterday paying homage to him really got me thinking. People kept talking about Tom’s laugh, how big it was, how when you were in the same building you could hear him coming because of that unmistakable bellow that made people feel “okay,” whatever else may have been going on in their lives or in the world.
More and more I have come to believe a sense of humor is probably the most important barometer of a person’s true character. I am dead serious. Its obverse, self-importance, the red flag warning there will be trouble. In my past I’ve ignored this trait in others to my own detriment. But I think it is a simple litmus test for whether a relationship–of any kind–has the potential to work. It is not rocket science, but my gut tells me the capacity to laugh, to find joy and humor in life even in the face of adversity, and to parlay that to people around you, is profound.
I leave you with this brief, thoughful remembrance.