Ah, the all-but funny days

Everything Bushbolt did was almost funny, lacking only an indefinable something we could never quite put our finger on. We knew one day we would, and Bushbolt's star would rise. He would take his place among the comedians of the world - indeed be tops. At first glance, Bushbolt looked vaguely like somebody you had met somewhere who was uproarious. His baby blue gnome eyes always looked happily astonished under perpetually arched brows, like brambly bridges of amusement. Perhaps it was Bushbolt's W. C. Fields nose that caused us to almost laugh whenever he approached, with his somber greeting, ''What's new, Buckaroo?'' Bushbolt said the words the way other people say, simply, ''Good morning,'' and seemed not to notice the hilarity in them. But they always almost broke us up. Bushbolt's walk, something between Chaplin's and Benny's, made you, except for the missing ingredient, nearly howl with glee.

Bushbolt had been invited to our get-togethers for over twenty years now, mainly in the hope, ever born anew, that he would, at some point, explode into his natural element of comedy, thus brightening a world sadly bereft of it. Bushbolt came to party after party, offering great promise of being funny, but never actually being so - that missing ingredient that would ignite his massive reserves of humor, eluding him or us. Eyes continually watched Bushbolt for funny signs - during breaks in conversation, from behind tossed salads. Everything Bushbolt did, even pulling the drawcord on the drapes, had all the elements of comedy in it - except the necessary ones. When Bushbolt gulped punch , his large eyes seemed on the verge of sharing a joke. When he balanced an impossibly tall stack of cookies on the arm of a chair, we waited breathlessly for him to remove a middle one, in vain. No photograph could do Bushbolt justice.

At the last party I attended before I moved away, Bushbolt jumped out of his chair quite suddenly. We truly supposed The Moment Funny had arrived, and that, at long last, Bushbolt would go into a routine that would split our sides. Other people have jumped up from their chairs before, but they have just been people jumping up from their chairs. When Bushbolt did it, it would have been hugely comic, except for that missing ingredient. The room fell quiet. The jumping up almost made us laugh, but perhaps there was more. Bushbolt stood looking around on us a moment, his face an alarm clock ready to ring. Instead of telling us the funniest joke in history, he merely reached for another handful of cookies and sat down.

When Bushbolt unscrewed the lampshade we felt that at last we were going to be rewarded for all the tired years. He held the lampshade in his hands and turned it slowly, studying it - looking for, as who should say, a way to attach it to his head. It was potentially one of the most hilarious events of the twentieth century. It was with dismay that we saw Bushbolt merely unfold an end of fabric that had troublesomely folded over, leaving a gap that apparently allowed the light to shine in his eyes. While even his returning the shade to the lamp did not lack all the elements of humor, it lacked at least one. We felt that with each failure, Bushbolt was getting closer to supreme humor.

I wrote letters to the crowd from time to time and received letters back. I was assured that Bushbolt was nearly as funny as ever. Ah, those were good days with Bushbolt. Never have I almost laughed as much. Never will I almost laugh as much again.

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