THE Katzes entered our lives in absentia. My husband and I, out of town for the summer, were suddenly pelted with letters from friends on the homefront, all extolling the charms of wonderful newcomers, the Katz family. ``You must meet the Katzes the minute you return,'' insisted one correspondent. ``You'll love them! They are such fun.''
Another letter writer was more specific. ``Harry Katz has such a dry sense of humor -- every time he opens his mouth something wildly funny comes out.''
And then came, ``The Katzes are dying to meet you after all we've told them about you -- ''
So it was reciprocal. While we were being bombarded with the wry wit of those clever Katzes, they were being regaled with tales of our superior humor and charm.
In due time we headed home. Driving alongside meandering rivers, down somnolent freeways, through mountain passes, we thought of the Katzes in giddy anticipation. What would be their first utterances that would throw us into fits of laughter? And with some apprehension, we wondered what clever words we could find that would justify our reputation as trendy, amusing folk.
We arrived home, but before we could even get the road dust showered off, a friend called to invite us to dinner.
``Come tonight. You must meet the Katzes -- you'll love them!''
When we arrived for dinner, however, we learned that the Katz couple wouldn't be there. This only heightened our by-now-frenzied anticipation of meeting these people.
A week later we -- and the elusive Katzes -- were invited to a party. ``I hope it's as good as our last one,'' giggled our hostess-to-be. ``That was the time Harry Katz put a rose in his mouth and -- ha ha hee hee -- danced the flamenco.''
``I know it sounds silly, but when Harry Katz does something like that -- well, it's just hysterical. I guess you had to have been there. You'll see -- the Katzes are fantastic fun.''
At last the moment was upon us. We arrived at the party and were led into the presence of the fabled Katzes, whom we were bound to love.
Harry Katz did not have a rose in his mouth, I was relieved to notice as we waited for him to emit the first sample of his fine dry wit.
``How are you?'' was what he said.
We waited breathlessly for the punch line. There seemed to be none.
``Fine!'' we chorused in a brilliant display of our dual wittiness.
``This is my wife, Judy.''
We shifted our gaze to Judy Katz, purported to be the funniest female in town.
Judy Katz opened her little bow mouth. ``Hi, there,'' she said.
Was this funny and we were simply too prosaic to appreciate it? Was their humor so esoteric that it escaped us?
``Well -- '' said Harry Katz.
Ah! Here it comes! The droll remark that would show the stuff of which he was made. We waited, our eyes sparkling in tingly anticipation.
``Well, how was your trip home?'' he asked.
``Long,'' I blurted.
Judy Katz laughed a tinkly little giggle that settled into a bubbly gurgle. Harry Katz laughed. And laughed.
``That's very funny,'' he said, gasping for breath.
I looked at them, puzzled. My response was worth maybe half a ha-ha at most.
And then I knew: Their expectations, our expectations, were too high. Harry Katz could dance the flamenco with a rose in his mouth till he keeled over, but he'd never live up to his advance billing. Nor would we. We'd all been oversold to one another.
Our hostess came up to the four of us standing together, a quartet of window dummies.
``Don't you just love the Bennetts?''
``Yes!'' lied the Katzes in unison.
``Did I tell you you'd love the Katzes?'' she asked us.
``You did tell us,'' agreed my husband.
``And you do -- right?''
``Oh -- my!'' I responded, skirting reality tactfully.
Our hostess continued, ``Wouldn't it have been funny if, after all this, you people met -- and didn't like one another?''
The quartet of dummies laughed politely.
And then four pairs of eyes met knowingly and truth set us free. We joined in one spontaneous moment of warmth and laughter before gratefully going our separate ways.