Backstory Babs and the uninvited guest

‘Scaramouche is a classic novel — at least according to Mark Twain’s definition.

Twain said, “A classic is something everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”

Not that I didn’t try. I did — at least three times over 50 years. But it was always no-go. On my last attempt I finished about 100 pages before I bagged it.

The novel is a swashbuckler that takes place during the French Revolution. That’s one of the two things I remember about it. The other is its opening line, which is: “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

I’ve always loved that quote and whenever I think of it I’m reminded of my pal Backstory Babs.

Babs is one of the funniest people I know, but in her own special way. She doesn’t tell jokes, she doesn’t pun, she doesn’t try to be the life of the party. In fact, she doesn’t even know she’s funny.

But there are two things that make her that way.

One is her disposition. She’s always upbeat and always sees the best in any situation. Not that she’s naive or has led a sheltered life — if anything, the opposite is true. Still she’s never bitter or cynical, nor is she oblivious. She knows what’s going on, she just never lets it get her down. If I had to give her a label, it’d be Polyanna with an Edge.

The second thing is the circumstances of her life. Inevitably, and with uncanny frequency, oddly-funny situations come to her. It’s as if she’s some kind of Cosmic Goof Magnet. It’s also how she got her nickname: With anything that happens to her, there’s always a story, because nothing turns out the way you’d expect.

Last week’s adventure is a perfect example.


Babs works with special needs kids in a middle school. This year she’s working in a new school where she doesn’t know anyone. Before school began there was the usual clot of meetings, workshops, briefings, debriefings and blah-blah. Then, on the Saturday before classes met, there was a picnic for all the employees and their families.

Because she was a newbie, and a reserved one at that, she sat at a table and pretty much kept to herself while the others chatted among themselves. A little while after food was put on the table, she noticed a small movement on the table. It was a big cockroach and it’d just passed a bowl of potato salad, on its way to a plate of hamburgers.

Engaged in their conversations, no one else saw the interloper, so Babs realized it was up to her to stop it from giving the burgers a go.

Subtly and bit by bit, she slipped her hand forward on the table and then slipped it back, brushing the roach with it. Then she swept it off the table and ground it under her heel.

The whole action took maybe 10 seconds, though it seemed a lot longer to Babs, what with her having saved the day (or at least the burgers).

After that, she eyeballed the rest of the table, scouting for more roach invaders, but there were none. So, in the manner of unsung heroes everywhere, she relaxed, put food on her plate and talked a bit with her neighbors. It was as you might expect — idle, pleasant chatter lacking any serious content, especially about the American education system. After all, who wants to go to a picnic and get their appetite ruined?

What’s in a name?

When everyone was done eating and the table was starting to get cleared, a woman came over from another table.

“Hey,” she said, “did anyone see the two little roaches?”

A bunch of people said no, others shook their heads. Only Babs spoke up.

“I didn’t see any small ones,” she said. “But there was a huge one the table and I smushed it.”

Suddenly everyone dissolved into hysterics.

They laughed, they shrieked, they howled.

Men banged on the table, women laughed so hard they wept, and for all anyone knows, a couple of peeps whizzed their drawers.

Meanwhile, Babs just sat there, completely confused.

Finally, the laughter died down.

“Ur … did I say something funny?” said Babs.

Once again, they erupted in laughter. And once again, it died out.

Then the woman who’d asked the question spoke.

“The little roaches are my kids,” she said.

“You call your kids ‘roaches?'” said Babs.

“What else can I call them?” she said. “My name’s Audrey Roach.”

For the third time, everyone laughed uproariously.

And while I wasn’t there to see it, I’m sure the one who laughed the loudest, and the longest, was Babs.