At home with the Wisenheimers

A recent conversation at our house:

Dad, muttering and extremely agitated: “I’m going to kill your brother.”

Younger Son, deadpan and without hesitation: “Can I have his room?”

Now, Younger Son doesn’t really want his brother’s room. His own room is the bigger of the two, and his brother’s room is cluttered and dark and smelly. But Younger Son is quick on the draw, and he won’t let a straight line slip by without comment.

It’s not just him, either. At our house, nobody passes up a punchline. If the joke is at another family member’s expense, all the better. To an outsider, our conversation can sound harsher than the lighting in a motel bathroom.

A stutter draws an immediate: “Easy for you to say.” Any mention of having “wit” gets an automatic: “You’re half right.” Never, ever say that your face hurts, or you’ll get a chorus of “It’s KILLING me.”

My wife recently survived a terrible case of food poisoning, and my sympathetic response was, “That’s what you get for eating at a restaurant called Giardia.”

I can’t work among the thorns in the flowerbeds without trotting out this line: “The rosebush bites the hand that weeds it.” Har.

Oh, yes, we’re so very, very clever and annoying, but we can’t help ourselves. In our house, we’ve always placed a premium on laughter. Our sons have grown up with the idea that whoever’s funniest wins. This should stand them in good stead out in the real world, where employers love backtalk and snappy banter.

Do other households suffer from this malaise? Do other families sit around, yakking and yukking it up, always trying to one-up each other? Surely, we’re not the only family that should be named Wisenheimer.

I blame TV. We’ve all consumed a lifetime of situation comedies, in which every lame joke is rewarded by a laugh track.

In a sit-com household, if somebody says, “I’m going to kill your brother,” the smart-aleck child is required to say, “Can I have his room?”

It’s easy to slip into traditional Sit-Com Family roles -- bumbling, cranky Dad; sassy, capable Mom, and 2.6 wiseacre children. Problems arise when we perform those roles outside the household. Out in public, a smart mouth can be downright dangerous.

The other day, I was walking in a store behind a short, stocky man who appeared to be constructed of bowling balls. His round, shaved head sat so low, his earlobes brushed his shoulders.

The line that went through my head: “Hey, buddy. They’re running a sale on necks over on Aisle 6.” This was so funny (to me), that it was all I could do not to say it out loud.

While he was built of bowling balls, I resemble a large bowling pin. And we all know who wins when those two collide.

A sit-com dad would’ve said it anyway. And the audience would’ve gotten a big laugh later over his black eye and plaster casts.

To me, broken bones aren’t that funny, especially when they’re mine, so I zipped my lip and hurried home. Once there, I told everyone about Mr. No-Neck and how funny it would’ve been if only I’d been a little more brave and/or stupid. Because they’re my family and they know what’s really important, they got a big laugh out of what might’ve been.

Or, maybe they were picturing me with black eyes, so they could say to my wife, “Hey, lady, where’d you get the raccoon?”

Yeah, that sounds like us.