Lighten your load, and hit your 'funny bone'

Whatever your current politics, the recently-published book, “Giant of the Senate,” written by Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, might be worth a late-summer read. Or maybe that’s just me.

Franken started his career as a writer on "Saturday Night Live," so, not surprisingly, the book has some incredibly funny dialogue. And he’s a Harvard University graduate, so his understanding of the issues is well-developed and cogent — and notoriously liberal. So I say again, no matter what your political leanings, he offers observations about the political process in a thoughtful, provocative, storytelling sort of way. He is riotously humorous in some chapters. Way too truthful in others.

Overall, Franken comes across as a stumpy little teddy bear of a guy who longs for more bipartisan engagement and less we-they in the public forum. Don’t we all? I salute the fact it takes a certain courage to write in such an upfront and honest manner about governing, or lack of good governance, in such tumultuous times. I find myself hesitating, just a little, to profile this man and his book — but I grew up in Minnesota and Franken writes compellingly about that state and its people. And you may be a Midwesterner too. Or maybe you could use a book that sort of helps lighten your load. Or this: maybe reading it will lead you somewhere you did not expect to go.

Franken describes the “funny bone” as “the rib that lies directly over the heart.” I was playing with my youngest grandson earlier this summer and bumped my elbow — which caused me to loudly exclaim (make that “yelp”) about “hitting my funny bone.” My reaction to the immediate elbow pain was not funny to him — and of course required an explanation in 4-year-old-ease about my use of that word. After all, I’d said something about a “funny” bone, and I was not laughing.

In “grandma knows” mode, I went to for assistance. I easily found an explanation and read to him, “You get a ”funny” feeling when the ulnar nerve is bumped against the humerus (say: HYOO-muh-rus), which is the long bone that starts at your elbow and goes up to your shoulder.” I ended with — “tapping that bone doesn’t really hurt your elbow or your arm, but it sure feels strange.” Saying that last sentence was a definite mistake, because he spent the next five minutes bumping his arms against the wall and trying to get his elbows to “feel funny.”

I tried to divert with a bit more information — surfacing additional detail, “The origin of the name 'funny bone' comes from a weird sensation that can make you laugh and cry at the same time. Kind of like when you are being tickled.” That of course moved us in the tickling direction, which got hilariously funny fairly quickly. It ended well. And quite happily.

There is assuredly some political relevance to, “laughing and crying at the same time” but I won’t go there. At least not today. I have grandchildren to play with, and there’s a good book I want to finish.

— Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor. Reach her at

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