Life Is Wonderfully Ridiculous

Claude Knobler
Courtesy Claude Knobler

Claude Knobler of Santa Monica, Calif., is the author of The Boy In the Photo, an unpublished memoir about his family's adoption of an Ethiopian-born son. Knobler's Web site, Hollywoodhollywood.com, features his novels, essays and a daily cartoon.

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When I was 18, a friend asked if I'd like a job delivering singing telegrams in Manhattan while dressed as a gorilla. It wasn't anything I ever expected to do, but I was unemployed and the gorilla mask muffled my lack of singing ability. So I took the job.

Soon after, I heard about another job, this time at the Empire State Building entertaining tourists by posing as King Kong. As one of the few applicants with prior gorilla experience, I was a shoo-in. When the summer ended and it got too cold to be on the observation deck, even while wearing a gorilla suit, another friend asked if I'd like to be a private detective. I said, "Yes, ever since I was 6."

Somewhere between the gorilla suits and getting hired to work as an actual private eye, I realized something about myself: I believe in the ridiculous.

I was raised in a traditional home where I was taught the value of hard work. I was determined to be determined. But a funny thing happened, or didn't happen. I struggled to become rich and famous, to build a successful career in Hollywood, and largely failed; I relaxed, and the ridiculous just came along.

It's not easy trusting in the ridiculous. When my friends ask what my career plans are, I sometimes feel like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. How can I tell them I have no plans — that I'm just waiting for the ridiculous to happen?

Now my main job is something that would have seemed ridiculous when I was in my "determined" phase: I'm a stay-at-home father to three children, and the story of one of them is particularly ridiculous. And wonderful. Ridiculously wonderful.

Five years ago, I read an article about Ethiopian children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. The idea that my wife and I would adopt a child, when we already had two kids, seemed crazy. The notion that a dying woman in Africa would gently give me her 5-year-old to raise because she could not, seemed horribly absurd. But now my wife and I are the proud parents of Clay, Grace and Nati, our beautiful 10-year-old Ethiopian-born son, who enters our kitchen singing at the top of his lungs most every morning.

The ridiculous isn't always funny — Nati's life certainly hasn't been. And the ridiculous can be hard work. As any stay-at-home parent can tell you, some days three children can feel like 100.

But when I look at my gorilla-heavy resume, when I see all three of my kids laughing, when I think about how much less my life would have been if I had settled for what I thought I wanted, I realize I don't much care about the sensible things I once did. It's the ridiculous I love.

And I've got the gorilla suits to prove it.

Independently produced for All Things Considered by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.

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