Claude Knobler of Santa Monica, Calif., is the author of The Boy In the Photo, an unpublished memoir about his family's adoption of an Ethiopian-born son.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.
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.