Last night I heard the most hilarious not-funny thing I’ve heard in years. After a long and mainly unsuccessful rehabilitation, my mom is back in her home. That is not the hilarious part, by the way. Unable to stand, my mom and her scooter and her permanently busted leg now wage war against the features of her home that she once loved. Her beloved Keurig coffee maker looms on the kitchen counter like Heartbreak Ridge, repulsing her when she wants to press the control buttons and insert the neat little single-serve coffee buckets. If I thought it would help her storm the thing, I’d buy her a flamethrower. When she wants to get into her nurturing recliner she must hurl herself trembling into its depths from the seat of her scooter. Getting back out of the recliner is like climbing K2. Her lovely bathtub is now a pit of horrors.

She ended up in this nasty little conflict partly because of the way she approached her rehabilitation. For 15 weeks she refused to eat nearly everything placed before her, despite her stated intention of walking out of the damned rehab facility with a healed leg. We almost immediately dismissed the hospital food, instead bringing her food from all across the vast spectrum of things humans can digest without dying. With this bounty brought before her, she occasionally ate a few grapes, part of a chicken strip, a few bites of a baked potato, and several spoonfuls of the broth from a bowl of Wendy’s chili. She had an appetite. Her doctor had prescribed appetite enhancers for her, so she was starving. But she typically reacted to food by making a please-stop-beating-me-with-that-stick face and moaning something like:

“That tastes just horrible.”

“This has too many spices.”

“It’s cold.”

“It isn’t spiced enough.”

“The toast is too thick.”

“I can’t stand to look at it.”

“My mouth just refuses to open.”

Fifteen weeks later and 30 pounds lighter, my mom sported a protein level rarely seen outside dusty third-world countries. It was low enough to kill a Kodiak bear, let alone a finicky 75 year old woman. When her surgeon saw that her leg had healed not at all, he told her to forget rehab and just go home. She and my father packed up her housecoats, her remote control lamp and her chap stick, and they initiated their vicious police action against the house they’ve owned for 51 years. They refuse any direct help from allies in this conflict, although they have accepted logistical support.   Just to be clear, none of that was the hilarious part either.

When I called my mom last night she told me that she’d been eating more. I interpreted that as eating eight grapes for breakfast instead of seven, but I merged into the traffic of her careening recitation of events and asked what “eating more” meant. She told me her breakfast consisted of two boiled eggs, two pieces of bacon and some toast, presumably not too thick. They were cooked how she liked them and tasted delicious, enabling her to eat them.

“My God!” I thought. I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “Great!” I suppose that was the right thing to say, since any act that might lead to her survival could be called “great.”

In the next breath she brought me up to date on my sister’s health. The flu had been pummeling my sister like an angry kangaroo, and she’d been sweating in misery on her couch for a week. My mom told me that my sister’s husband had cooked a hamburger and brought it to the couch where my sister lay, and she ate it. She hates meat and hardly ever eats any. In fact, she hasn’t eaten any meat for quite some time. My mom relayed that the hamburger cured my sister almost immediately and that her infirmity must have been caused by low protein. She stated this with all the authority of Charlie Sheen discussing hookers.

That wasn’t the hilarious part either.

Then my mom recounted, in detail, the sermon she had preached to my sister about the importance of proper eating. She emphasized the fact that my sister must eat meat, whether she wanted to or not, and that not liking something was no excuse for not eating it.

That was the hilarious part.

After this happy phone call ended, I found my wife in the kitchen. I told her that I’d just heard the most hilarious not-funny thing I’d heard in years, and I explained what had happened. I told her that I now felt some optimism, although my parents still refused any help, which was driving me crazy. I then said something that I thought clever. I said, “Maybe wisdom is taking what you see in others and applying it to yourself.”

My wife agreed that was a clever statement. Then she mentioned that since I wished my parents would accept some help, maybe I could try applying that to myself, as she’d been suggesting to me almost daily for the past two decades. At least I could let someone bring me a can of Diet Coke when I’m watching TV, or bring me some aspirin when I have the flu or hamburger deprivation. Just once in a while.

Well, that conversation didn’t go the way I’d anticipated. But my wife wasn’t wrong, so I smiled, nodded, and surrendered. I had failed to qualify for wise. I might or might not have a chance for clever. Whether I could identify hilarious was debatable. But having the effrontery to compare your mom to Charlie Sheen talking about hookers? Maybe that’s my defining characteristic.

My mom, before The War Against The House, and with both legs intact.