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Listening to the news is no joke

They say laughter is the best medicine. I could have used a dose or two a few days ago when my column was due and I needed to get happy in a hurry.

The day had started out fine. I woke up on the right side of the bed, ate a bowl of Cheerios, took an invigorating walk with my dog and sent my son off to school with a perky "Have a nice day!" I was a regular Katie Couric. Then I made my mistake.Wanting to keep abreast of the times, I turned on the morning news. Things went downhill from there. Fifteen minutes later I was despondently slumped over my word processor without a funny thought in my head. Believe me, when you sit down to write funny, you darn well better think funny or you're in trouble. "Hold the presses, I'm not in the mood," doesn't go over well with the editor.

Panic-stricken, I suddenly remembered my secret copy of "The Dictionary of Jokes, Wisecracks, Quips and Quotes," which I bought last June and hid behind my thesaurus in case of an emergency. By the time I reached the knock-knock jokes, I knew what to do. And so to prevent my dampened spirits from escalating into a full-blown wet blanket, authentic jokes, tested and guaranteed by professional comedians, will be interspersed throughout my gloomy reportage of current events.

My spirits had initially been dampened by details of Saddam Hussein's cache of chemical cocktails, more commonly known as weapons of mass destruction. They say he's got potions that could melt my pancreas, not to mention yours, as well as many of our other body parts. I'm teaching my dog to beg, and he's getting pretty good at it. Last night he came home with $4.85.

And speaking of body parts, recent studies suggest that drinking one glass of wine a day, a practice highly recommended last year to decrease the risk of heart disease, might actually increase the risk of breast cancer. Another medical mystery is that sunscreen many actually increase the chances of getting skin cancer, although the experts say we should keep using it until they know for sure. (Watching us is how they're finding out?) "Doctor, you've got to help me - everyone thinks I'm a liar." "I find that hard to believe."

Which reminds me of Washington, where special prosecutors and elected officials accustomed to working backward are searching for those few women who have never had an improper relationship with the president. They say exercise adds years to your life. It's true - I've only been working out for a week and already I feel 10 years older!

Since everyone's angry about the affairs of state, incidents of "road rage" have skyrocketed. These days you're better off getting hit by the car than by the driver. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who used to be somebody else, was recently arrested for attacking another motorist. He was given the choice of six months in jail or 35 hours of "anger management coun-seling." (He didn't pick jail.) My girlfriend is upset. She had her face lifted, but it turned out there was another one just like it underneath!

Weather-wise, El Nino continues. Dramatic footage showed San Francisco floating into the Bay as giant mudslides assaulted homes along what was formerly the West Coast. Texas, not to be outdone, boasted one heck of a tornado. My parents were so poor, they got married just for the rice.

Obviously, I'll have to stop watching TV. I think I can - after all, what's to miss? One evening while attempting to catch a few Olympic highlights from Nagano, I endured 31 commercials: 16 promising a better life through sport utility vehicles and 15 enticing me to watch the Olympics. "Whenever I'm down in the dumps, I buy myself a new dress." "Oh, so that's where you get them!"

What did everyone do before television was invented? For starters, they didn't have to watch commercials. OK, so maybe they got skin cancer, but back then folks died so young they never even knew what hit them. He's so tall, he has to stand on a chair to brush his teeth.

Before television, people talked. They did jigsaw puzzles and baked pies. Sure, the occasional tornado caught them off-guard, but how often does that happen? "The truth is, I regret the day I got married." "You're lucky. I was married a whole month."

I feel better already. Have a nice day!