Life Is Wonderfully Ridiculous

Claude Knobler - Santa Monica, California
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, November 17, 2008
Claude Knobler

Claude Knobler hoped to have a successful Hollywood career. Instead his resume lists working as a private eye, delivering singing telegrams in a gorilla suit, and being a stay-at-home dad. Knobler believes this ridiculous life is perfect for him.

Age Group: 30 - 50

When I was eighteen, a friend asked if I’d like to deliver 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 observatory 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 six.” After that, I moved to Los Angeles and found myself getting paid to watch movies as a film critic for morning radio shows.

Somewhere between the gorilla suits, the detective job, and eating all that popcorn, 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 five-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 twelve-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 a hundred.

But when I look at my gorilla-heavy résumé, when I see all three of my kids laughing, when I think about how much less my life would have been if I’d settled for what I thought I’d 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.

Claude Knobler of Santa Monica, Calif., is the author of “The Boy In the Photo," an unpublished memoir about his family’s adoption of his Ethiopian-born son.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

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.