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A PATRIOT'S DUTY TO FIND A LITTLE COMIC RELIEF

Mostly, this week, I keep thinking about a line from "Fawlty Towers":

"Right! So, that's two eggs mayonnaise, a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Goering and four Colditz salads! ... No, wait a moment. Sorry, I got confused because everyone keeps mentioning the war."

That's from "The Germans," also known as episode No. 6 of the 1970s BBC series, also known as one of the single funniest half-hours of television ever shot. It's also how many of us felt as we tried hard to heed our commander-in-chief's urging to Get Back to Normal.

In the show, English innkeeper Basil Fawlty (played by the incomparable John Cleese) frets over the impending arrival of German guests and implores his staff not to mention the war. But after suffering a whack on the noggin, Fawlty begins talking about nothing else as soon as his guests arrive. As they look on in horror, Fawlty eventually thrusts two fingers under his nose in a Hitlerian mustache, and lunges into an enormous goose-step across the dining room, screaming in German

These past two weeks, no matter where we went or what we did, we kept trying not to mention the war. And often, many of us found ourselves in similarly bizarre postures, physical and mental, trying to drive Sept. 11 from our minds.

Sometimes it worked.

The Monday after the attack, needing to do more than fly my flag, I heeded the government's pleading and invested in America. In other words, I shopped like Imelda Marcos let loose in Manolo Blahnik. My first stop was a stockbroker's office, where, hyperventilating only a little, I bought sadly inexpensive stock in things I felt sure America would buy by the crate full in the coming year: Food. Paper products. Beer. Cigarettes. Zoloft.

Apparently, I wasn't the only one. "Women seem to be doing most of the buying today," noted Jim Gendron at AG Edwards in Williamsville.

OK. Made sense. We're women: we stress, we head for a sale, we shop. So that worked well.

Radio did, too. Bit by bit, it offered welcome comic relief, and some of the sharpest minds around began sharing what they really thought and felt. The airing out seemed right.

Phil Tronolone, from Orchard Park, wondered in a morning commentary on National Public Radio if it wasn't a tad unseemly for all of us to try, this soon, this hard, to act as if things were as they had always been.

And, you had to grin at Howard Stern's suggestion: Instead of bombs, the United States should just airlift every smashed fire truck, cop car, ambulance and SUV that held a New York cop, fireman, Pentagon or World Trade Center worker, and drop those on Osama bin Laden.

Whenever it happened to you these past two weeks, didn't it feel good to have that first real, if brief, laugh?

Didn't it feel good to discover, in this adversity, who you still care about and are finally ready to stop fighting with? Raise your hands, everyone who called an ex-spouse or lover in the New York City area, and simply said, "I just needed to know you're alive" when they answered.

So, yes. When it worked, this moving on, this not-mentioning-the-war, it really worked.

But when it didn't . .

Raise your hands, everyone who got so distracted and overloaded in the last two weeks that they're now sick. A show of hands, please, from the people who committed unbelievably pointless random acts.

Here's a short list of gaffes several people shared with me in the last two weeks:

Got in the gym shower and forgot which way to turn the handle for hot. Forgot how to shift gears. Wore two different shoes to work (a guy). Went to school to pick up a child, paused to speak to a teacher and then left -- without the child -- thinking it was time to go to work instead of home.

Donald Ware, co-owner and billing manager of the six EduKids child-care centers in Western New York, noticed something he said he'd never seen in all 12 years there: Not one but scores of monthly tuition checks filled out wrong.

"I'm seeing dates missing, dates wrong, no signatures," he said, picking through stack on his desk. "I realized this week just how distracted parents were. We have a huge amount of money still owing. I think people have just forgotten about bills."

Embarrasing? Sure. But please don't think you're the only one.

"No one knows how to do this," Ellen Silver, a certified social worker and counselor in West Seneca, mused late last week. "We're still processing it. And on top of that, there's still the threat of more to come. Our brains really are otherwise occupied."

All that matters, Silver says, is that you are trying.

And sometimes, when you cannot bear to think about the past and can only peek at the future through the fingers covering your eyes, trying is enough.