Dear A.T. Piskai…

Dear AT Piskai,

Kids, when I was 18 years old, I met a man named AT Piskai. Now I know what you’re thinkin’. Yes, that AT Piskai. The one with the bears. Some people say he wasn’t real, that the government came up with AT Piskai to distract us during trying times. But I met him. He was as real as you or me. We met in college back in 2009, when we both wrote forThe Pennsylvania Punch Bowl Humor Magazine. What’s a magazine? A magazine used to be a bunch of words printed on pieces of paper, then stapled together for a person to read at their leisure. What’s Pennsylvania? It was a large area of land that existed before the takeover.

Enough questions, I want to tell you about AT Piskai. He was a bold man, with the disposition of an excitable kangaroo and the jawline of an ox. Why, I remember one night he went to play laser tag and killed 25 men. Another night, he picked up five women, then placed them all down on the table next to him and propositioned them. A man among men, that AT Piskai. He would strut that big Irish strut of his – nobody strutted like AT Piskai. He used to strut down the sidewalk every day at 3pm, and the whole campus would gather ‘round. He’d stop and point at the cutest girl there and say his catchphrase, which was something like, “Get out of here, farmer!” Whatever it was, it was a riot. Everyone would laugh and laugh. He’d give everyone “Piskai fives” by slapping his palm against another person’s palm. That was acceptable at the time, instead of the intense act of aggression it is today. One time, a big bully from our staff – I think his name was Raj – challenged AT Piskai. He said, ‘Piskai, I bet you can’t write 52 columns with this here keyboard.’ It took him 4 full years without a single break, but AT Piskai wrote those columns, then killed Raj with the keyboard and three well-crafted Drexel puns. It was a glorious day.

Sometimes Piskai and I didn’t see eye to Pisk-eye. I know I’ve told you kids about the time I coined the extraordinarily popular term “bonerly”. Well, Piskai hated that word, and did everything in his power to make sure I never used it again. Piskai hated bonerly, almost as much as he loved his favorite ball team. A ball was a sphere that was used for games, before…well… before “it” happened.

The world we live in shakes at a mention of the name AT Piskai, but not me. I still think of him as a workhorse, a talent, an idol, a friend. Not as the betrayer of our species. Alright, that’s enough about AT Piskai, kids. Now go back to the salmon mines before the bears notice you’re gone.

Bonerly,

Sam

——–

Dear A.T. Piskai,

I first received one of your letters in the glorious year of 2008.  It was a simpler time then.  People didn’t need their phones to be ‘smart’, just slightly dumber than they are now.  The recession hadn’t lost its initial charm, Pluto wasn’t kicked out of the U.N. yet, and swine flu was just a name we gave to Fat Betty after she ate too many lego pieces.

But I digress.  2008 was important to me because it was the first year I read one of your many letters.  And quite frankly, I don’t know where I’d be now had I not.

You see, A.T., you gave me an education in joke-making.  When I look at your archives on the web site, I see a manual for how to craft the perfect column.

There’s lesson 1: A Letter of Introduction aka Making a Name for Yourself

Lesson 8: The Lorax aka Mastering the Pun

Lesson 21: Great Bicycle Battle aka Advanced Topics in Absurdity

These are only but a few examples.  I consider every one of your columns an in-depth lesson for how to write the perfect column.  Originally, when I started writing this letter, I wanted to list my favorite of your columns and say exactly how they influenced me.  But I couldn’t choose.  Each one, like a finely-tuned lesson plan or the ingredients of Bobby’s Dallas Burger, have a specific and delicious function to play in the education of the consumer.

I’ve taken these lessons to heart.  I’ve borrowed the hilariously nonsensical  Q and A format from ‘Midterm Review’.  I’ve plagiarized the erotic patriotism from ‘Bald Eagle’. Hell, I read ‘How to Speak Australian’ and WENT TO FUCKING AUSTRALIA!

I won’t lie, when you first told me you really enjoyed my Thesis Review column I vomited from excitement.  All over my computer.  It was disgusting and euphoric at the same time.  Because despite the fact that there was throw up all over my pants and computer, at that moment I knew I had made it.

A.T. Piskai, your legend will echo in the halls of the metaphorical Punch Bowl Complex (and the literal Punch Bowl Crapshack) for years to come.  Even when you graduate, your humor will continue to live in on the columns that others write, in the jokes we put on the board and don’t use in the magazine, and some of the jokes we put into the magazine.

Your letters, like children’s letters to Santa, may not reach who they’re addressed to but still serve a valuable purpose.  They let your parents know what you want for Christmas.  And they let us laugh at you.  You’ll be missed when gone A.T., but I know you’ll be moving on to bigger and funnier things at…Microsoft?  Well, I’ll trust you on that one.  The next computer I buy better be hilarious though.

A.T. Piskai, you are a hell of a columnist.  Maybe the funniest damn writer Punch Bowl’s had since Frederick Abbotson was shot by Theodore Roosevelt for making fun of his mustache.

But besides being a great writer, you were a better friend.  And despite all I learned from you about humor, I learned more about life.  Well, maybe it was about equal.  But still.  I’ll miss you, bud.  Thanks for everything.

Intrinsically Yours,

Jonah

P.S. I just have to include one more because it’s so goddamn funny:

Hank Tatum. Everyone read this!

——-

Dear A.T. Piskai,

When I first met you, you were smothered head to toe in barbeque sauce, screaming about the 76ers.  I’m happy to report that, in the three years since, you haven’t changed one bit.  And through those three years, we’ve had some laughs, we’ve had some tears (a lot of tears), and, for a brief period, we semi-successfully owned and operated a Fuddruckers in San Antonio.  But now that you’re leaving, I have a few burning questions.

What does the A.T. in A.T. Piskai stand for?

Though I’ve gotten to know you well (biblically, even), I’ve somehow never found out what that A.T. stands for.  All Terrain?  Awkward Turtle?  Assassinated Tupac?  What exactly are you hiding from, A.T., if that’s even your real name?  Maybe my suspicion is misplaced, or just a side effect of all the psychotropics I’ve been taking.  Maybe you decided to jump on the ‘90s fad of initializing your first two names, à la famous boy banders like JC Chasez or JK Rowling.  But maybe, just maybe, you’ve been up to something this whole time.  I’ve got my eyes on you.

What’s the deal with the letters?

For some reason, nearly all of your columns have been written in letter format.  Why?  Here’s my theory:  When you went to Ghana a couple years ago, you met an old, senile witch doctor, who offered you an invigorating potion in exchange for a basket of Ghanaian yams.  Thinking you could trick the ancient mystic, you took the potion and stole off into the night without delivering the agreed-upon yams.  But the old man did not take kindly to tricks.  Vengeful, filled with rage, the witch doctor attempted to curse you with the Hex of a Thousand Indian Burns.  But in his senility, he jabbed the wrong end of his magical staff at you, and instead cursed you with the Hex of Perpetual Letter-Writing.  Or, I dunno, maybe you just like writing letters. I’m not a mind reader.

Why are you working at Microsoft?

I may not know much about computers, or software, or this so-called “electricity,” but according to the TV machine, people at Microsoft are boring and probably robots.  How does the guy who wrote a column about a “pirate investigator” turn around and take a job at the corporate equivalent of a mayonnaise sandwich?  It befuddles me something fierce.

Despite these burning questions, though, I must say that you’ve meant a lot to Punch Bowl, and you’ve meant a lot to me.  In many ways, I always felt like you were truly a writer’s writer—your columns have a certain effortless wit and playfulness, and you wrote in a wide variety of styles, tones, and perspectives.  Your best columns were fully formed and packed with jokes and ideas; I’m still disappointed that “The School of Hard Knocks” didn’t end up in the magazine.  And this is all without mentioning the contributions you made to every issue.

On a more personal note, though, I wanted to thank you for helping me become a better writer.  During sophomore year, it was always a pain to post my columns the day after you, ‘cause your columns were so damn good.  But following you pushed me to never miss a deadline and really improve my writing.  And beyond that, you were always supportive—I got the feeling you were one of the only people on staff who made it a point to read everyone else’s work.  Even if you never realized it, I think you helped make all of us better writers.

I guess this is all just a roundabout way of saying that we’re going to miss you, Piskai.  Punch Bowl won’t be the same without your goofy faces, weird dances, absurd ideas, and signature basketball shorts and flip-flops.  I just hope everyone remembers you as a goofy bastard, a great writer, and most of all, a good friend.  I know I will.

Sincerely,

Raj

——-

Dearest Piskai,

Well, it finally came.*

I’m not talking about the prizes you won during Feb Club either. You are officially a Punch Bowl scum alum** which proves one thing: this magazine is really going to go downhill.

Even though we have other Phi Psis,*** Punch Bowl will in no way be the same when you graduate. We are going to lose our most accomplished columnist, our resident goofball, our most stylish staffer, and our favorite Gauss. But worst of all I am losing a great friend and mentor. You’re leaving a gaping hole in our staff (and in our hearts, of course).

But I came up with a great solution – clone yourself don’t leave! As you so eloquently said, “education is overrated.”****

Even though you know the ins and outs***** of engineering and will be so successful at Microsoft, I think we can all agree we’d rather have you here, even if you’re stripping. Actually, especially if you’re stripping.

But if you must go, let me leave you with this poem I wrote expressing how I truly feel about you:

Dearest darling A. T. Piskai,

Knowing you’re leaving makes me want to cry,

Replace you? We wouldn’t even try,

Stay! Haunt us like the ghost of Shai,

I guess what I’m trying to imply,

Is that if you’re ever nearby,

Please stop in and say hi!

And to get to the point before we all die,

Andrew, you’re an incredible guy,

And I never want to say goodbye.

And I know this wasn’t nearly as good for you as your columns were for us, but I spent like 3 hours trying to copy yours. For real boy.

In a while crocodile,

Monica

*No, that’s not what she said.

**They’re interchangeable.

***I’m talking to you JStarr and Gelfarb.

****He’s sorry Penn, he didn’t mean it.

*****See footnote 1.

—–

Dear Grandmaster Piskai,

And so you depart from the hallowed halls of the Pennsylvania Punchbowl, leaving behind a legacy of literary wit, what can only be described as comedic literature, way too many letters, and a trail of what looks like watered-down feces. I know you really only planned to leave one of those things (we both know which one), but either way they left the Punchbowl overflowing with fragrance, something that will be hard to match in years to come. I’ll never forget the time you asked me to go to a tuba concert downtown during reading week, or the reason I let you go all the way downtown by yourself without a chaperone. It must have been really scary for you.

Ever since I realized that you’re leaving us forever, I’ve mostly been crying, to be perfectly honest. I started writing this column by asking myself “What does Piskai mean to me?”, but I only had this weird image of a half-chewed Hoagie Haven sandwich in a garbage can. Maybe that is what you represent: something so good that you can’t merely digest it, you have to experience its greatness then let it back out to admire it again. Instead, though, I have compiled a list of reasons of things you forgot to do here, and that you should complete before you leave:

Make a pun out of my name:

That should buy us a couple months.

Write more columns:

Your columns are the epistolary equivalent of remembering to redeem your frequent-eater card at Jimmy Johns for a free sandwich. If Shaq were a letter, he’d be one of your columns. Allen Iverson was really talkin’ bout your columns. Not a letter. Not a letter. Not a letter. He was talkin’ about your columns. Four score and seven columns ago, I dreamed of a day when letters and comedy could co-exist in harmony, in beautiful, slightly uncomfortable matrimony, and mate them you did. Your columns are what would happen if wit, bears, radishes, and Morgan Freeman spent a weekend snowed-in in a one-bedroom cabin in rural Colorado. And they’re great. So write more.

Develop a formula for finding the elusive alpha-joke:

As the alpha-joke of the Punchbowl, you really need to develop a formula for finding the root joke of all comedy pieces. You could have some sort of sorting method to weed out all the bad jokes to end up with the good one. Call it the Garbage-trage Garage, or something. Anyway, until you tell us all how it’s done, you can’t leave. My social life depends on it.

 

Sean Kelly:

Oh, wait. Never mind.

So in about two to three years once you’ve done all those things, you’ll be free to go. Piskai, your talent as a writer and your willingness to help has been a tremendous influence on me as a person and as a member of the Punchbowl. You have contributed so much to the kind of writer I am today, which is both a compliment and an insult depending on which way you look at it. Thank you for everything, my friend. Make sure you never lose your funny, and bring some of it back once in a while to give the new kids a taste of what they missed out on. Good luck, but I doubt you’ll need it.

Ever So Carefully,

Nabil Mehta

——

Dear A. T. Piskai,

You definitely don’t remember when we first locked eyes, but for me it was true Punchbowl love at first sight. Me, a freshman, terrified from my first encounter with Penn’s version of Fangorn Forest, Sean Kelly’s beard; and you, a junior, wearing your bush hat, and staring at all the new spoons from the future.

Fourteen hours in the future to be exact. You were Skyping into the first meeting of the semester from Melbourne, Austrialia. I didn’t know you at the time, but your Skype window replaced that of Meatspin on the computer, so I immediately associated you with reprieve from torture. I also knew that you must be a truly dedicated staff member – taking time out of your limited days to see the progression of the organization. I didn’t even know the half of it.

I got to know you better during the final dinner of fall semester that year. You made a glorious return from the land down under, and you were literally ambushed by the older club members. I’ve only seen people more excited at the end of Nicholas Cage’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Even those who made it to the end of “The Wicker Man” weren’t this happy. This was the night that we shared our first meal together. You still hadn’t met me, but I felt an even stronger bond with you.

I got my first taste of an A. T. Piskai Punchbowl meeting during spring semester, and I knew why everyone was so thrilled about your glorious return. Not only did you come prepared with an arsenal of ideas, but also you pitched them with such enthusiasm that every one of them seemed like a winner. I think if you had presented “If Plants Could Talk, What Would They Say?” we would have written the “Plants” issue. You brought an unmatchable energy to he meeting that made me so happy to be a part of the organization.

My favorite memory of my time with you, however, occurred this year. I had just finished writing my first Punchbowl column. After letting Sam read it, he told me to “send it to the master – A. T. Piskai.” You read the piece and sent it back, covered in edit marks. After making the changes you suggested, I realized that the article had transformed from an unrefined mess of funny sentences to a coherent, balanced column. You gave me very useful advice that helped me to be a better member of the club.

After this event, all the myth and legend surrounding your tenure in Punchbowl made sense. Your dedication was apparent – you helped to make sure that people could at least attempt to replace you enormous presence. I also realized that you truly put the “Punch” in “Punchbowl.” You have an endless supply of humor, from elaborate, well-developed characters to one-line zingers that have me in tears from laughing so hard.

When you leave, we’re just going to have an empty “Bowl,” and finding people with enough pep and enthusiasm to rebuild the “Punch” will be tough. You have truly made a lasting impact on this organization, for that, we cannot thank you enough.

Thank you, A. T. Piskai, for all of your hard work and dedication,

~JStarr

——

Dear Punch Bowl Audience,

A.T. Piskai is dead. Now I know what you’re thinking “Hey, is this one of those metaphorical deaths where the person moves on to greener pastures and/or spiritual enlightenments? Are you saying that since the writer formerly known as A.T. Piskai is graduating, his columnist persona is also bound to expire too?” No. No I’m not saying that, you pretentious dolt. I’m saying A.T. Piskai is dead. Dead as a doorknob, a phrase which I never understood, as it implies doorknobs are supposed to be deader than other inanimate objects.

It all started out when Mr. Piskai called me last week saying he was stuck in a bush after attending the Penn Date Auction.  He said he didn’t know how long it would take to get out, and that he had a problem set that was due in less than an hour. I, being the understanding and selfless friend that I am, of course offered to retrieve the homework and relay it all the way to the DRL.

I walked into his house, which smelled of cat urine and fruit by the foot, got the homework, which was covered in dried up drool and sketches of Heather Locklear, and was about to leave when I tripped on a handle jutting out of  the floor, which was surprisingly clean. Something told me not to open it, to get in and get out, just like Mr. Piskai wanted. But I kept thinking if anyone would have captured a Leprechaun and kept him in his underground dungeon, it would be Mr. Piskai.

I was right. There was an underground dungeon. And there was a Leprechaun too, if by Leprechaun you mean malnourished hunchbacked twenty two year old who hasn’t seen the light of day since Myspace was still a thing. I always wondered how Mr. Piskai was able to complete such a rigorous engineering course load, maintain a bubbling social life, get a good night’s sleep, and be the most prolific columnist in Punch Bowl history. Now I knew the answer. This man posing as Piskai kidnapped the real A.T. Piskai, the atrophied figure before me. He chained him to his desk where he was forced to write humor columns on an old Microsoft Windows 98 Compaq computer. Posted all around me were detailed outlines of The Punch Bowl’s most famous pieces: March Madness, Hank Tatum, and Food or Politics being just a few. Curiously there was also an outline for Jonah Lustig’s Crepe Island. In a sympathetic rage, I ripped off this poor creature’s fetters, smashed his computer, and told him to “Be free A.T. Piskai! Fly away like the bald eagle you are!”

He ran out of Piskai’s house, unchained at last. Then he paused, looking back at me, forever grateful.

Suddenly as soon as he stepped into the street his head exploded. Chunks of brain and fragments of skull sprayed everywhere. It was like watching a watermelon be thrown off the side of an unreasonably tall building. Turns out the bastard implanted a chip into A.T. Piskai’s neck, that would explode as soon as he stepped foot off the property. As I sit here writing this letter, I wonder, did he know he was rushing to meet his imminent death, or did he just not care?

Anyhoo, sorry to see you go buddy. You know we’ll miss you here at the old PBowl. Keep in touch, man. And no hard feelings about the whole guy chained in your basement. Everyone knows if it wasn’t for the constant output of slave writers, Punch Bowl would still be published once a year with construction paper and goose shit.

Missing A.T. Piskai,

L.M. Wildorf

——

And finally, a photo tribute to A.T. Piskai’s columns brought to you by Monica Schecter:

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