Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Have You Heard The One About...

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published October 23, 2014] © 2014 

There’s just something about six-year-olds and jokes. My grandson was visiting recently and I couldn’t help but notice that he was really into the joke and riddle phase. What I also couldn’t help but notice was that the jokes haven’t changed since his dad, Rory, was six, or even when I was.

Actually, the worst culprit was Rory’s younger brother, Henry, who pretty much made all of us insane for his entire first grade year with his passion for jokes. 

A typical interchange over breakfast:

Henry:  “Know what time it is?”

Rory:  “Don’t encourage him, Mom. He’ll stop if we ignore him.”

Henry (hardly able to contain himself):  “It’s the same time as it was yesterday!”

Henry had acquired several kiddie joke and riddle books and regaled us at every meal with an endless litany of awful jokes until Rory finally turned to me one night and said, “Can I hurt him, Mom?” (I was actually tempted to say yes.)

But even at the time, I couldn’t help but wonder if this were not my father exacting karmic revenge on me. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college, I worked in New York City as summer fill-in at Scholastic Magazines which also published youth market books and magazines. One of their kiddie magazines (I think it was My Weekly Reader) had a joke column theoretically written by this cute little dinosaur named “Funny Bones” to whom children could submit jokes for publication. Old FB had gotten quite backlogged and they needed someone to come in and read his mail then write back to these kids.  Well, as opposed to typing manuscripts with eight carbons, this sounded really fun. I still think back on it as My Summer as a Male Dinosaur.

What they didn’t tell me when I sat down at the Funny Bones’ desk and confronted a literally three-foot-high pile of mail that I was tasked to answer was that 75% of the kids sent in the same three jokes:  (1) Why did the chicken cross the road? (You know the answer.) (2) Why did the moron throw the clock? (Yawn. To see time fly.) (3) What’s black and white and re(a)d all over? (A newspaper.) 

At least ten percent more were jokes that the kids had made up that you apparently had to be under nine to get:  Q: “What did the cat say?” A: “I am a silly milly.”  Or, “What did the oatmeal cookie say to the cake?” Answer: “Hi cake.” Lots and lots of jokes like that. Some of them were even kind of cute: “What has eight wheels and goes ding dong?” A: “The Avon lady on roller skates.” Or, “What do you call Batman and Robin when they get runned [sic] over?” A: “Flatman and Ribbon.” 

Then there were the “trick ya” varieties but I caught on pretty quick. I wasn’t going to an Ivy League school for nothing.  (Q: “Name five animals that live in the Arctic.” A: “Four polar bears and a walrus.”)  Some of them sent in jokes they’d heard Daddy tell that Penthouse wouldn’t have printed. I would write back and thank little Joey for his jokes and inquire how all the boys and girls in Mrs. Holtzer’s room were doing. No computers then, so every response had to be individually composed.

After about a week on this job, the jokes these kids sent in actually started to sound funny. I would sit at my desk and laugh myself silly, while other personnel cast me worried glances. (They didn't say where the person who normally had this job was; I was guessing Bellevue.) By the end of the second week, I was absolutely punchy. I used to sit on the commuter train with my father at night regaling him with these inane jokes and laughing hysterically. Finally my father said, "I am not going to sit with you if you tell me even one more Funny Bones joke."

"But Dad," I said, "you're gonna love this one. What's red on the outside and gray on the inside? Dad? Dad?" And thus I found myself alone. Dad never did find out that it was Campbell's Cream of Elephant Soup.

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