VIEW FROM AFAR- A few good jokes for old time’s sake

A man is in a shipwreck and the sole survivor lives alone on a desert island for 10 years. Then a ship comes by and rescues him. The crew notices that Robinson Crusoe has built three houses on a hill on the island. They ask him about these structures.

“Well the first building is my house. And the second building is the church I attend,” he said.

“And what is the third building?”

“Oh, that is the church I used to attend,” he said.

This is a good joke for pastors to use to warn their flocks to stay in the fold.

Two of my favorite jokes are work related. Every occupation has a body of jokes and folk tales like these.

Back in the days when oil drilling was still done in America, an oil well was opened to replace the drill head. A careless rough neck dropped his hammer down the open hole and it fell thousands of feet to the bottom. Nothing could be done except to order special electronic equipment to retrieve the hammer from the bottom of the hole.

Days of work were lost and thousands of dollars spent on this project.

When the hammer was pulled out, the crew chief handed the hammer to the roughneck and said, “You are fired.”

He replied, “Well, then I won’t need the hammer” and dropped it back down the hole.

Every concrete delivery guy I’ve met swears this story is true-but they are always a bit vague on the exact time and location of the yarn.

A concrete truck driver making a delivery goes by his girlfriend’s house and discovers a convertible parked in the driveway. He realizes his rival is seeing his girl on the sly.

Enraged, he backs his cement truck up to the car and pours six cubic feet of concrete into the car and drives off.

Every news event produces a substrata of “dirty jokes”-none of them fit to print but passed on verbally with lightning speed-often just hours after the event.

When I worked night shift in a hospital and slept until 4 p.m., a friend would call me and click off three bawdy jokes about news events that had happened while I slept.

He was not clever. Rather, he heard these jokes from commodities traders in Chicago who passed them around while trading. Often these jokes circle the globe in a few hours. These short, brutal and bawdy jokes are used to open and close a short phone conversation.

Jokes are declining today. Now stand-up comics ramble and riff about events with no punch lines. My friend Jack was a pioneer in this form of stand up comedy.

During a rough time in his life, he was admitted to a psychiatric unit. The staff psychiatrist said, “Your admission papers indicate you are a comedian. Tell me a joke.”

Jack said, “I have never told a joke in my life. But if you get me a newspaper and a stool, I will show you what I do for a living.”

The psychiatrist agreed and assembled the staff in the examining room. Jack read the paper and made side comments that left the staff rolling on the floor.

He still has this gift-when he is at parties in my home, younger friends gather around as he riffs on like a jazz musician.

Chicago was a city of ethnic and racial neighborhoods. Each group had a million jokes about both their own in-group and other groups in the city.

Lithuanians had jokes about Latvians. Assyrians and Armenians from Iraq today tell jokes about the Kurds.

The mark of good ethnic humor is that it must be so narrow that it could apply to no other group.

Thus, in the 1920s the joke went, “How do you take the census of Polish people in Chicago?” Answer: “You flood the basements.”

Once the poorest of the poor in the city and condemned to live in tenement basements, this joke no longer makes any sense as Poles enter the upper middle class in Chicago.

Talking to a retired Chicago cop, he clicked off neighborhood jokes with perfect mimicry of accents and speech styles.

“My kids don’t even understand these jokes. Maybe that is good. But we have lost something also,” he said.

I wanted to tell him that I grew up in Marion County and was often told being not to act like a person who lives “behind Goessel”-don’t be a bumpkin. This mistranslation from the Low German never made any sense to me.

And today, nobody understands it anyway.

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