I watched a dust cloud chasing a raggedy pickup from a long way down the road. Clutch. That’s his name. That’s also what my belly does every time he shows up. Clutch is one of those guys who insists on telling you a joke before he even says hi. And if, heaven forbid, you have one to tell him, you’ll find yourself playing king of the mountain with a humor bully. I hate being cast in the role of jokee to a self-appointed joker.

Anyhow, a person’s got to be neighborly, so I slouched on down to Clutch’s truck as he crunched to a stop in front of my barn.

“Hey, Clutch,” I called out, bracing myself for his opening salvo.

Instead, he just eased himself out of the pickup, propped his elbows on the hood of his truck and sighed deeply. No joke. No chatter. He was in a strange mood.

“Alva, can I just set behind your barn for a spell?” Clutch asked, staring at my corral as though he had never seen Pachooky before.

What an odd request. I know, and you know, that every man needs the backside of a barn from time to time. Where else can you go for a quiet sit where weeds grow through old hay rakes and tangle with time-fogged memories of your first kiss, your first smoke?  How could I refuse such a heart wrenching plea from my fellow man? But why couldn’t he just use his own?

“You know, since we sold the 80 acres behind our barn to the shopping mall,” Clutch answered my unspoken question, “I’ve lost my sanctuary. Now everyone who runs in to pick up a pair of pantyhose can look right into my personal space. I feel naked. Invaded. Like I want to pull some drapes shut and say, ‘Well, excuuuse me.’ On top of that, my wife wants me to clear out all the good junk back there and plant flowers. I got no space left.”

“Well, you just make yourself to home,” I offered.

“Thanks, Alva,” Clutch muttered, “but I have another favor to ask.”

“What’s that?”

“Can I dump my computer back there?”

“Sure,” I replied. “What’s one more piece of junk. But didn’t you just buy it a while back?”

“It’s making me depressed,” Clutch replied.

“How’s that?”

“It’s those darn e-mail jokes,” Clutch explained as we each grabbed a hunk of hardware and headed for my sanctuary. “Everyone who can forward a canned piece of humor thinks he’s a comedian: ‘Hey look at me. I never can remember a joke but now I can be funny too.’ Amateurs!”

“Some folks have no sense of proportion when it comes to humor,” I offered.

“Couldn’t agree with you more,” Clutch remarked. “But worse than that they’re burning up material at a ferocious rate. Some of my favorite stories are being passed along from mailing list to mailing list. Why just the other day, after muttering the rhetorical, ‘stop me if you heard this’, some guy took me at my word. ‘Hey,’ he said, “I just read that one on my e-mail.’ READ IT! I ask you. You don’t read jokes.”

I nodded as I plunked the keyboard next to the CPU, monitor and mouse on the bed of an old manure spreader and waited for the rest of the tirade.

“You tell jokes.” Clutch continued. “That’s why they call us storytellers. And jokes – they’re as free as the wind. They’re there for the taking. They float by like…like.”

I watched the joke junky dredge the depths of his poetic imagination.

“Fire flies! Jokes are like fire flies.”

It was hard to choose what I liked more—his poetry or his gags. “I never thought of it that way before. That jokes come from nowhere. Anecdotes as oral tradition. Interesting.”

Clutch eased into a rusted metal chair, propped his feet on a hay rake and continued his lecture on free-floating jokes. “Yep. Like you say, they’re just out there waiting to be snagged. We keep the best ones…”

“I never noticed.”

“…and we save them for just the right moment—bodda-boom.”

“Well, you could have fooled me. I never knew there was so much subtlety involved in cracking wise.”

“Sure is. And you don’t want to repeat yourself. You have to remember who heard what story and what kind they like. All that.”

It was getting pretty thick, even for a barn yard.

“Alvaaa. Hey, Alva,” I could hear Tug calling from the house. That’s what’s so nice about the backside of a barn—just far enough away to claim you didn’t hear a thing. “Doesn’t your wife get tired of hearing the same stories over and over?” I asked.

“Occupational hazard,” Clutch snapped, swinging around in his chair to face me. “Comes with the territory. If I were a traveling salesman, she would have to suffer through nights alone without me. If I were a ball player she would have to put up with adoring fans asking for my autograph.”

“Do you get many requests for autographs?”

“No. Us humorists don’t have much by way of fan clubs. Sometimes it’s kind of lonely at the top of the comedy heap. But we’re all convinced that people are lining up waiting to hear our latest.”

“Hmmm.”

“Well, I guess I’m not so sure about that anymore,” Clutch allowed, “what with e-comedians turning jokes into junk mail and all.” Clutch stared up at the sky for a moment. Swallowed loudly. “Why, I liked to kick the slats out of my cradle the first time I heard some of those jokes that folks are slinging around in cyberspace. They’re taking liberties with some golden classics.”

“Darned left-brain obsessives!” I empathized. “Why, I bet you feel like a monk the first time he saw a Xerox machine—there goes the neighborhood.”

“See? You get it. That’s why I love you,” Clutch sighed, stopping himself just short of reaching over and hugging me. “You know just how I feel. Which, by the way, is a lot better now, thanks to the use of your quiet space.”

“Think nothing of it,” I replied as we walked back to the truck. “Just keep goosing those fireflies, hear? You’ll be all right.”

As if to prove he was back to his old self, Clutch rolled down his window for a parting shot. “Did you hear about the cowboy with chapped lips who kissed his horse under the tail each morning…?”

“Yup,” I muttered.

“…said it kept him from licking his lips.”

I watched Clutch’s head bob up and down with self-inflicted laughter as he barreled out of my drive.

Well, two can play at this game, I thought to myself. All I have to do is hook up that computer setting behind my barn. I wonder how Clutch would like an e-joke about the cowboy with chapped lips.

2 thoughts on “Jokee’s Revenge

  1. This story proves one of my most settled convictions: not that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink( especially if the horse’s owner has been kissing it’s ass), but you can lead a whore to water, but you can’t make her think.

    Like

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