One of my students was just hired as a grocery bagger.
She got to sit through hours of cool orientation videos packed with important information:
The first screenshot is real. The next two are supposed to be jokes.
I've been reading a book about making jokes, and now I am trying to make some.
But the author of the book is British.
He keeps referencing all these British comedians like "Dame Knickers" or "Bangers and the Mash." Without any cultural anchor points, I feel lost.
Anyways, he attempts to define humor as the place where two otherwise disparate elements meet and cause an hilarious explosion.
I have tried to play with this concept and tease out some main ideas.
Did you see that part in italics? You can tell we've had a lot of teacher inservices lately, because I've started talking super dooper smart like that. It's because I'm surrounded by experts.
Our last inservice was about mental illness.
Early on in the presentation, one of my fellow professionals raised his hand.
"Yes?" The speaker called on him, but you could tell she hadn't wanted to. It was too early. She was only on her second Powerpoint slide, and wasn't finished reading all the information out loud yet.
My co-worker turned in his seat to address the room.
"I just want you to know, I disagree with what you said about suicide being an impulse. I've attempted suicide many times, so I speak from experience. It's planned. It's always planned."
The room went deeply, awkwardly still.
I tried to study the face of our director of special education.
I tried to tease out what she might be thinking: Did I hire that man? Is this my bad??
The presenter was obviously thrown for a loop, but she managed a "thank you, thank you for that" in a sincere, quiet voice.
At the first break, everyone rushed the table of complimentary Goldfish crackers. I used the distraction to cover my escape.
There is something so powerful about leaving a teacher inservice early; I believe it's as close to God as we dare reach in this life.
I worked at a grocery store for a little while, and there wasn't too much there to blow up.
The people, I suppose, but some of them might've been a bit relieved to have it happen. The rotisserie chicken guy, the four in the morning donut lady; these were not the happiest of folk.
A routine of drudgery lay before them, day in and day out. Disruptions got as exciting as minor mechanical failures: the chicken spit struggled to rotate, or the jelly inserter plugged up and shot donut jelly out in mildly unexpected directions.
It was all lower-case dammits, said almost inaudibly.
I was on the late shift, from ten at night to seven in the morning. The store was closed and we could do whatever we wanted.
Like sometimes, we didn't rotate the older mayonnaise to the front of the newer mayonnaise.
That's the highlight, but I promise you, a million other things happened that were just as crazy.
Once, the night shift supervisor and another guy got into an argument about past-date cans.
They were both puffed up pretty big, bouncing off of each other's chests and spitting out fighting words like, "WHAT?WHAT?" and "OH YEAH!? YEAH?!"
I've always been a peacekeeper.
In college, whenever a fight broke out, I made sure to fling myself between the combatants, even from half-way across the house.
I would burst into tears and scream at everyone to stop, just stop it. A stand-in for all of their mothers.
People would be so embarrassed for me that you could feel the tension fizzle into an awkward restlessness.
What are we doing? Why is he crying and trying to cradle our heads?
It didn't always work.
The fighters and the fight-stoppers sometimes all tipped over together in one drunken brick, or the brawlers faked peace, walked down the block from my blubbering, and beat the shit out of each other anyways.
When the two guys at the grocery store started going at it, I did not even have enough time to work up a good eyeball lather. The angrier of the two, Jerry, yelled "I quit!" really dramatically and stormed out of there. He gave us all the finger as he passed.
Despite the sweeping nature of his gesture, I decided Jerry only intended the finger for the others. The alternative hurt too much.
The book I have about joke-making tells me to always be very specific. That's why I told you the one guy's name was Jerry. He often wore a green hat, which I believe is kind of neutral information, but perhaps you will find that detail hilarious.
There was another guy there who said he spent his weekends driving strippers around to bachelor parties. I don't remember his name, but he said the strippers were all Filipino. Years later, I saw him hop a fence at a Boy Scout rummage sale in order to be the first one to the tent where all the push mowers were parked.
That story I just told you about the man with his strippers and mowers is one of the most powerful things I think I have ever written.
I leave you wanting more.