Thursday, September 15, 2005
My father was a man of many talents. He used those talents in quite a variety of different vocations and avocations.
Among the many things my father did during his lifetime, though not necessarily in chronological order: professional boxing; semi-pro football; two years in the navy, mostly aboard the USS Mindoro, an aircraft carrier, during the Korean War; attended Catholic seminary - though he didn't become a priest, which is just as well since I wouldn't be here, in all likelihood; candidate for Congress from Massachusetts' 10th congressional district; worked in a shoe store; built and operated a carnival game; was a craps dealer and stickman; had a brief stint as a disc jockey and, much later in life, as a radio talk show host (and my Mom was a singer and had her own radio show for a short time, which explains how I got the great pipes with which I'm blessed); co-owned a racehorse; was a prison guard; and had a very short career as a caterer, though he had hoped it would be a continuing source of income. More on this one some other time, as it's an amusing (and touching) story in and of itself.
Somewhere in there, my Dad found his true calling. He became a salesman. He truly loved to interact with people and enjoyed immensely the salesman's art of telling jokes and stories to loosen up the customer. I think, in reality, he used the job in order to tell the stories, rather than telling the stories in order to sell stuff, which is what most salesmen do. And that's why he was such a good storyteller - that was what he loved doing.
He was a tremendous storyteller. He would employ a vast array of spot-on dialects and funny facial expressions. He became the characters in his stories, and his physical movements matched the words. He also had a great memory, which is essential if you want to do justice to a joke. Nothing is quite so hideous as a joke being told by someone who verbally stumbles and bumbles, searching for words, forgetting important details, or (God forbid) not remembering the punch line.
My father had certain set pieces which he employed. If you were close to him, you heard these pieces again and again. Being his only child, I heard them more than anyone else. When I was a teenager, this annoyed the hell out of me, and I would often leave the room when he'd launch into one of them for someone else. However, as I grew older, I came to appreciate the artistry of what he did. There were certain tales he told that went on for 15 or 20 minutes and contained numerous false finishes (the funeral of his Uncle Roy, which came on the eve of a family trip to Europe, comes to mind) that I would sorely love to have on tape now. They were masterpieces of descriptive oral narrative. They are now pretty much lost, since I might be able to recreate the words to some extent, but capturing a performance on paper is almost impossible.
Having said that, I am now going to tell you my father's favorite joke. I've used it a couple of times myself, when I've been called upon to act as MC or to speak at a function, since it is short enough for me to faithfully recreate it with most of the same mannerisms and inflection which my father used. Since this is written, you'll have to supply your own dialect and facial expressions, but the human imagination has a marvelous facility for just that, so I'm sure you'll do a swell job.
One other thing - It's a clean joke, so it's useful for all occasions. Well, to be honest, I may be stretching that. If you're called upon to give a speech to your local PETA chapter, they'll probably not find you very amusing if you use this. Here goes:
A man was walking down a country road. As he was enjoying the fresh air and lovely scenery, he passed by a farmhouse. In the frontyard of the farmhouse, he saw a pig. With a wooden leg.
This piqued the man's curiosity, of course. It isn't every day that you see a pig with a wooden leg. He wondered about it for a while, trying to figure out how a pig would come to have a wooden leg, but he couldn't come up with anything that satisfied completely. He decided that he had to find out for sure. He entered the yard, went up to the farmhouse and knocked on the front door. An old farmer answered.
The man said, "I was walking by your house and I hope you don't mind, but I noticed that you have a pig with a wooden leg in the front yard."
"Ayup. That's Ol' Horace. Mighty fine pig."
"Horace. Hmmmm. Well, it's not every day that you see a pig with a wooden leg."
"I'm so curious! Would you mind telling me how the pig - how Horace - came to have a wooden leg?"
"Naw 'tall. See, my wife and I have lived in this farmhouse for near on to thirty years. Raised all our family here. A fine son and two lovely daughters. Well, one night not too long ago, the farmhouse caught fire! Flames evr'where, you know. The wife and I were upstairs sleeping when it happened, and all the kids were down the hall in their rooms asleep, too. It'd been a hard day and we were all sleeping soundly."
"Well, sir, Horace seen that the house was on fire, and he broke down the front door and raced upstairs through the flames. He banged and pushed 'til he got the door to our son's room open, and then he got up onto the bed and pushed our son out onto the floor. That woke him up, coughing and hacking, and he sized up the situation right quick, so he ran to the other room to wake up our two daughters. Meanwhile, Horace run down the hall to our room. He pushed open the door, oinkin' and sqealin' to beat the band, and he jumps up onto the bed and shoves both me and the wife out onto the floor! I seen how the house was burnin' down, so I run down the stairs, along with the kids, but the missus was still upstairs! She'd been ass-phyxiated, you know, and passed out. Well, Horace run back up the stairs, grabbed onto my wife's petticoats, and dragged her down the stairs and out into the front yard. By golly, that pig saved all of our lives! Don't know where we'd of been without Ol' Horace."
The man was amazed at this story of heroism. He said, "So, Horace lost his leg in the fire?"
"Then why does he have a wooden leg?!?"
"Well, sir, you don't eat a pig like that all at once."