I can never remember jokes. Or at least almost never. In my sixty years there are two that my mind has held on to. The first I heard when I was seventeen from a French-Canadian friend. It was so incredibly, cruelly racist I have never been able to get it out of my mind. I didn’t know people laughed at stuff like that. It was an awakening of sorts. The other was so utterly ridiculous I still laugh when I think of it. I think it did, and does, put in a nutshell the absurdity of human beings.
I am eighteen and sitting in a cafe with some of the boys I have met in my philosophy course. Which course? Can’t remember. Which college? I think it was St. Pat’s – associated with Carleton University. Which cafe? Sure don’t remember that. Smoke, warmth in the Ottawa winter, laughter…In walks our philosophy professor – young, tall, broad, Hungarian. He sits down with us. We are all flattered. Boys trying to sound intelligent. I listen. And then I hear the only thing I take away from the professor, of for that matter, that Carleton year. Bela tells us a joke:
There was a man who needed a new suit. He went to the tailor to be measured. A couple of weeks later he went back for the final fitting. He stood in front of the mirror and put it on.
Hmmmm, he said, I really think the right sleeve is just a little bit short.
Well, said the tailor, just hitch your right shoulder up a little bit and no one will ever notice.
Alright, said the man. But this left pant leg. Isn’t it a little short as well?
You know, you’re right, said the tailor. Just bend that left leg while you take a couple of steps…See…Perfect! No one will ever notice.
Alright, said the man. Now the collar – It’s too tight. It’s choking me!
Just arch your back. There! Put your chin in the air…You’ve got it!
OK, said the man.
And so he left the tailor shop – right shoulder up, left leg bent, and back arched with chin up. He had barely got out on the street when two doctors walked by.
Oh, that poor man! exclaimed one.
And the other replied………………
But doesn’t he have a beautiful suit!
And that, my friends, is what I paid $1500 dollars to learn in that winter of 1970!