The punch line

La Corneta

CHEAP EATS I wrote a joke. I don't mean that I tried to write something funny. I've been doing that (which is to say, this) since I was nine. I mean that for the first time, I wrote a joke joke, the kind that gets told by comedians, barbers ... basically everybody in the world tells jokes. Except me, cause I can never remember the punch line.

For the joke I wrote, I made the punch line first. It was twisted, diabolical, clever, goofy, and just generally pretzels — such an amazing and unthinkable payoff that it took me hours and hours and hours to earn it, to craft the hard part of the joke, the long part, in my head. I was driving. By the time I got the getting-there down, I had forgotten the punch line.

Not really. But I knew I would. So as soon as I got out of the car, I wrote it down in an e-mail and, to be mean, sent it to my most inquisitive, most curious, most questioning, most nearly neurotic friend. I said, "I wrote a joke. Here's the punch line."

Then I forgot it. I could find it in my out box, maybe, but it's more fun, in my opinion, not to remember the punch line to the joke you wrote, or not to know the joke to the greatest punch line in the history of humor. My friend probably disagrees.

I never said I was nice. Sweet, yes. Cute. And sometimes, like when I'm not splashing green salsa or dumping noodle soup all over myself (admittedly the moments are rare), I can be charming, dignified, even ladylike. But I'm not a good person.

For example, I hate dogs. I don't know what dogs ever did to me, or what I ever did to dogs, but I hate them and the feeling seems mutual. I do know what I did, actually, but it was so long ago! I was five! And socially awkward! And incontinent!

My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Plant, left her toy poodle Muffy in her car, windows closed, on the hottest day of the year, and the poor little feller just melted. When, from the playground, we heard Mrs. Plant's shriek, we of course went running to see what was biting her.

Well, poor little Muffy had been perched on the armrest, scratching at the passenger seat window, when she gave up the ... whatever. Thus, when poor shrieky Mrs. Plant finally opened the car door, Muffy just sort of oozed out into the parking lot. Rigor mortis had not set in. I mean, this dog was practically liquid, sort of steaming, sort of wavy, like a mirage.

Here's where accounts vary. I say: while my angelic, dog-loving classmates wrapped themselves comfortingly around Mrs. Plant's considerable legs — I believe there were two of them — I stepped up to little liquid Muffy and, with a perfectly healthy and appropriately morbid curiosity, touched it with my toes. At which, quite naturally, considering the magnitude of the moment, I wet my pants, kind of adding to the mess.

What Mrs. Plant told the principal was I squatted over her dear, departed doggy, lifted my skirt (figuratively speaking) and "scatologically degraded its corpse."

Truth be told, I prefer her version. It's so punk!

In any case, not to date myself (although it might eventually come to that) ... but this was back when corporal punishment was quite in style at public schools. Our principal's weapon of ass destruction, as we called it, was nicely varnished at the handle, then raw wood at the business end, scuffed and scored to encourage splinters.

I was still crying when my mom, a top-shelf linguistics prof with poetic powers (or at least a liking of alliteration) came home from work.

My mother was a sensible, kind, instructive woman, and at this point anyone who knows her suddenly realizes, without a shred of doubt, that this is a joke. However, exactly what my mother said to me after I tearfully told all, only one person in this wide world knows.

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