Story No. 2   About Different Kinds of Jokes

Prof. Norman Simms


This is a story about my parentsÕ friend Aaron, who was a dentist, like my father, and a man who liked to tell jokes. He was like Danny Thomas in` how he looked and talked: a comedian. He had a wife, Annie, and a dog whose name I forget. 


So he liked to tell jokes. But not like todayÕs stand-up comedians who insult everybody and speak bad words all the time. This is clever? Feh. Anyway, Aaron told sit-down jokes. You sit down and listen and he tells. For instance:


There was a fancy rich Russian lady in Russia (where else?). She was having a baby. Already she was so fat with the little-one-to-be that her husband, a rich merchant, sent for the doctor, he should be ready in the house when the baby comes. So the doctor came. He came in a sleigh because it was in Russia and it was winter.


Anyway, he sat at the kitchen table with the merchant, and they talked. They drank tea in a glass. They sipped over a piece crystal sugar, like this, you see, and then the servant girl she brought more tea from the samovar and so they talked all evening. Then from upstairs in the rich manÕs house came down a call, in French: the lady called out, help, help. 


The doctor sipped his tea. The rich merchant said, Now? Not yet, said the doctor. So they talked and sipped and talk and sip. And then an hour later came another geshrey, this time in Russian. You arenÕt going up? Asked the husband. Not yet. DonÕt worry.


So they sipped and talked, and talked and sipped, and another hour went by. Then from upstairs fell down a shriek, gevald, gevald. The husband looked anxious. Not yet, said the doctor, but almost. There was more sipping and more talking.  Almost the whole samovar was nearly empty already. Then it came a sound like it wasnÕt even human, maybe a sick dog or a cat. Aha, said the doctor, now I go up.


When he told this joke, Aaron began to laugh and he tapped the table. You like that? He said, poking me with his finger, like it hurt but was also a tickle, so I laughed, though I didnÕt really understand the joke.


All the stories were like that for years and years. Then when I was near bar mitzvah, I started to understand, and there was no need for a finger to poke, but there was still a tickle, which I also liked, Aaron stopped telling so many stories, and they didnÕt last so long. His voice became less strong, and his eyes were full of pain. But my father and mother still went over to his house in the evening after work for a glass of tea, a cheesecake from Ebingers, and a little chit and maybe a chat. 


After a while, when we went, my mother would sit in the livingroom with Annie. My father and I sat with Aaron at the kitchen table, but nobody spoke much. Sometimes my father said, ÒRemember this,Ó and Aaron looked at him, and didnÕt say a word, so I told a story about school, and the two men smiled. 


Months later my father walked over, and he asked me to come. We sat in the kitchen with Annie, and Aaron, they said, was upstairs. He had a nurse. The grown-ups whispered, and I drank an egg-nog, which was AnnieÕs specialty, with Good Health seltzer, cold milk and a few spoons of FoxÕs U-Bet. The dog curled up in the corner. Upstairs was a lot of walking around, and sometimes a sound, maybe someone talking.  Once when I went to the bathroom near the steps, I saw upstairs Aaron in his striped pajamas. He had a white bandage like a turban around his head. He looked like an old man.


Then one evening, when we walked over for the usual chat and tea, I could hear from upstairs someone moaning and crying. When Annie came in with the empty cups from the bedroom, she said something in Yiddish and my father started to cry, which was unusual and frightening. Then he patted me on the head and said, ÒYou should keep healthy.Ó I could hear the crying again from upstairs and this time it was loud, like an animalÕs scream. My father said, ÒWe better go now—because of the boy. Annie kissed my cheek.


A few days later, we went, it was the last time, and I heard something no one should ever hear, not even my worst enemy, God forbid. We stayed only a few moments. My father only said one thing as we were leaving: The morphine doesnÕt work any more. At that time I didnÕt know what he meant.


Later that week, after the funeral, we went over to sit shiva with Annie. She looked like an old woman, small and weak, and she spoke only in Yiddish, which I couldnÕt understand. She sipped her tea quietly. Her brother, who I had never met before, brought me an eggnog, and he patted me on the head and said: Life is no joke, son. 


End of the second story.