My mom had a pretty good sense of humor. One time she bought a book of elephant jokes, and she would read a few to me each night at bedtime. I guess we shared the same kind of sense of humor, because I thought the jokes were hilarious groaners. The idea of elephants having charge cards or hiding inside the refrigerator, wearing toenail polish or sunglasses, this was side-splitting material in my world.
None of my friends at school found any of the jokes remotely funny. I would relay the new ones each day to blank faces and actual groans of disappointment. One student in particular, Marty, the class bully, would deliver the most cutting remarks. “Aw that’s stupid,” or “Gee that’s dumb,” or “You think that’s funny?” were his typical asshole responses.
When I would relate these failures to her, my mom would tsk-tsk my tales of woe and dismiss them as the reactions of people who were behind the humor curve. As for Marty, her wise parental advice was simply to ignore him. “Let his comments roll off you, you know, like water off an elephant’s back.”
I groaned and smiled.
“There you go,” she said encouragingly, “we are ahead of our time.”
The last day I told an elephant joke in school was memorable. The night before, when my mom closed the cover on this classic collection, I knew that none would go over with my audience. And Marty would be able to cut me again. Dammit. I decided to make up one of my own. How hard could this be? Their premise was simple enough, was it not.
I lay in bed trying to come up with one that would be a surefire knee-slapper. For eons I lay there desperately mining my comedic imagination for the perfect elephant joke. By the time I managed to fall asleep, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for.
It was with a heavily jokeless heart that I entered the schoolyard. My classmates were congregated under the keawe tree that we’d marked as our territory, the mighty fifth-graders.
I sat down silently on the stone wall that surrounded the huge tree trunk, much like the size of a very large elephant’s trunk. Racking my brain, I still I hoped for a last ditch hilarious riddle of some kind.
But my quiet meditation on the droll was short-lived. “Someone’s real quiet this morning,” said Marty in his bullying manner..
I looked down at the ground, thinking.
“What, no elephant jokes today?” he taunted.
Everyone turned their attention to the two of us.
And then it came to me. “Well,” I said slowly, “I guess I have one.”
“Oh wow,” he said. “I hope it’s better than the other ones. Your jokes are so stale. Everybody get ready not to laugh.”
Bastard. “Okay, Marty,” I said, “what’s the difference between you and an elephant?”
Marty stared at me, a haughty grin frozen on his stupid face.
“Me?” he said.
“Yes, you. You and an elephant. What’s the difference between you?”
“Well I dunno.”
There was some nervous laughter from the peanut gallery.
“Don’t’ you want to try to guess?” I asked.
“No, I. So what is it?” He sounded not a little upset.
A few more titters came from the listeners. I now had my audience in the palm of me hand. I milked it.
“Don’t you know?” I asked. “Can’t you figure it out?”
There was quite a bit more laughter now. The tension was palpable.
Marty stood there, his face turning red.
“Okay,” I said. “The difference between you and an elephant is that an elephant would be smart enough to know that he’s an elephant and you’re not.”
And then everyone started laughing. Real laughter. I was a hit.
This did not sit well with Marty, although I couldn’t figure out if he even understood the answer.
“Eh,” he said, “coming up to me. You think you’re funny?”
My friends were laughing uproariously now.
“Yes,” I said, “and everybody’s laughing, so I guess I must be.”
And then Marty punched me in the stomach.
I went down on the ground. Then I threw up. Finally I blacked out.
They had me rest on the couch in the principal’s office until my mom came to pick me up. The principal explained to her that I’d been in a minor playground tussle.
After my mom had me in the car, she asked what I’d been fighting about. I told her that Marty had been giving me a hard time about the elephant jokes again and that I told one that made him mad.
“Which one is that?” my mom asked. “I don’t remember any of them I thought might make someone angry.”
So then I told her my joke.
“Oh,” she said, laughing out loud. “That’s a good one.”