Wednesday, November 24, 2010

227. Punchline

So we’re at this party and I start to launch into one of my “reserve standard” stories, you know the type, a story that always elicits a laugh. There is a lull in the party and we could use a little laugh. The Husband, of course, has heard this story and its subsequent retellings, no fewer that 12,000 times. He is rolling his eyes.

“Back in the day, when I was a flight attendant, they made me sit ‘stand-by’ at the airport, which means that you go to the airport and just sit there in the crew lounge for, like, four hours, just waiting around to see if someone doesn’t show up or calls in sick at the last second,” I begin.

“Is this the ‘newspaper’ story?” The Husband interrupts, already ruining my momentum.

“Yes.” I say curtly. “So, anyway, I have to get up around 4 AM or some ungodly hour and I am randomly throwing things in my suitcase….”

“She never packed ahead!” The Husband throws in for no reason, just like I’d throw a sundress in my suitcase in November.

“Like I was saying, I had to get up really early. Now, for some reason, I can’t exactly remember why, YOU,” (I’m pointing at The Husband now), “turned off your alarm clock? or were we sharing a clock? Anyway, it doesn’t matter, the point is, The Husband says to me, with a sense of urgency, ‘MOV, make sure you reset the alarm clock. I need to get up at 6.’ He says it more than once. He's all groggy, and half-asleep, yet he knows he might over-sleep and it's of utmost importance that I reset the clock….”

“You’re not telling it right,” The Husband interjects, right when people are starting to hang on my every word, “the whole reason why it was so important was because you had done this to me before, turning off the clock and trotting off to work and then MY alarm never goes off and I have some important meeting and all of a sudden I am scrambling for something that isn’t even my fault.” He pauses only to take a sip of his beer.

I take this opportunity to seize the reins of my story again.  “All right, Sweetheart. I don’t think that matters, but, whatever. Okay. So I tell him, truthfully, yes, yes I did reset it, and I double check, sure enough, it’s set for 6 AM, not PM, it’s correct. Then I feed the cat, which is a whole ‘nother story in and of itself because that damn cat would trick us into thinking the other person had not fed him and then he would get two meals out of the deal.”

Laughter now. Some people apparently think this is the punchline.

“The cat’s not relevant,” says The Husband, semi-helpfully, attempting to get my story back on track.

“So, I’m in my uniform, I’ve got my suitcase, cat’s fed, I leave. I get to work and I am sitting in the crew lounge, waiting to hear my name on the intercom…..”

“Do they announce your name over a loudspeaker in the entire airport?” says a random party-goer I’ve never met, thus stalling my funny story.

“Uh, no. Only in the crew lounge. So I just am sitting there, bored, flipping through my magazine, waiting.”

“Now it’s 6 AM,” The Husband interjects, mistakenly thinking this is a Joint Collaboration Story, “and the alarm goes off, I get up and start getting ready for work.” He's smug, thinking he's added to the overall impact of my story.

I say, “10 AM rolls around. My stand-by assignment had been from 6—10 AM. It turns out that the crew….”

“Wait—this wasn’t when 9/11 happened, was it?” says a drunk listener, yet again derailing what was initially intended to be a short-ish story.

“No," I bark, barely masking the growing irritation in my voice from having my poor story repeatedly pummeled on its slow circuitous way to a clumsy victory. "Pre-9/11.  So, anyway, the crew desk never called my name. I go upstairs to the crew desk area to check out. They don’t need me so....”

“I could never live like that!” adds a lady I met two minutes ago, who apparently does not realize I am attempting to set up a punchline.  "I mean, on the one hand, you are already packed and at the airport, but on the other hand maybe you'd rather have the rest of the day off….”

“So I drive home," I continue, ignoring her, "I know The Husband will already be at work and I will have the place to myself. I'm planning in my head what I will do for the day, I might go for a run on the beach, I might clean the apartment a little bit….”

Beach?” says The Husband in disbelief. “This didn’t happen when we lived in Redondo. This happened when we lived on Francis Avenue!”

“No, you’re wrong. It was Redondo. But that's not part of the story,” I hiss through clenched teeth. My poor story needs some serious CPR at this point to even limp along to its sad little conclusion.

“I drive home. I walk into the apartment. And! There! Is! The! Husband!  He's just sitting on the couch, reading the paper. He didn’t go to work.”

Now some of my listeners are perking up, this is the Shocking Part of the story: The Husband stayed home from work after being so adamant that I set the alarm.

“So I say, ‘Sweetie, what’s going on? Are you sick? Why aren’t you at work?’ and then I look around the apartment and notice it's, like, totally clean. He has vacuumed and dusted and put things away, he must have spent hours cleaning…..” I am smiling, happy at last, building the story almost to where I need it to be. 

The Husband jumps in, uninvited.  “And I say, ‘Hon, notice what paper I’m reading?’ and I hold up the Sunday paper!” He is gesticulating crazily, pantomiming holding up the Sunday paper, and completely hijacking not only my punchline, but the entire joke as well.

Everyone is laughing wildly at this point. They are totally surprised by the outcome of the joke, and the reward for listening so long is that they get to laugh.

I make brief eye-contact with The Husband, who is still talking, reveling in his newfound fame as Star of The Story. “I thought it was Monday! I had taken a shower, eaten breakfast, put on a suit, I was walking out the door! Then I go to pick up the newspaper,” here he stops for emphasis and puts on his best 'perplexed' face, “and I think, ‘Hmmmm, pretty heavy for a Monday morning newspaper,’ and I look at the date, and of course it says, ‘Sunday’.”

Now everyone is laughing again, great peals of laughter, at the absurdity of the story. It was Sunday but we all thought it was Monday. Apparently the joke wasn't a Joint Collaboration after all; the joke belongs exclusively to him.


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