Thunder rumbled in the distance, reflecting my mood perfectly. It was morning but the clouds were so dark, so thick with rain that it felt more like dusk.
The air was cold, the wind blew but it felt calm. Like it was walking on eggshells, trying not to disturb the fragility. Trying not to blow over buildings and cars and people.
A storm is coming.
I stood on the curb opposite the building where I work. It was a world full of colour with flashing neon lights and billboards advertising tv shows and cars and phones.
Clutched in my hands was a book of jokes; Hundreds of the Best Jokes.
I asked my dog what two plus two was?
He said nothing.
The book was well worn, the spine creased, pages weathered. I’d owned this book since I was a teenager, a silly gift my parents got me because I liked to think I was funny.
It wasn’t that I liked to think I was funny. I had no aspirations of being a comedian. I just liked to make people laugh. Whether it was genuine or not, it brightened their days, even just a little. It was like these billboards and neon lights.
And in the current climate of the world, surely that was a good thing?
Well, according to work, it wasn’t. I posted a joke or two every Friday. I called them my ‘Friday Funnies’, I started it because I was feeling low one day, heavily depressed. Whether I was actually depressed, I don’t know. I’ve never been diagnosed. Never visited a doctor to find out.
I was too scared to know. I preferred diagnosing myself. Curing myself by making others laugh was how I always dealt with it.
Q. Why did the man fall into the well?
A. Because he couldn’t see that well.
But then I got word on Friday afternoon from management; “No more, jokes Jake.”
I almost laughed thinking it was a joke. Plus ‘jokes, Jake’ was weirdly amusing to me, a terrible, alliterative pun that would have fit in well with this book.
“You’re joking right?”
“No. Someone has made a complaint and we agree with them.”
“But they’re harmless Dad jokes.”
My manager just shrugged, “I agree, but this comes from above.”
Thanks for looking out for me then.
“The work message board is for work related things only,” he continued.
I was dumbfounded. I left work in a daze. Who complains about someone making jokes?
The whole weekend I moved through my apartment like I was dreaming. Emotionless, humourless. Ignoring my chores, ignoring my TV, my Playstation. I just thought about work.
Which is probably what they wanted. It used to be a fun place but slowly, ever so slowly, the fun was sucked out of it.
But now it's work, work, work.
Maybe I am taking it too seriously. They were only jokes, right?
Q. How does Moses make his tea?
A. He brews it.
I considered not coming in today, I was in a depressive fugue. Usually it takes me a couple of days to get over things. I mean bad things, negative things, they happen to everyone. I’m not being targeted, I have no more bad, or good, luck than the average person, but this one hit me like a truck.
I just couldn’t believe someone would go out of their way to complain about someone trying to make the days of others brighter. To bring a smile to their face.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped onto the road and then stopped.
A car honked at me, but the sound hardly registered. Like office background noise.
I can’t do this.
You can. Just go in. Head down. Do your job. Go home. Everything will be ok.
I squeezed the book of jokes, the cover creaking as I tried to fold it in half.
A bear walks into a bar and says, “Give me a whiskey and … coke.”
“Why the big pause?” asks the bartender.
The bear shrugged. “I’m not sure; I was born with them.”
Nope. I stepped back on to the safety of the path. From here I felt safer, I gazed up at the tall office building, looming in the ever darkening sky. I felt like Frodo and the building was the Eye of Sauron. From this side of the road I was safe. The ring was off and I was safe in the Shire.
How could I go in and face them? I was embarrassed about getting into trouble for a joke. I knew almost everyone wouldn’t know it happened, but I knew and I felt like it would be written on my face.
“Jake got in trouble for his lame jokes,” they would whisper as I walked past them.
“The one who posts the ‘Friday Funnies’”
They would say Friday Funnies with air quotes.
More thunder rumbled and I saw the flash of lightning light up the sky in the distance, over the skyline. Some of the lights from the billboards went out.
It was going to be a big storm, I could tell.
“Looks like rain,” some passer-by told me.
“Yeah,” I said with a meaningless laugh but he was already gone. He didn’t care what I had to say, just wanted to comment on the weather. Probably felt like he was being social.
I should go home, I thought as I took a seat in the bus shelter nearby, dropping my pack at my feet. There was no one else in the shelter. I was alone.
There are three types of people in the world:
Those who can count and those who can’t.
What else is new. I was always alone. If I wasn’t on, wasn’t making a fool of myself in front of people I wouldn’t ever exist to them. I’d be a statue, a pot plant. Carbon dioxide. Expelled into the air, an afterthought and never seen again.
Unless they wanted something. If they wanted something, they pretended to be my best friend. Asked how I was. Asked about my weekend. Faked an interest. I’d mention my hobbies; painting, writing. Trying to get exposure for my work. I liked hiking.
They would be interested. Until they got what they needed and that was that.
If I ever spoke to them again. It was me starting the conversation. Me saying ‘Hi, how are you?’ and asking about things they mentioned during our conversations. How the house was coming along. How they went on the weekend playing cricket or football. I remembered things about them.
Did they ever reach out to me to see how I was going? Ever ask if I’ve been on a hike recently? Have I written anything lately? Nothing.
When my Dad died, I got nothing. They knew he died, they knew I was away for a week. No one ever asked how I was going. No one reached out to see if I needed anything.
It’s just how it was.
Not even a half-hearted ‘are you ok’ on RUOK day.
I sold my vacuum the other day.
All it was doing was collecting dust.
I sighed, expelling cold frosty air. The wind had picked up, blowing through any nook and cranny it could find in the bus shelter. It sounded like a hurricane, but really it was gentle outside.
But it was coming.
So why did I want to make them laugh? Why did I post my Friday Funnies?
A psychologist would probably know but that would require facing a truth I couldn’t handle. I could handle working it out for myself. I made it up, I came to that conclusion. Therefore it must be right. I am in control.
But someone else telling me? Someone who’d know me for an hour a week, who I paid, whose job it was to tell people what was wrong with them?
How could I trust someone who didn’t know me? Even I didn’t know who I was. Who I was meant to be. I tried so hard to make people like me, I changed who I was. I don’t even remember who I used to be in school. I just know I’ve changed since then. I tried to be outgoing, I tried being social. I tried making friends. I liked different things. I tried different things. All in an attempt to matter to other people.
I was a chameleon who couldn’t camouflage correctly. If I needed to blend in with a green plant, I would become as brown as a tree. Sticking out.
Trying too hard.
How could anyone understand that? And what guarantee would I have from a shrink that they'd get it right? At the end of the day they get paid and go home.
Two windmills are standing on a wind farm.
One asks, “What’s your favourite type of music?”
The other says, “I’m a big metal fan.”
I flipped the pages open of my joke book. Not reading anything, just giving myself something to do.
Thunder cracked, the wind picked up.
I watched from my secret shelter as people entered and exited the building. Some I knew, some I didn’t.
None of them noticed me.
But then again I could lain dead at the entrance and they still wouldn’t have paid any attention to me.
But the jokes. People did like them. In these days of social media, I would get likes and comments. Not many, maybe 10 or so. They were cringy, silly jokes but they would get a chuckle.
Just a way to end the week. Something harmless, silly and fun.
But no longer.
I looked up, partly in panic and partly in hope. Someone who knew me. Someone who would ask ‘what’s up?’ and sit next to me. Ask how my writing is going. How good the weather will be this weekend for a hike, maybe they would ask to come along.
My face fell. It was a stranger.
A middle-aged woman who looked as she dressed. All business-like.
Maybe she would ask if I was ok. I am sure I look pathetic.
“Do you know where the Hauser Building is?”
Thunder rumbled in my head, but I wasn’t sure if it was real or in my head.
“Ahh yeah,” I fumbled around my words. Like they were an unused bike I was trying out for the first time in years. A weekend was years right?
I pointed down the street, “Next left and you’ll see it,” I managed to get out.
“Ta,” she said and strode off. Heels clicking with every step.
Not even worth a thank you.
Two guys walk into a bar.
The third guy ducks.
I watched the business lady as she walked away. Would she like my Friday Funnies? The world around her seemed dark, like a void, sucking in the light. It looked like the shoulders of every person she passed by slouched a little, their expressions darkening.
I had a sudden urge to chase after her. To tell her a joke.
What did the janitor say when he jumped out of the closet?
I could only imagine the withering look as I told her that joke. I’d melt away like the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
She probably had the personality of the Ark of the Covenant as well.
I gripped the jokes book so tightly that my fingers hurt. The tips white.
Unzipping my pack, I pulled out my drink bottle and my pills fell out. They rattled like rumbling thunder as they fell to the ground and I quickly scooped them up.
You can find anything on the internet. You don’t need a doctor for that.
I wasn’t addicted to them, I just struggled to sleep sometimes. My mind worked too quickly, and if I wasn’t in a writing mood, I would lay awake at night staring at the roof.
It’s inappropriate to make a “dad joke” if you are not a dad.
It’s a faux pa.
I tossed them in my bag, took a sip from my drink, and zipped my bag back up.
Were they going to ask about the Friday Funnies now they were no longer happening?
Would anyone ask, “Hey Jake, what happened to the Friday Funnies?”
I snorted, would they even know my name? It would be more like “Hey…” awkward pause as they tried to remember my name and then pushed on, trying to cover the fact they didn’t know it, “what happened to the Friday Funnies.”
Rain started to fall. Small drops at first but it promised more.
A whole lot more.
More colour faded. People walked past, their heads in the phones and the brightness was down to zero. The neon signs faded to white.
If they did ask, what would I tell them? The truth? They would probably believe me and in my mind I would expect them to defend me. Tell me it’s nonsense. It’s unfair. They were funny and they made my day. I mean that’s what some of them wrote in the comments.
Surely that would mean I would have them in my corner to defend me. To go to management and not let the one person who complained ruined it for everyone else.
Realistically I knew they might silently agree with me but they would say nothing. They are survivors. Out for themselves in the business wilderness. You can’t afford to put a foot wrong and get fired. Not in this job climate.
It was ‘The Most Dangerous Game.’
So it would be silent support. “Oh I feel sorry for whathisname.”
Otherwise they would agree with management.
“You know, they do have a point. The message board should be for work stuff only.”
I could see the smear of brown on their nose as they said it.
Why do we even listen to the one complainer?
My new thesaurus is terrible.
Not only that, but it’s also terrible.
The rain is falling harder now.
My phone buzzed.
I opened it.
It was my boss.
Where are you? Are you coming in today?
I wrote: ‘I’ll let you know when I know’ but I didn’t send it.
Thunder cracked overhead and I felt the ground shake a little. People walking past let out an audible “wow” as they jostled for prime umbrella real estate. The street was crowded with people holding huge umbrellas, much too big for one person and held way too low, almost knocking people in the head. But as if they cared. It was all about them and making sure they didn’t get wet.
Why would they care if someone else did?
What did the buffalo say when his son left?
The rain is pouring down now. I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting here, watching my work building. Watching the people come and go, wearing black suits, white shirts, black shirts, white blouses, black umbrellas. All muted. All black and white. No colour. No fun. Just business.
And then I saw her. Tall, in her 50s and the person I suspected who complained about my jokes. Serious face, all business. Like everyone else, she was wearing black and white.
All business. No fun.
I squeezed the book again. My saviour. But it felt different. Smaller. The jokes, as I used them, were disappearing. Soon I would have nothing. Nothing to define Jake whathisname.
I looked down, it wasn’t the book in my hands, but the bottle of pills.
When did that happen?
I don’t remember grabbing the bottle.
I was working on autopilot. The world was a cloudy fog, the edge of my vision was fading, darkening. I stepped on to the street, my face was wet.
From tears? Or the rain?
Cars honked, skidding to a stop, yelling at me to “get off the road, you idiot!”
But I didn’t care. Hardly noticed.
I crossed the street, gliding like a wraith, my hair soaked, my clothes soaked. Everything was soaked.
Everything was getting darker.
The rain washed the colours away. The billboard and neon signs muted, bright white and dark black. Like an old movie.
I stopped in front of her. Both of us standing in the rain.
She didn’t recognise me. I knew she wouldn’t.
I was beneath her. But I threatened to bring colour into her bleak, black and white world.
“Diffhyofhhheer…”I started to tell my joke. One that would make her laugh for sure and then everything would be better. Colour would flood back in like a bursting dam of rainbow water..
But my words wouldn’t work. My mouth felt thick, dry, like cotton. Like I’d taken a mouthful of peanut butter.
I dropped the empty bottle of pills, sounding like a thunderclap as they landed and rolled away. I don’t remember taking one. Let alone all of them.
That wasn’t good, was it?
I looked back at her, my vision tunnelled. Everything was in slow motion. The woman blinked and it took an age for the eyelids to close and reopen. She looked at me. Curious. I looked familiar to her but she didn’t know from where. This was the one who took the only thing from me. The only thing that made people notice me. I was the colour in their world and she couldn’t have that.
And she didn’t even know who I was.
Who I was didn’t matter.
“Difffyohe…” I tried again.
I fell, crashing into a puddle. I lay on my back, staring up at the sky, at the falling rain, the dark sky.
Thunder rumbled and lightning flashed. The storm was here.
People skirted around me, and someone even stepped over me.
She walked away in a huff, saying something about drugs.
Who tries to stop making the world a brighter, happier place?
Then everything went black.
Q. Did you hear about the Italian chef who died?
A. He pasta-way.