Thursday, 24 April 2014

'I Don't Get It'

It’s 5am in the airport. I’m first through security. Fluorescent lights crackle and fizz into bilious life. A cleaner trundles dolefully across the lino floor, trailing a mop and bucket. Daytime TV theme tune music, all saxophones and claves, oozes out of some speaker somewhere, as the hordes behind me struggle back into shoes, suck in bellies and do up belts, as though post-coitally.
I survey my food options, which are limited. It’s a choice between Dunkin’ Donuts and a café whose name I don’t recognise. I select the café, on the basis that it is not Dunkin’ Donuts. I anticipate that many of my fellow travellers, many of whom are wearing Boston Marathon Finisher t-shirts, will make the same decision. There’s nobody else in there yet, so I go right to the top of the queue to order. I squint at the wall-mounted menu, stared at with disapproval by the waiting phalanx of bleary-eyed sandwich makers.
The menu proudly announces the speciality of the house: the ‘squagel’. A large variety of these squagels is on offer, in various savoury and sweet configurations. A squagel is, one of the sandwich drones intones flatly, ‘like a bagel, but square’. I wonder if the shape is thought to impart some characteristic qualitative aspect to the gustatory experience. If so, perhaps one can access, through taste, the property of squareness, long thought to be a property confined to the spatial senses of sight and touch. Or it could be that the concept of ‘square’, activated by visual experience, cognitively penetrates the gustatory experience of the baked good. I choose not to conduct empirical tests of this set of hypotheses, deciding, after some deliberation, to eschew the squagel in favour of oatmeal. A drone hands it to me, wordlessly. It comes in a reassuringly round container.
Dimly concerned by the fact that I have just not only verbally, but also internally, referred to porridge as ‘oatmeal’, I proceed to the coffee counter to face my next challenge. I ask for a coffee that contains two shots of espresso and a small amount of hot water, in their smallest take-away cup. The barista frowns, before barking something like ‘Venti grande Americano tall filter coffee with room to go espresso creamer?’ Frightened, and unwilling to admit to the extent of my incomprehension, I nod furiously, and am, after a minute or so, presented with an enormous cup of lukewarm bilge. It’s too early to have an argument about it. Resigned, I retreat to the seating area.
Just next door to the squagel outlet, the entire baggage security line has reformed, airside, at Dunkin’ Donuts.
I sit down to eat my breakfast. A family occupies the table next to me. Dad, mom, a boy of around ten and his grandmother. The dad is telling jokes.
‘So, a horse walks into a bar, and the bartender says, “why the long face?”’
There is silence at the table.
The dad looks around at his family. ‘Because horses have long faces,’ he explains.
The boy regards his father warily, looks at his grandmother for help. ‘I don’t get it,’ he mutters.
‘Well,’ says grandma, ‘saying somebody has a long face is a way of saying they’re upset. You know, maybe they’re angry about something, or sad. So it kind of looks like they have a long face. Like this.’ She contorts her face into an exaggerated masque of woe.
‘Right,’ dad chimes in. ‘So, asking someone, “why the long face”, is like saying, what happened? Everything okay?’
The boy frowns, considering the matter. ‘But why is the horse sad?’
‘Well, I don’t know,’ says the dad. ‘I mean, wait, no, the horse isn’t sad. Probably. Like, the horse actually has a long face, because he’s a horse, but you know, maybe the bartender thinks he’s sad about something too, or something. Because he has a long face.’
The boy is motionless, breakfast forgotten, as he stares at his father in mute incomprehension.
‘And that’s why it’s funny,’ says the dad, doubtfully.
‘Oh.’ The boy shakes his head. He takes a slurp of his Coke.
‘Okay, I got another one,’ says the dad. ‘This bear walks into a bar, and goes, can I have…’
He stops, dramatically. His son narrows his eyes. The mom licks her index finger and turns the page in her magazine. Dad looks at them all archly.
‘Can I have… a beer?’ he continues. ‘And the bartender goes, “why the big pause?”’
More silence. The kid pushes his straw around in the ice cubes at the bottom of his drink, looks down at the table, despondent.
‘Oh, come on,’ says the dad. ‘He’s a bear. Big paws!’ He tucks his chin into his neck, widens his eyes, lowers his brow. Waves his hands around in front of his face. ‘Big paws,’ he booms. ‘Get it?’
Mom checks her watch. ‘We should really get moving, you guys. They’re boarding soon.’
‘All right, one more.’ Mom and son exchange a look.
‘A piece of string walks into a bar. Goes up to the bartender, but the bartender says, hey, we don’t serve your kind around here. So the piece of string leaves. Goes outside, ties himself into a knot, goes back in. The bartender says, wait a minute, aren’t you the guy that was in here a minute ago? And the piece of string goes, “no, I’m afraid not.”’
A brief moment of silence. The dad is frozen in anticipation, leaning toward his son slightly. His face begins to fall. And then, the child explodes with laughter. Coke sprays from various facial orifices in a bubbling fountain of mirth. Grandma dabs her front with a napkin, beaming.
‘A frayed knot!’ The child is still giggling, looking at his father with an expression of considerable relief. ‘That’s really funny, Dad.’
‘Well, finally,’ says the dad. ‘Jeez. I was beginning to think I wasn’t funny.’

The mom puts her palm flat down on her magazine. Frowns at her husband.
‘Wait, what?’ she says. ‘I don’t get it.’

No comments:

Post a Comment