Steven C. Levi
Anchorage, AK 99524
“What do you call
2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing
at Yale University Hospital?[i]”
My wife, who works for the Presentence Unit, was in the Courthouse one afternoon when she was approached by a well-known local defense attorney. He said that she was going to be considering the case of one of his clients and he wanted to explain something before she actually got the paperwork. His client had been on the highway when his car had suddenly stopped running. He rolled over to the side of the road, lifted the hood and proceeded to jiggle with the internal organs of the engine. In the process he got some gasoline on his left sleeve. After his car was running again, he drove away. All was going well until he lit a cigarette and his left sleeve suddenly ignited.
“My god,” exclaimed my wife. “What did he do?”
“Well,” replied the defense attorney, “He rolled the window down and stuck his arm out and tried to let the wind extinguish the flames. He was wildly shaking his arm when he was arrested by the State Troopers.”
“What was he charged with?” my wife asked incredulously.
“Illegal use of a fire arm,” the defense attorney replied in a flat tone.
There is no rule that says you have to give up your sense of humor when you get a job. Being professional on the job may be a serious matter but it doesn’t mean that you have to relinquish your natural human right to have an enjoyable time. Being a curmudgeon is a choice; not a requirement. A certain lightness is required to stay sane.
Unfortunately, expressing your sense of humor can sometimes be hazardous to your wealth. Not everyone has a sense of humor. If your supervisor doesn’t have one, yours will be a liability. There is an old corporate survival platitude that ‘if you tell the president a joke, make sure you tell him it’s a joke.’
The biggest problem with having a sense humor is that many of us are afraid that the jokes we tell may be offensive to someone. While some of the best jokes are racial, sexual or religious in nature, there are quite a few that are fit for PC consumption. If you try, you can always find jokes and puns that are appropriate to the situation.
As an example, a friend of mine wanted to introduce me to his new girlfriend. But he warned me that she worked for the Human Rights Commission and would I keep my jokes appropriate? I agreed — sort of — but his face paled — (little pun here) — when I asked her, “What’s white, Irish and stays outside all summer?”
She didn’t know but politely asked, “What?”
“Paddy O’Furniture.” I replied and my friend’s face returned to its natural color.
Every profession has its own unique brand of humor. Cops, plumbers, teachers and cooks all encounter humor in their daily chores. These are the occupational chuckles that add a moment of lightness to the day. Every job can get boring but with a sense of humor, the day goes along faster.
Pilots, for instance, live in a world where death is a palpable concern. It takes a lot of moving parts to stay aloft but only one nut in the cockpit to bring it down. Pilots know that flying is not inherently dangerous. It’s the crashing that’s dangerous. While every takeoff is optional, every landing is mandatory. No matter how experienced a pilot is, he/she can always learn from the mistakes of other pilots. The pilot better learn because no one is going to live long enough to make all of them themselves.
Gallows humor is the pilots’ lot because so much can go wrong. A common expression among pilots after they land, particularly when stated to passengers, is “Well, we cheated death again.” Among pilots the most telling adage is “A good landing is one from which you can walk away. A great landing is one after which they can use the plane again.”
Flying is not the only profession where death is a companion. In the medical field everyone knows a certain number of patients do not ‘get better.’ Humor can be a way of psychological release. A surgeon once told me about two carrots who had been in a bad car wreck and were taken to the emergency room. The first was released a short time later, but the other was kept for hours. When the doctor finally came out of the operating room he said to the first carrot, “Well, the good news is your friend is going to live. The bad news is he’s going to be a vegetable the rest of his life.”
Another doctor told me about a 72-year old woman who came into his office to get some birth control pills. This surprised the doctor so he asked why a 72-year old needed birth control pills.
“They help me sleep better,” the woman replied.
“Really,” the doctor said. “How do they do that?”
“I put them in granddaughter’s orange juice every morning,” the woman replied, “and then I sleep better at night.”
Sometimes occupational humor is intentional. Performance evaluations prose can be humorous because they are included in private files. Once into a file, the items make the personnel records impossible to use. Lists of what has actually appeared in these reports include such tidbits as
· “I would not allow this employee to breed.”
· “When she opens her mouth, it seems that it is only to change feet.”
· “He would be out of his depth in a parking lot puddle.”
· “He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.”
· “This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot.”
· “He has a photographic memory but with the lens cover glued on.”
· “With one less brain cell he would be a rock.”
· “He has the personality of a log.”
Journalists are more prone to humor then any other profession because the more words that are typed, the greater the chance of something slipping by the copy editor. While typos are a dime and dozen, they are not intentional. They appear as if by magic, to the consternation of the publisher and for the entertainment of the reader. Headlines, however, are specifically written for the story at hand. Sometimes the hand that does the choosing allows some humor to slip into print.
- Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
- Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
- Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
- Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
- Teacher Strikes Idle Kids
- Miners Refuse to Work after Death
- War Dims Hope for Peace
- If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
- Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge
- New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
- Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy
Police matters can be particularly humorous. That’s because some people can be incredibly stupid. In fact, there are some people who are so stupid that they should be jail to protect themselves from themselves. For instance, a 22-year old man in Wichita, Kansas was arrested for passing $16 counterfeit bills. A convict in Washington D. C. broke out of jail and, a few days later, went with his girlfriend to her trial for robbery. At lunch, he went out for a sandwich. When she needed to see him she had him paged. Police officers recognized his name and arrested him as he returned to the courthouse in a car he had stolen over the lunch hour. In Ionia, Michigan, when two service station attendants refused to hand over the cash to an intoxicated robber, the man threatened to call the police. They still refused, so the robber called the police. One of the more humorous stories concerned a police interrogation in Radnor, Pennsylvania, where the police placed a metal colander on a suspect’s head and supposedly connected it with wires to a photocopy machine. The message “He’s lying” was written on a piece of paper and placed in the copier. The police pressed the copy button each time they thought the suspect wasn’t telling the truth. Believing the “lie detector” was working, the suspect confessed.
The world of computer servicing has its share of humor as well. Compaq was considering changing its command to “Press Any Key” because it gets so many calls from people who can’t find the “Any” key. Tech support people get some of the best bits of human humor. Some of the calls stagger the imagination. One woman called to complain that her mouse was hard to operate in its “dustcover;” the “dustcover” being the plastic bag in which the mouse was shipped. Another customer who was having problems was asked to send a copy of her disks in for examination. A few days later, a photograph of the disks arrived.
The drama continued and continues. A Dell technician advised a customer to put his supposedly corrupted floppies in the computer and “close the door.” The customer put the phone down and the technician heard the man cross the room and slam a door. Another Dell customer called to say he couldn’t get his computer to fax anything. After 40 minutes of trouble shooting, the tech discovered the man was trying to fax a piece of paper by holding it in front of the monitor screen and hitting the “send” key. A confused caller to IBM was having troubles printing documents. He told the technician that the computer had said it “couldn’t find printer”. The user had tried turning the computer screen to face the printer, but that his computer still couldn’t “see” the printer. Another customer called Compaq Tech Support to say her brand-new computer wouldn’t work. She said she unpacked the unit, plugged it in and sat there for 20 minutes waiting for something to happen. When asked what happened when she pressed the power switch, she asked “What power switch?”
[Computer techies, by the way, have a term for these people: ID ten T. If you don’t get it, spell it out.]
Unexpected humor is an occupational hazard of the legal industry. Trial lawyers have to be fast on their feet because they have a tough audience. Not only do they have to satisfy the confines of the law, they also have to stay within the range of understanding of the jury. Sometimes the questions that are asked appear stupid. And sometimes they are. Below is a list of questions actually asked of witnesses by attorneys during trials in Massachusetts:
1. “Now doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he
doesn’t know about it until the next morning?”
2. “The youngest son, the twenty-year old, how old is he?”
3. “Were you present when your picture was taken?”
4. “Were you alone or by yourself?”
5. “Was it you or your younger brother who was killed in the war?”
6. “Did he kill you?”
7. “How far apart were the vehicles at the time of the collision?”
8. “You were there until the time you left, is that true?”
9. “How many times have you committed suicide?”
10. Q: “So the date of conception (of the baby) was August 8th?”
Q: “And what were you doing at that time?”
11. Q: “She had three children, right?”
Q: “How many were boys?”
Q: “Were there any girls?”
12. Q: “You say the stairs went down to the basement?”
Q: “And these stairs, did they go up also?”
13. Q: “You went on a rather elaborate honeymoon, didn’t you?”
A: “I went to Europe, Sir.”
Q: “And you took your new wife?”
14. Q: “How was your first marriage terminated?”
A: “By death.”
Q: “And by whose death was it terminated?”
15. Q: “Can you describe the individual?”
A: “He was about medium height and had a beard.”
Q: “Was this a male or a female?”
16. Q: “Is your appearance here this morning pursuant to a deposition
notice which I sent to your attorney?
A: “No, this is how I dress when I go to work.”
17. Q: “Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead
A: “All my autopsies are performed on dead people.”
19. Q: “Do you recall the time that you examined the body?”
A: “The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.”
Q: “And Mr. Dennington was dead at the time?”
A: “No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing
20. Q: “You were not shot in the fracas?”
A: “No, I was shot midway between the fracas and the navel.”
21. Q: “Are you qualified to give a urine sample?”
A: “I have been since early childhood.”
Hard as it is to believe, even some engineers have a sense of humor — though it is somewhat restrained. Here, for example, are some engineering conversion terms:
Ratio of an igloo’s circumference to its diameter: Eskimo Pi
2000 pounds of Chinese soup: Won ton
1 millionth of a mouthwash: 1 microscope
Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement: 1 bananosecond
Weight an evangelist carries with God: 1 billigram
Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour: Knot-furlong
365.25 days of drinking low-calorie beer because it’s less filling: 1 lite year
16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone: 1 Rod Serling
1000 aches: 1 megahurtz
Basic unit of laryngitis: 1 hoarsepower
453.6 graham crackers: 1-pound cake
1 million bicycles: 2 megacycles
365.25 days: 1 unicycle
2000 mockingbirds: two kilomockingbirds
10 cards: 1 decacards
1 millionth of a fish: 1 microfiche
1 trillion pins: 1 terrapin
10 rations: 1 decoration
And if you thought engineers did not have a sense of humor, how about the military? Here is an organization that is so staid that the term “military humor” is an oxymoron. But not everyone in the military is a martinet. Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by US Air Force pilots and the replies from their maintenance crews.
Problem: “Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.”
Solution: “Almost replaced left inside main tire.”
Problem: “Test flight OK, except autoland very rough.”
Solution: “Autoland not installed on this aircraft.”
Problem: “The autopilot doesn’t.”
Signed off: “IT DOES NOW.”
Problem: “Something loose in cockpit.”
Solution: “Something tightened in cockpit.”
Problem: “Evidence of hydraulic leak on right main landing gear.”
Solution: “Evidence removed.”
Problem: “Number three engine missing.”
Solution: “Engine found on right wing after brief search.”
Problem: “DME volume unbelievably loud.”
Solution: “Volume set to more believable level.”
Problem: Dead bugs on windshield.
Solution: Live bugs on order.
Problem: Autopilot in altitude hold mode produces a 200 fpm descent.
Solution: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.
Problem: IFF inoperative.
Solution: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.
Problem: Friction locks causes throttle levers to stick.
Solution: That’s what they’re there for.
No matter where you work, no matter what you do, occupational humor should be a requirement of the job. It’s a long way from Monday to Friday and even longer if you believe that being a professional is not the same as being a human. God gave you a sense of humor. Us it. Remember, even the most austere of professions has a sense of humor. Next time you think humor is not a part of your workplace, remember the two priests who opened up a fish and chips establishment. One proclaimed himself to be the fish friar and the other, of course, was the chip monk.
[Steve Levi’s mystery books can be found at www.authormasterminds.com.]
[i] One IV League