Of The Long Island Expressway, Piping Plover Conservation Areas and “It’s A Wonderful Life”: Three Little Stories With Magnificent Punchlines That I’ve Told At Least A Hundred Times Each And Now Get To Tell Again

images-3When you get to be my age, many of the people close to you have heard all your favorite funny stories. My Irish blood impels me to be something of a raconteur, but it’s tough to always come up with new material. Sometimes I’ll even ask Trisha, who has been with me for 16 years, for permission to re-tell a story. Something will come up and I’ll say, “I know you’ve probably heard this one before…” and she’ll usually let me get away with it because she loves me. At this point, all I usually need to do, though, is repeat the punchline, because the story was set up many, many years ago. Anyway, if you do get to be my age, and you start writing a blog (which you should) you will find yourself with the golden opportunity to tell these stories again to The Internet, which hasn’t heard them before, and possibly people reading your (rolls eyes) content will appreciate the stories as if they are brand new. And then those people, who might enjoy those stories while reading your (rolls eyes again) content, might say to themselves, “I have a funny story, too.” And if they don’t have their own blogs (which they should), you can encourage them to write those stories in the comments at the bottom of your blog post, so you can enjoy a funny story that you haven’t heard before, and perhaps steal it.

So there’s your set-up: I’d like to tell you three little funny true-life anecdotes today with what I believe are truly Magnificent Punchlines. Maybe you’ll think, not so much. You can even rate them if you’d like. And again, feel free to add your own in the comments if and when you can. I won’t judge them in any way.

The first story recently celebrated it’s 33rd birthday, so it’s been told the most. The other two are relative youngsters at 15 and 11 years old respectively. There are a few others I considered that ultimately did not make the cut of the top three. The best of these, with honorable mention at number four, goes back to 1984, when I suggested to my dentist, Dr. Andrew Shemella, that having bad teeth was my cross to bear, and that it was better than being stupid. He paused for a full minute and replied, “You know, some people are stupid AND have bad teeth.”  And now, with brevity in mind, here are my Top Three Magnificent Punchlines:

In Third Place: July 1982. I’m working on the summer cleaning and maintenance crew at Martin Van Buren High School in Queens Village. I have the enviable job of being Willie Johnston’s assistant. Willie cuts the grass on the gigantic athletic field while riding a big tractor and wearing a big straw hat. My main role is to go along the fences and around the trees with the lawnmower, but my 7am first thing in the morning job is to go around the entire perimeter of the building and grounds along the sidewalk and pick up all the garbage. It being Queens, this usually takes the better part of an hour. My second important morning job, perhaps my most important, is to walk up Hillside Avenue to the Deli (across the street from Creedmore Psychiatric Hospital) at 8:30am and get all the egg sandwiches, coffee and cigarettes for the crew. I take this job very seriously and prove I can do it without screwing up, despite the fact that everyone gets a different combination of eggs, bacon and sausage, takes their coffee a particular way, and cannot substitute any other brand of cigarettes. The crew: Willie Johnston, Bobby Johnston, Moses Brown and Norman Jackson and Henry Smith, all from South Carolina and 20 to 30 years older than me, begin to accept my presence that summer despite the fact that my father is their bosses’ boss and I’m a scrawny little 19-year old asshole from Long Island. Still, I’m smart enough to keep my mouth shut and just listen when it’s time to sit down for eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee and cigarettes at 9am.

That particular morning, Bobby was telling a story about a friend of his who was pulled over for speeding on The Bruckner Expressway in the Bronx, part of the Interstate 95 System. I’ll let Bobby tell it from here: “So the cop pulls him over and he says man you crazy, you doin’ 90 miles an hour back there! Shit, I oughta lock yo’ ass up right now! And he says yeah well I seen the speed limit sign said 95, and you say I was only doin’ 90! And the cop says get the hell out of the car right now.”

We’re all enjoying Bobby’s story. And now it seems it has reached it’s climax. Willie Johnston, sitting next to me, takes a drag of his Pall Mall, elbows me and says, “Lucky thing he weren’t on FO’ Ninety-Five!”

In Second Place: July 2000. I’m on Point Lookout Beach, in the beautiful Irish Riviera Town of Point Lookout, NY. I would not even be allowed on this beach if not for the fact that I am engaged to the youngest of the McCloskey’s of Cedarhurst Avenue, one of Point Lookout’s founding families. My future father-in-law, the late, great Jack McCloskey, in his 70’s at this point, is playing horseshoes. I would like to be in on the horseshoe game, but I’m relatively new and I don’t want to insinuate myself too quickly and then suck. So I’m sitting in a beach chair talking to a few of Jack’s large circle of friends, part of a large conglomerate of sun-kissed Irish men and women in their 60’s and 70’s who called themselves “The Youngies.”

At some point, I decide to take a pair of binoculars out of my bag and see if I can identify some of the little sandpiper and plover birds running along the water’s edge. A little backstory: There was a big fuss on certain beaches on Long Island when officials started closing off access to protect the nests of endangered piping plovers. Hardcore beach people didn’t much like that, and would naturally be a bit suspicious of birdwatching dweebs with binoculars. I was and still am more birdwatching dweeb with binoculars than hardcore beach person, but I have evolved after being part of a hardcore beach-going family for 16 years. This day, being relatively new to Point Lookout Culture, I was not ready for what one of The Youngies said to me as he watched me watching the birds.

“You lookin’ for them piping plovers?, he says.

“I don’t think there are piping plovers here,” I say, as I look through the binoculars. “I think those guys are least sandpipers.”

“You know what I like about them piping plovers?” he says.

I have no idea what to say. I attempt to be funny, having no idea where he’s going with this. “They keep the riff-raff off the beach?” I speculate.

He looks at me like I’m an idiot. “Nooooo!” he says, “they’re great on deli rolls!”

Piping_Plover_e08-2-008_l_1And now, The First Place Magnificent Punchline, spoken by the beautiful Trisha McCloskey Duffy, a damn fine and damn funny woman, on Christmas Eve, 2004. It was our baby boy’s first Christmas. It was our third Christmas here at the house on Duffy’s Creek that we had bought from my parents when they moved to a retirement community. My parents had lived here for 45 years. We had begun a tradition of having them over to the house on Christmas Eve, because they were staying in a hotel in Rockville Centre so they could go to my sister’s house in Lynbrook for Christmas Day. But Christmas Eve was reserved for my sister’s in-laws, and seeing as my parents had nowhere to go, we started feeding them on Christmas Eve.
Its-A-Wonderful-Life-350x264That particular Christmas Eve was a lot of work, it being The Dude’s first Christmas and all. Trisha really wanted out of it. She had to work that day and really didn’t want to go through having my parents over for Christmas Eve again, as it seemed we had just done it last year. I was sort of ambivalent about it myself, but I knew, as she knew, that there was no way out of it, it being family and all. And I knew that they wouldn’t be doing this forever, and really I liked them, and I wanted them to get to visit the house where they spent 45 Christmas Eves. So in short, my wife knew she had to put on a happy face and put up with it, and I gladly accepted that I would pay for it in the due course of time.

We had a nice visit, although I could see that Trisha was getting more and more tired. At about 9:30, she excused herself to put The Dude to bed, and after about twenty more minutes of Irish goodbyes, My parents went on their way back to the hotel. I sat down to watch the last part of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Trisha came downstairs very groggy and very punky about 45 minutes later. She had fallen asleep with The Dude while putting him to sleep, which always made her feel very groggy and very punky when she woke up and realized she’d fallen asleep. George Bailey was on the bridge. He had just found Zu Zu’s petals. I was feeling all Christmas-y. Trisha was knocking back a Miller High Life, not smiling at all.

The final scene comes around. All of George’s friends come to bail him out. Harry swooshes in covered in snow, after Ernie the Taxi Driver had just whisked him in from the airport. Mary Bailey exclaims, “Mr. Martini?  How about some wine!”

On the couch, Trisha takes another healthy swig of her High Life and says, “What? Oh, Mr. Martini just happens to be walking around with wine for everybody? Just ’cause he owns a bar he automatically has wine? That makes no sense! Mr. Gower? How about some Vicodin!”

I love that woman.

I hope you enjoyed reading these little stories half  as much as I enjoyed telling them one more time. If you have any Magnificent Punchlines of your own, I’d love to hear them. See you back here on Duffy’s Creek real soon.

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