It's terribly hard not to appreciate a well-told joke. I'm pretty terrible at telling them, myself, which makes it even easier for me to laugh, belly-clutching and eye-wrinkling in appreciation for the ones Patricio tells. He remembers them by random association, often when we're chatting in the car and a comment sets him off giggling about a joke he can't help but tell me. And now, almost two and a half years after we decided that dating would be a good idea, and then made that good-idea decision to spend a life together, most of his jokes have made a number of telling rounds. I'm partly terrible at telling jokes because I inevitably forget how they go, which makes it fun to hear them again. And then again. Still, both of us retrospectively agreed it was high time for what happened on Friday night, in the company of other lawyers with repertoires full of funny.
Some friends of ours take it upon themselves come December to fill a table with deep bowls of beans, rice, mole, chorizo, tinga and beef, and a basket impossibly full of tortillas. It becomes the sun around which the party-going planets orbit, with a refrigerator full of seasonal Noche Buena beer nearby, there in the back annex of their offices.
After homemade flan, the gift of the secretary's mom, the room settled into pockets of conversation about movies and work, and eventually the inevitable debate about politics. The topic is like a candle flame for moth-winged Mexico talk, and soon enough, it had everyone in within its reach. The entire room became a small circus of mental gymnastics and oratory tightrope walking, and just as suspensefully fun.
But the fire-eating can only go on so long, long enough for someone to say, "Why don't we just tell ribald jokes!" And the hilarity proceeded for hours. One after another, joke after laugh, a tag-team effect took place. Patricio delighted in the ones he'd never heard, laughing them back into a place where they became his own, waiting for a car ride when he'll giggle them back out.
Instead of jokes about Pollocks or Aggies, their targets were Galicians, and sometimes Argentinians. Poking fun at the Spanish was especially relished, copping a lisping accent and rolling off names like Venancio, Manolo and la Pilarica. Like the time when Manolo, back from his first trip to Las Vegas, started telling his friends about his luck in the casinos. "It was incredible," he boasted, "My luck simply never ran out!" His friends, wide-eyed with awe and envy, begged for a play-by-play account. "I was the king of those slot machines," he said. "Every time I dropped in a coin, I won. Coin, win, coin, win, another coin, another win! The only problem was that I couldn't fit all those cans of Coke in my suitcase for the flight back home. What a pity."
And Argentinians didn't escape a smiling mockery of that Italian lilt and a stereotype of arrogance. Because you heard why folks from Buenos Aires all hit the streets in a lightning storm, didn't you? Apparently, they think God's out to take their picture.
But interesting, too, was that a third target lay close to home: Mexicans joke about themselves with as much gusto as the rest. Like the time when a Russian, an American and a Mexican officer arrived at a ranch on a hunting vacation, and to prove their prowess, they decided to place a bet. Whoever could come back with the largest rabbit would be rewarded like a king, not to mention earning bragging rights that were worth a good deal, too. The fellow from the KGB went first, out into the brush, and in a brief half-hour returned with a rabbit the size of a skunk. The others were impressed. The FBI agent went next. He swaggered out into the brush, sure as he could be that the ante would be upped when he returned. And it was; he marched on back after an hour or two with a rabbit the size of a dog. The AFI man looked shocked, but his spirit didn't flag. He strode out into the wild, determined not to lose. An hour went by. Then four. And when he came back into view a good six hours later, the American and the Russian simply couldn't believe their eyes. The man was coming back to camp with an elephant. "That isn't a rabbit!" they cried in dismay. The AFI agent started whipping the heck out of the elephant and said, "Tell them!" The elephant looked at them earnestly and shouted "But of course I'm a rabbit! I am! I really am!"
Now, I won't include any ribaldry for you, since I'd like to think of this blog as friendly to the finer sensibilities. I assure you, though, those jokes were spirit-lifting gifts in the best of holiday season cheer, bawdy and funny and ingenious--the kind I'm sure C.S. Lewis would have used for a laugh. Friday night was full proof that humor here in Mexico enjoys a seemingly infinite wealth of jokes kept alive and well in the oral tradition, allowing for laughter about others, but primarily about ourselves. And that's something I think anyone can appreciate.