Two readers (so far) don’t “get” a tagline from this week’s issue, so I thought I would explain the joke — even though I do understand “Explaining the joke makes it not funny.” Well, they don’t think it’s funny anyway, so let’s get to it. First, the story, from the 5 November 2017 issue:
A Wrinkled Suit
Jack and Patricia Mulkeen were asleep in their Yarmouth, Mass., home when their dog started barking at around 2:00 a.m. Patricia figured the dog saw a raccoon through the window, so she grabbed a flashlight and went to investigate. She sleeps in the buff, and didn’t bother to put any clothes on — why bother, for a raccoon? But when she got to her dining room, she spotted an intruder there. “I wasn’t frightened, I was just surprised,” she said. The man could see her, too: “Sorry, ma’am,” he said, and went out how he came in: via the cellar. Jack points out his wife is 91 years old, and not wearing a stitch. “That’d be enough to make him faint,” he said. “It’s a shock.” They called police, who quickly found Joseph M. Parent, 28, and charged him with breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, and drug possession. (RC/WHDH Boston, Boston Globe) …Millennials just don’t know the right thing to say in a situation like that. The polite response is “Sorry, sir.”
Kimberley in Oklahoma was first: “I didn’t get the tagline. Help me comprendo por favor.”
Barbara in California was angry: “Randy, your ‘Wrinkled Suit’ article was pretty surprising for a man who says someone else (Donna Dixon) should ‘treat all people like human beings.’ Does that not apply to elderly people? Does an older woman look so much like a man to you that you think the miscreant should have said, ‘Sorry, sir?’ The title itself was downright mean. I am very disappointed in you.”
The tone of the story was set not just by Mr. Mulkeen’s humorous reaction, but by his wife’s calmness (“I wasn’t frightened, I was just surprised.”) Another quote from the husband, which I left out for space reasons, reinforces it even more: “She’s standing there in the altogether,” he said. “He’s face to face to a naked 91-year-old. We got a big kick out of that.” (Emphasis, for me, on the “we”!)
But my tag? It’s a throwback to an old joke. I have heard it many times, and thought for sure it was included in Jumbo Joke (which I sold a couple of years ago, but still have the archive) …but it was not.
A Very Old Joke
How old? Here’s the version of the joke published in the November 1928 edition of Door-ways magazine (via the Internet Archive — “a non-profit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music, websites, and more.”):
In discussing store etiquette we must not forget that, as well as courtesy, tact plays an important part; and now that we have mentioned tact what better example could we offer than that contained in the final instruction of the French plumber to his son ready to go out on his first job.
“My son,” said the father, “this is a trade that requires a great deal of tact, for we sometimes have to meet the most unexpected situation. Now, just what would you say if you suddenly entered a bathroom and saw a lady in her bath?”
“I would say,” replied the son, “‘Excuse me, madam.'”
“That would be courtesy,” said the father, “but I would say, ‘Excuse me, sir.’ That would be tact.”
Thus the Tagline Was Pointing Out that the burglar “should” have had tact and “pretended” that he could not clearly see the naked homeowner confronting him. Simple as that.
So for Barbara and any other ladies that thought I was slamming “elderly people,” Sorry Ma’am, but that was not my intent whatever.
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