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Mar 15 2005

The Hobbesian Laugh


Bench
Scene of the crime: the bench near Lamar and Riverside

In Which the Author Catches the Family Matriarch in an Ethnic Slur

I heard a joke the other day about how all old people are racists. Unfortunately (for its omission will probably weaken the thrust of my essay) I have forgotten the punch-line of this joke. But you can take it from me, it was funny.

Hobbes proposed that laughter is "a sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of some eminency in ourselves, by comparison with the infirmity of others."  The humor of the racist old-people joke relies on an ageist premise: maybe they don’t run around in lynch mobs, but there’s no doubt that old people are more apt than we are to publicly blurt the unfashionable stereotypes of their idyllic pre-civl-rights-movement youth. Hahaha.

It’s funny because, like all age-based stereotypes, it’s TRUE!

Take my mother. She is a benign little old white Methodist lady who has been putting underprivileged black kids through college since the 60′s, but the other day there was an incident, and she cracked under the strain.

We’d decided to observe the daily rite of lunch on a well-situated bench down at Town Lake. With us were a couple of delicious sandwiches, for in my family lunch is a sacrament and the delicious sandwich is the Twisty equivalent of the body of Christ. Anyway, we’d taken about two bites when a joggy-woman with a double-baby-jogger at full capacity came wheeling to a stop in our immediate midst. Incredibly, she presumed to address us.

Her inquiry about "sharing" our  bench was perfunctory. She plopped down without waiting for an answer, spread herself out, and immediately began nursing one of her spawn. She directed a stream of incoherent motherly babble at the remaining child, who had initiated the climbing/whining/darting/shrieking maneuvers favored by his species.

My mother and I exchanged looks of open-mouthed surprise, which was kind of gross since our mouths were full of delicious sandwiches. But we were flabbergasted by this unprovoked and inexplicable incursion on our personal space; Texas, after all, is large enough that a mother-daughter sandwich-eating team is entitled to its own breastfeeding-woman-free bench. It is guaranteed, in fact, by the state constitution.

Be that as it may, the facts were these: a loud and lactating stranger had infiltrated the sanctuary of our lunch bench, and was now elbowing me in my sandwich arm. I scanned the horizon for a Texas Ranger, but alas, there were only a couple of ineffectual state legislators, sniffing each others’ behinds.

If only Mr T were here! "Quit the jibba-jabba, lactating fool! Prepare to be thrown!"

But it was not to be. Breastfeedy McBreastfeederson did not quit the jibba-jabba, and was not thrown. Our sandwiches (which were, incidentally, chicken salad sandwiches from the Kitchen Door as favored by Lance Armstrong) turned to ashes in our mouths. We repaired to the car in defeat.

"She was really pushy," my mother opined, before we were entirely out of earshot. "She must be Jewish."

And she gave a Hobbesian laugh.

And then I gave a Hobbesian laugh, for I had caught old Mater in the act of perpetuating a derogatory cultural stereotype. I won!

1 comment

  1. Joe

    Having the benefit of time to think of a witty response… maybe you could’ve asked your Mom, dryly, if breast milk is Kosher.

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