I don't tell jokes at parties. Sometimes, I tell this story instead. Scene: Northwestern University, my senior year, a room at the Foster-Walker Complex, January 4th, 1988, the day before Gayle's birthday, in the room occupied by her boyfriend at the time (their relationship would end in two days or so).
I was drinking (not a surprise in my college days), scotch and soda, except my buddy Lee (name changed) was leaving the soda out. He liked other people to be drunker and more entertaining than he was. With me, it was a 70-30 chance of hitting entertaining/gregarious (70%), angry (20%) or quietly philosophical (5%). We'll leave 5% open for that night I don't really remember but I woke up with lipstick all over my shirt (junior year).
So, there I was in the center of the room, spilling cup number I'd lost count of Scotch and Scotch, all over the rug while Lee laughed and filled me in on the soda switch. And then, drunk time skip, I was on the bed talking to my buddy 'Rette, leaning across the person sandwiched between us.
Important fact: I only know one joke. I only ever know one joke. Currently, because it makes math seem more fun if the numbers have fangs when I picture them in my head, the joke is "Q: Why was 6 afraid of 7? A: Because 7 ate 9." I tell this joke to nieces and nephews (and you). I don't tell it at parties. I don't tell any jokes at parties. Because once upon a time, I did tell a joke at a party. And it changed everything.
So, the drunk time skip had happened. And there was this person in between me and 'Rette. I noticed because the person was female and brunette, these being the persons I am most likely to notice. And I was probably being even broader in my attempts at entertaining.
So I told the only joke I knew. I don't remember where I picked it up. For a girl who grew up on the edge of the Pine Barrens, actual Southern Baptists were creatures more mythical than the Jersey Devil. I started, "Do you know why Southern Baptists don't have sex standing up?" There was no response, so cue punchline, "They're afraid it might lead to dancing."
I don't remember if anyone laughed. I do remember some part of my brain kicking in with the fear that I had been inadvertently rude. So I turned to the mystery person and inquired if she was a Southern Baptist because then I needed to apologize. I have no idea what I actually said, you'd have to hear Gayle's version. I think the gist was if she was a Southern Baptist, sorry and she was free to take a shot at my Irish heritage*. Gayle said, yes, Southern Baptist. A stop and notice response, even through the Scotch.
A couple of days after that party, I went up to her room. I have no idea how I remembered her room number, Scotch and Scotch not being a well known memory aid, but I managed to find it somehow.
I trooped up three or four flights of stairs after the walk from the northern end of campus. Knocked. No Gayle. I was leaving a note on her message board when Gayle came out of the stairwell with a load of laundry. She invited me into her room and I did what I still do when entering a new place: check out the bookshelves. There was Agatha Christie. I like Agatha Christie. There was The Book of The Courtier. I was taking a Comparative Literature class that involved The Book of The Courtier. There might have been classic Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew should always be in any starter kit for girls (or detectives).
I don't remember what we talked about either night. I just remember being vividly aware of Gayle. We didn't start "officially" dating until the end of September when Gayle came back for her senior year from a summer spent as a lifeguard at a Bible Camp near Bagdad, KY. But that joke got our conversation started.
Gayle on the right, me in the middle, Lee's shoulder and towel on the left. A different party, something known as "The Decadence Bash".
*Gayle has yet to take that free shot at my Irish heritage.