My Grammy suffered from a congenital inability to tell a joke. She could be witty, or quick with a biting remark...but the formal structure of setup-beat-punchline eluded her all her life. Her attempts at scripted levity all went something like this: "A man walks into a bar, and the bartender says...no, wait. A priest! A priest goes into a bar...and also one of those...um...rabbis! A priest and a rabbi, and the bartender says...no, no, that's wrong. No, wait: first the priest says...oh, hell. I've screwed it all up."
So she was funny, in a way, with these epic, backtracking stories--just never in the manner she intended. You had to give her credit, really, for soldiering on. A couple of her weird non-sequitur punchlines became family jokes in and of themselves, a quick shorthand we'd repeat like a hilarious mantra. The most famous of these came about in front of all her coworkers at the UW budget office. The joke itself was a hairy old chestnut indeed, about the world's cheapest hit man, Artie, plying his trade as a bargain-rate strangler. Stop me if you've--no, never mind. Suffice to say, Artie does his thing and the next day's headlines read:
ARTIE CHOKES THREE FOR A DOLLAR
Well, Grammy tried to tell this one to her colleagues, and I can only imagine the narrative weaving around towards its inevitable end. But she got there, eventually, and said: "So, the next day in the paper, all the headlines read...
"AVOCADOS THREE FOR A DOLLAR!"
Well. Blank faces all around. Interestingly, Grammy could remember this humiliation and repeat it to us later, as a personal anecdote; her mental block was exclusive to telling a proper joke in the first place.
And this one became legend, somehow. I've been saying "avocados-three-for-a-dollar" reflexively for probably 30 years, at the slightest prompting: both when I botch a story of my own, and every time I see a little mesh bag of avocados (with a much higher price tag) at the supermarket. It's part of my family lexicon. We have to say it; it's ingrained, like "Jinx! Buy me a Coke!"
This is my own longwinded meandering way to wonder if any of y'all are watching Fringe as avidly as I am? Because in last week's episode, set in the blighted alternate universe (not watching? just...go with it), Olivia marveled that Frank had procured apparently rare and precious avocados for their dinner. "Where did you get them? How much?" she asked dubiously...and you KNOW what I shouted at the teevee with absolute delight. Hi, Grammy! Miss you!