The Joke Whisperer

I am the truth-speaker, the teller of tales, the long tall saddleman. I know the secrets, the lies, and the things that are kept inside. I know who threw their clock out that window, and why. I know why Bill doesn’t get too many giraffes in his bar, even if he won’t admit it to himself. And brother, if you’re ever in the deepest dark of Africa — I mean the depths, the hellish heart of darkness that Conrad feared — and you have to keep a rhino from charging? I may be the only one who knows how to do it.

I met the Gypsy woman in the low winter of ’68, in the high mountains of Alaska where the wind is loud and fierce. She whispered to me like a witch, like a wise man, like a cannibal of the Congo, in a voice filled with fear: she told me the difference between a fish and and a piano, she told me what people do in clock factories, she told me why they wouldn’t let the butterfly into the dance. In a language she had just then invented but which was older than English, she told me why the man at the pet shop wouldn’t send me the bill for that parrot I bought. It was something I never forgot, something I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to. It changed me.

In the dry, hollow places where the cactus grow, and slip their spiky tendrils into the feet of Those Who Walk, where to live is to be mean and hard, I talked to the spirits of the wind. They spoke of he who makes a living by driving his customers away, of the things you can’t eat for lunch, of where an eight-hundred-pound gorilla sleeps. Once I shot an elephant in my pyjamas. How it got into my pajamas is a story of blood-curdling horror that can destroy a man’s mind forever.

I am too much a drifter, a loner, a searcher, a madman dreaming of the place where the sun goes when it sets, and wandering to the far, lonely, empty places where the dancing daughters tell you secrets only the ancient ones know for sure — the secrets of what is black, and what is white, and what is read all over. They know what has four legs and flies, but they will not tell you without a sacrifice. They know what unholy abomination results from crossing a penis with a potato, but do you really want to know? Are you willing to have that horrible knowledge forever in your soul?

Nothing is simple in this world — nothing. I have crawled through a nightmare to learn this, while the rest of you walk in a dream. You think too much, or too little. You do not know how many months have 28 days, why firemen wear red suspenders, what kind of umbrella a Russian uses when it rains, or what is a thousand miles long and purple, no matter how obvious the answers are to those questions. And when someone screams “Mommy! Mommy!”, how will you respond? How?

I have known demons and devils, ghosts and goblins, I have known secret animals and lost monsters. I have touched and spoken with creatures only rumored in legends. Yes, I have met the Little Morons, the Dead Babies, the men with no arms and legs. I have communed with Polacks, blondes and lawyers. From them I have learned. Learned about lightbulbs, about how fat people’s mamas can truly get, about how low one can truly sink. I have learned to ask who’s there when someone is knocking.

I danced, a bringer of chaos, a demon dreamer, a pied piper, traveling west like death. I sang songs that could never be written, songs about what happens when you drop a white hat into the Red Sea, about what’s green and red and goes 200 miles per hour, and about what happened to the chicken when he slept under the car. God help me — hated, distant, empty God! — I even know why that same chicken (and don’t let anyone tell you different, it was the same chicken, oh yes, it’s always the same chicken) crossed the road. When you saw me coming, you’d know too. And once you know, you’ll cross. Just ask the chicken.

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