I write for the great and powerful Washington Post, but my accomplishments seldom seem as important as those of my colleagues. Whereas my stories have led to enraged letters from crayon-wielding lunatics, my colleagues' stories have led to congressional investigations. They've gotten people fired. They've even put people in jail.
I admit to penal envy. That is why I am always on the lookout for major social injustices that happen on my "beat," so I can pursue them with tough-guy, Woodwardian fervor. One promising lead arrived the other day, in a box with a familiar pleasant fragrance but the acrid stench of scandal. I got on the phone immediately and asked for customer service.
Me: I want to talk to the person responsible for Bazooka Joe comics.
Lynn: No one ever asked me that before.
Me: I can't say that I'm surprised, ma'am. Some things you just don't want to go poking around into, unless you're paid to.
Lynn: I can tell you how to get Bazooka Joe T-shirts . . .
Me: No, ma'am. Just the comics. Someone's got to answer for them.
Lynn: I'll have to switch you to New York.
Me: I've got time. I'm an investigative humorist.
Nicole Palmieri: This is Nicole Palmieri.
Me: I want to talk to the person responsible for Bazooka Joe.
Nicole: That's me. I'm the brand manager for Bazooka.
Me: I have a potentially explosive issue here, ma'am, and I want to give you a fair opportunity to respond.
Me: I received the following joke wrapped around a brick of Bazooka bubble gum purchased during the second week of November 2005. I chose this at random from among a dozen others displaying similar degrees of creativity and hilarity. Joe is in a restaurant. He complains there is a fly in his soup, and asks what it's doing there. The waiter says, "Well, offhand, I'd say that it's swimming!" My question is: Can you supply a good reason why you, as the person responsible, should not be incarcerated?
Me: I'm glad you find this funny, ma'am.
Me: Your product is often children's first exposure to written humor. What if their entire sense of humor winds up being shaped by recycled, Depression-era jokes that were never funny to begin with and became even more rancid over time, pungent with the odor of decomposing inanity? What if, 30 years from now, when these children are the head writers for "Saturday Night Live," they do skits about idiots throwing clocks out the window to see time fly?
Nicole: This is a piece you are doing?
Me: Yes, ma'am, I am an investigative humorist.
Nicole: This is very odd.
Nicole: Well, we are going to be re-launching the comics in a big way this spring. To make them more relevant. That was a classic joke from the '50s.
Me: Okay, fair enough. Here's a more recent one. Zena is ordering a dress over the phone. She is asked for her credit card number and her expiration date, and she responds: "How do I know how long I'm going to live?"
Nicole: I think that's cute. These are funny, in a simplistic way.
Me: Let me rephrase my original question, then. Is there a level of humor lower than Bazooka Joe comics? I think we can agree their level is lower than your basic knock-knock joke, but, from an intellectual standpoint, is it also lower than, say, tickling someone till they pee? In terms of absolute infantilism, is it lower than peekaboo? Is there a joke so lame, so desiccated, so devoid of irony or surprise that you would declare it beneath Bazooka Joe?
Me: How about this joke: "Where does Santa go on vacation?"
Me: You have to ask me where.
Me: "A ho-ho-hotel." Would that make the cut?
Me: So you say.
Me: Do you think I am being unfair, here?
Nicole: Yes. At least I hope I've humored you.
Me: A lot more than the comics, ma'am.