A Practical Joke from the Great Beyond
by David Volk
Comedy has many rules.
There's the rule of threes. Whenever you tell a joke that involves examples, two aren't enough and four is too many, but three is just right.
There's also the one that says any word with a K in it is automatically funny. No one knows why, it just is. Kite is funny, bike is amusing but Schwinn is not. Kevin Bacon is hilarious because it has two “K” sounds in it.
The most deadly rule to violate, however, is the one about not explaining a joke because once you start having to explain, you lose the funny.
Be that as it may, the rant has been gone for several months now because I've been grappling with a funny story about a practical joke from an unexpected source and there's just no other way to relate the story. So, here goes.
If you're not Jewish, it's important to know that you're supposed to go to synagogue on the anniversary of the death of a loved one to say the Kaddish, a memorial prayer (which, oddly enough, never mentions death) that is usually recited toward the end of a Saturday morning service.
I was fulfilling that obligation when my mother pulled a joke on me.
I can't explain it any other way.
You see, I always take my cell phone into synagogue with me because the only person who ever calls me on it is my wife and she's usually with me. So, it doesn't matter whether the sound is on or off because I know it won't be ringing. And that's a good thing, too, because I have distinctive ring tones. The theme from “Amazing Race” plays when my friend Mike calls, I hear “Hava Negila” on bag pipes when my cousin the cantor calls. If it's my wife, it blares the entire theme song from Hawaii 5-0. That's also the default ring tone.
You can already see where this is going, can't you?
On this particular Saturday, my wife, the military reserve officer, was away at her monthly drill, but she knew better than to call and nobody else had the number except my step-brother's wife, who I had called the day before to check on the health of a brother who was in hospice. Although I called her early on Friday, I never heard back…..
That is, until the rabbi began her weekly introduction to the Kaddish. It's always about remembering loved ones who are no longer with us. A hush falls over the congregation every week at this point.
Which is why so many more people heard the theme song from “Hawaii Five-O” blare out of my cell phone. I quickly slunk to the back of the sanctuary and into the Social Hall to turn off the sound. In my panic to get it done quickly, I punched the buttons several times trying to get the phone in silent mode. Then I returned to my seat relieved to know I wouldn't be bothered again.
At this point, I should mention that I even have an unusual ring tone for my voice mail notification. It, too, is from a well-known television show from back in the day.
I returned in time to hear the rabbi reading the list of congregant relatives who had died in the last week and the names of those who had died in previous years on the same week.
Since my mother's last name began with “A” the rabbi said her name first: Lois Ackerman.
As soon as my mother's name was mentioned, my cell phone which apparently had not been muted after all played my voice mail notification tone: The Theme From Dragnet.”
You know the one I'm talking about. The little ditty that goes bum bum bum bum…bum bum bum bum BUM?” And the version I have isn't the short one, either. It's the one that includes some narration followed by more percussion.
So it sounded something like this:
Rabbi: We recall loved ones who death has taken from us including Lois Ackerman….
Cell phone: Dum de dum dum, dum de dum dum dum…. Ladies and Gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true, the names have been changed to protect the innocent (followed by a drum banging and a trumpet blaring dramatically).
As I ran out of the sanctuary for a second time, one of my friends looked at me accusingly and said, “And what would your mother say you should learn from this?”
My answer probably wouldn't have been what he expected: That somewhere in the great beyond my mother is laughing her ass off for pulling off the perfect practical joke from beyond the grave.
From a man who doesn't see dead people, but sure notices a lot of stupid ones...
David G(otta take this call) Volk