The Joke Trial

 by Kirby Olson (October 2018)

Two Lawyers Conversing, Honoré Daumier, 1862

                    The judge’s face glowered out over the audience. Some of his ancestors had owned slaves and some had cleaned sewers. Still others had run hotels, and still others had bussed tables. He was an idiot of an ordinary variety, a friendly, backpatting, clubby sort of man, whenever it mattered, whenever he was with men who were like him, and who he needed in order to maintain his position in a community of similar men. His judgment was utterly dependent on his intuition that every person was out for themselves, although he talked about helping others with the law, and he talked about his Christian background. He had no breadth of mind whatsoever, in spite of rapid progress through law school. He had simply befriended more powerful figures, who had given him a hand up. He could do whatever it took to get him into a position of power. He was one of those guys who lets his vested interests color his judgment, and he finds facts afterwards which conform to his self-interests. He covered this naked self-interest with high-sounding platitudes. In short, he was of sub-average intelligence, and yet thought he was one of the most brilliant legal minds ever. He was typical. Everyone who came into his courtroom was welcome to bribe him, to flatter him, to try to stay on his good side. Anyone who went against him in the slightest way would find themselves in San Quentin on the wrong side of a rock pile in a matter of minutes. The situation looked good, because I usually get along with men like this, because they are a lot like me.

          My wife was furious. She told me she thought men were good. When the Titanic sank, men gave their lives so that women and children could live. That is normal. Jokes are all that men have, she said, so let them have them. I spent the trial massaging her hand, trying to calm her, because she was filled with rage at women.

          The offense kicked off with an argument that the last century had been a game of football between the traditional heroes, white menand their victimseverybody else.

          My chief defense attorney was a black woman. It had been very difficult to hire her but my boss had mortgaged the company in order to get her in on our side. She had read up on the alma mater of the German, Neverclean State College, the hippie school of the northwest, and called one of the founders of the school, a former jazz man.

          I was wondering how my lawyer would counter this argument. I wanted truth and justice to prevail, but not at my expense.

          The old hippie looked up at the judge who was at this point completely asleep, nodding, and snoring. The hippie laughed, looked startled, and looked around him, as if some kind of joke were being played. Where was he? Why was he in a suit? What year was it? All the LSD he had taken in the sixties had fried his neural circuits, but there were so few rules in the free jazz he played that no one knew.

          At this point, I looked over at the young German woman. She was wearing a triple nose ring, and a couple of eyebrow rings, and had dyed her hair bright green for the occasion.

          The prosecution lawyer called my therapist, the humor doctor.

          To my amazement, the German feminist burst out in a laugh which echoed through the chamber of justice. My therapist looked surprised, too, as he looked over at her in some shock as to how she had given a counter-example to his testimony. It had been a thin, high, chilling laugh, but it was nevertheless a laugh.

          The German feminist began to giggle and then to laugh as if she couldn’t stop.

          My attorney had her turn.

          The German was called to the witness stand.

          The father and mother stopped laughing and suddenly looked annoyed.

          Whether the objection was sustained or overruled was not clear, as the judge could be heard snoring at his bench. He had nodded off.

          Suddenly the judge woke up in the silence, looked at his watch, and asked for closing arguments.

          The judge spun a penny. Heads she wins, tails I win, he announced. He slapped it down on his desk and looked at it.

          The feminist broke into laughter, and started pointing her forefinger at me, and holding her hand over her mouth to contain her hilarity.

          Liisa jumped up and hugged me. Everything looked fine.

          Julius, a muscleman, had a trick he had practiced for hundreds of hours. He flexed his moustache, and it sailed up above his nose as he flexed his whole body.

          She shot the judge directly in the temple. Blood jetted out of his cranium as he slumped beneath his bench, and soon all the members of the courtroom hit the deck as bullets began to fly every which way. Julius the bailiff held his mid-section as he fell, holding his crotch. A bullet struck my head and I went down. The trial was over. Men and women were falling as the stupid feminist opened fire at random with some kind of assault rifle. In her fury she had mown down her own father, who was lying dead in a puddle of spectators. The father had leaped to embrace his daughter, and taken ten bullets in the chest as his daughter had raked him with lead.

          Dozens were dead or injured, lying around screaming in agony. There was blood all over my face, and my life began to pass before my eyes. All this, I thought, because of a joke I had told at the company picnic. Was this woman a Nazi, or a feminist, or what? I reflected that I myself barely knew the difference, so how could she, especially after attending a university where such subtle distinctions were passed over in favor of flower-arranging classes?

          I nodded. It seemed the bullet had only grazed my temple, and with a couple of bandages from the first aid crew I was fine. It all reminded me of the joke about the peppercorn and the porcupine, which I decided to tell out loud.

          I did.

          Jokes can be fighting words in the wrong situation, but I still felt the first amendment should cover everything! However, I bent to the stronger power, the wife.



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