The occasion was my parents’ 50th anniversary. That’s when their extended family gathered to celebrate with them, the festivities beginning with my Uncle Zom (which rhymes with bomb) toasting them.
“50 years?” he asked looking directly at my parents. “Any good ones?”
This produced chuckles in the audience. Of course there were good years. Every family’s history included joys -- an example in my parents’ case being our visit to New York City with a wonderful side trip to Hyde Park, N.Y. That’s where we visited the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library and saw the final resting place for the president and Eleanor Roosevelt. That was a very good year.
Uncle Zom paused for a moment while his listeners thought about the joys they recalled my parents sharing, and then he added:
“Oh, yeah, the year you got the color television. That was a good year.”
My uncle paused again while the dinner guests again chuckled. Why? Because his observation was humorous.
What made his comments funny? First, and without specifically asking, he invited his listeners to think about the fun things they recalled in my parents’ lives. And second, these reminiscences created expectations for what they’d hear next -- good things that occurred during my parents’ marriage.
But then Zom surprised them with the totally unexpected punchline for his joke. It was surprising because a color TV was less compelling than the things they’d recalled. It was in no way as memorable as, for example, visiting New York; but it nevertheless qualified as something good for Ma and Pa.
This observation complete, I’m shifting to something else that happened as I lay in bed early one morning contemplating why Zom’s joke succeeded. It occurred to me that my cell phone might help me locate other explanations of jokes, and so I asked, “OK, Siri, how do jokes work?”
Siri’s response? “Good question.”
While it didn’t address the need behind my asking, Siri nevertheless appeared to rely on the explanation you just read. Like Uncle Zom, Siri gave a surprising and arguably correct answer to my question; it was both in line with what I’d asked, and its unexpectedness caused me to smile.
But not wanting to wake Mary Lou, I resisted the desire to laugh out loud before returning to my early morning ruminations.
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.