THE NEW NORMAL: That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

deeneythumbnail.jpgBY JEFF DEENEY I was gassing up early yesterday evening at the mega-Wawa on Edgemont Avenue in Brookhaven, a town in heavily Republican southern Delaware County. Brookhaven and the surrounding towns near the Delaware border have been fairly well covered in McCain lawn signs for the past couple months; I would characterize the area economically as middle-to-working-class depending on which township you’re in. While much of Delaware County strongly supported Obama there are still very substantial clusters of stalwart Republicans here, especially in the towns surrounding Brookhaven like Aston, Concord and Edgmont. These old school Republican Delco towns went for McCain in the election and have resisted the County’s relatively recent political shift to the blue. They’re filled with aging veterans, staunchly conservative Christians and blue collar Joe Sixpacks who long for the days of Reagan when Delco was as red as Idaho.

I heard a man at the end of the checkout line say to the woman in front of him, “I gotta tell you this joke.” He paused before continuing, looking over his shoulder and asking in a raised voice, “Are there any black people around? You see any black people?” He turned around and scoped out the deli counter. I guess in his mind that’s where black people should be, behind counters fixing sandwiches for guys like him. He was your standard issue loudmouthed illustration_times_obama_1.jpgmiddle aged Delco d-bag. He was salt and pepper gray wearing an unzipped track jacket over a golf shirt that was tucked into ill-fitting, faded dad-denim. He looked vaguely Italian and sounded maybe a little drunk. He had on brand new all white basketball shoes, a crucifix on a gold chain around his neck, the whole nine. When he was certain that he was in safely unmixed company he began,

“Did you hear the one about Obama and the economy?”

He was already chuckling at his own impending punchline and nudging the diminutive, grey haired older woman in front of him, as if to say, “get a load of this one.” The older woman wore a cheap, powder blue wind breaker and looked like the kind of K-Mart shopper who dresses on a tight budget. She smiled slyly, but was also clearly self-conscious as the rest of the line turned to look at the man. The man continued his joke loudly, building steam now that he felt he had an audience, “They asked Obama if he was qualified to fix the economy.  Obama said, ‘I don’t know I’m qualified to fix it, but I sure am qualified to nigger-rig it!'”

The man chortled so hard he had to bend at the waist and lean on the counter top for a moment. Then he reached around the older woman to grab the guy in front of her by the arm and give him a shake.

“Laugh goddamn it! It’s funny. It’s just humor. It’s a joke; you laugh at it, don’t be so uptight.”

The grabbed man didn’t laugh; he looked straight ahead as he got jostled, clearly pained and embarrassed at being drawn into the spectacle.

The joker looked beyond the others in line and saw me staring at him. I held his eye contact; I wasn’t smiling.

“It’s a fucking joke, Jesus Christ, it’s a joke, it’s funny.”

I looked away long enough to key my PIN number into the debit machine and take my receipt. I stared at him as I walked towards the door; the longer we looked at each other the more I sensed how defeated and miserable he was under his clown facade. He was one of those sore loser Republicans like the ones that booed McCain’s conciliatory concession speech on election night. He was one of the old school Delco types who are baffled and enraged at the prospect that a black man could be President. Their worldview has been shaken to its core and they fear nothing less than the complete collapse of the country now that their beloved political party has been decisively rousted from power.

I actually felt sorry for the guy for a brief moment despite his racism; it must be hard to acknowledge that you and the political party you’re so heavily invested in are so out of touch with the rest of the country. I had a sense that it’s been a hard week for the old guard Delco Republicans, who have watched the last vestiges of their lengthy stay in power steadily evaporate over the past few years. Rather than point out to the guy that I thought he was an ignorant asshole, I decided to let it go. Emotions have been running high for weeks now, we’ve all been emotionally spread a little thin and honestly I’m too out of political gas myself to argue over the election with a random jerk-off in the line at Wawa.

“Hey buddy,” I said with deep satisfaction, smiling as I passed him on my way out the door, “better luck next time.”

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