Only One Joke of Many
Only One Joke of Many
Tobie waited on the platform of the elevated rail station on Tenth and Broadway. Raindrops dotted the concrete, but the morning sun was warm on his cheeks.
He caught the 8:16 train, boarding the third car. He’d been following very specific, though limited, instructions, and that was the end of them.
It was still the morning rush, standing room only, but, as the train took off again, Tobie noticed a young man, Joe, sitting in the center of the car with a stack of filing boxes on the floor in front of him and another box on the seat beside him.
“Hey,” Joe said, waving.
Tobie pressed through the crowd, and sat as Joe removed his box from the seat.
Tobie was possibly overdressed, but he was never sure. He’d finally gotten a steady job, leaving behind the life of a stringer, working for The People’s Voice, a paper with unmentioned-but-obvious left leanings.
He was a journalist, and wanted to look like it. In his mind that meant a very white shirt, sharp collar and thin tie, a plain gun-metal gray vest, and sleeve garters that were mostly superfluous as he used a pencil.
Today, Joe wore a brown denim long coat trimmed with light brown fur that was very close in color to his pixyish hair, slightly orange like a bad bleach job, but his hair was lustrous, and the roots seemed to be the same color.
“It’s acrylic,” Joe said.
“…What?” Tobie noticed a middle aged woman, standing a few feet away and glaring at him. Maybe she thought she was old enough to deserve a seat.
“The fur’s acrylic,” Joe said. “I thought you might be animal friendly….”
Tobie was, actually, but he’d assumed it was fake by color; It looked a little too perfect to be real.
“…I don’t have any down there- fur, I mean,” Joe said. His face was handsome, or elegant, with golden eyes and an elegant sneer on his lips.
Tobie wondered if elegant on a young man was supposed to mean cute. He looked down and saw the brown rain boots on Joe’s feet, trimmed in the same orange fur. His legs were bare below the coat that didn’t quite cover his knees. Tobie thought that might have been what he’d meant, but he’d lost the context.
“Pubic hair,” Joe said. “I don’t have any.”
That was far further out of context than Tobie had anticipated. “…Do you shave?” he asked.
“I was born that way.”
Tobie was fairly sure everyone was born that way. “How old are you?”
“Not tellin’,” Joe said, smiling coquettishly.
Tobie had only met him once before, briefly, and was starting to wonder if Joe might have been a nickname, and he’d arrived at a meeting with a tomboyish teenage girl.
Tobie’s first assignment for The People’s Voice, five days before, had been to cover a shipping strike at the docks. Things had been moving smoothly, he’d gotten snippets from the picketers and interviews with a pair of union chiefs, but then it had quickly gone sideways. An alarm had sounded, and the locals had started running.
Just as a scab had slid down the ladder of a loading crane, the crane had collapsed, toppling into the river and sinking a cargo ship as it went. It had added a lot of bang to Tobie’s story.
Tobie had been the only person in the harried crowd to notice the young man standing still as screaming people poured around him. Joe had stood there on the dock, laughing as the boat sank.
He’d accepted Tobie’s number and promised to give him a call later, which he had, giving Tobie instructions on how they might meet.
Tobie had thought he might get the inside view from a young anarchist, but it was seeming less likely every moment he would find anything useful.
Still shaken by the discussion of pubic hair, or the lack thereof, Tobie changed the subject, pointing at the tall stack at Joe’s feet. “What’s in the boxes?”
“I’m glad you asked,” Joe said. “Tons of pamphlets- It’s really more like fifty pounds.”
“Is it for work?” Tobie asked.
“My work,” Joe said, giggling. He bumped his shoulder against Tobie’s like it was some kind of in joke.
Tobie felt his lower abdomen tighten and his mouth sweat. That giggle sounded very girlish, but she would be too young anyway. “So, what are the fliers about?” Tobie asked.
“Well, there’s this right-to-life group, but they’re not talking right-to-life anymore. This week it’s all about abstinence.”
Tobie wondered if Joe might have been some kind of anarchist for hire, because pro-lifers and the unions were usually on opposite sides of the aisle.
“So, they’re sending out all this learning material, to high schools mostly,” Joe said.
Joe was probably in high school, Tobie thought. He looked too old for junior high at least.
“They want the teachers to hand them out.”
“And you’re dropping them at the post office?” Tobie asked, spying the mailing labels.
“I’m mailing them,” Joe said with a sneer, “but I did a little editing first.”
Joe stared at him, clearly wanting Tobie to ask for details, but Tobie stubbornly refused, and Joe inched towards him, his smile growing wider.
“…What kind of editing?” Tobie asked when their noses were almost touching.
“Well,” Joe said, sitting back in his seat, “they suggested a few alternatives, and bits of advice, cold showers, holding hands, and movies- G rated of course, but I supplied a few… more interesting options.”
Joe paused again, but Tobie spoke more quickly this time. “Like?”
“Transrectal manipulation’s my favorite,” Joe said.
“Uh…. Ah,” Tobie said, pulling out a pad and beginning to take notes.
“There’s no E on the end,” Jo said pointing at his name on the pad.
“Sorry,” Tobie said, realizing the chances of Jo being a girl had just doubled.
“Last name’s Kit- One T. Like a baby fox- Have you ever seen a baby fox?”
“I haven’t,” Tobie said.
“They’re really cute.” Jo stared at him like he wanted a compliment.
“My pamphlet gives lots of details, on the finger-play I mean- You want a copy?”
“Yeah- For the story,” Tobie said.
Jo reached into his coat, pulling out a wrinkled pamphlet and handing it to him. Wrinkled or otherwise it was very professional, full color, a double folded leaflet with lots of details, and diagrams.
“So, this is all just a prank?” Tobie asked.
“Yeah- You don’t think it’s funny?”
“…Sure I do. I’m just trying to be professional.”
“Yeah, you’re just a stick-in-the-mud.”
“What happened to the originals?” Tobie asked.
“I got a job schlepping the right-to-lifer’s mail,” Jo said, giggling again. “The originals are educating a dumpster.”
“…How much did all this cost?” Tobie asked, looking at the stack of six filing boxes and imagining the number of leaflets they must have contained.
“Well…” Jo said, making it two syllables. “There’s a magic place where all photocopies are free.” The sneer grew on his lips and his eyes seemed to glow.
“Twenty-Nineth and Grant, the basement of The People’s Voice,” he said, quietly giggling at first.
Tobie’s smile won the battle against his self restraint. “That is… kinda funny,” he said, though it was a detail he’d leave out when his story was written up.
Jo laughed so hard he choked, and Tobie patted his back.