Smokey Joe
by Paul Niquette
Adapted from 101 Words I Don't Use
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.
role-model n. The characteristic and expected social behavior of an individual, combined in mid-twentieth century American English with a person or object serving as an example to be imitated or compared; serving as a standard of excellence; worthy of imitation.

ot only is my brother David a minister, but for a number of years he also taught homiletics, the art of preaching, at a place called a seminary. Once I rang him up to confirm our monthly lunch date.  A semester was beginning.

"What do you think of your new students?" I asked idly.

"All 8's and 9's on the 'geeko-nerdic scale'," he answered, quick as that.

Among David's gifts is an exceptional sense of humor, which he uses to good advantage in his work.

"Told a 'three-lunger,' the other day," he told me.

"'Three-lunger,' David?"

"That's when the class laughs, then takes a deep breath and keeps on laughing.  When they do that three times, -- "

"Never mind."

David is a dozen years younger than I.  Hard to believe I was once his role-model.  Indeed, to tell a "three-lunger" became that day my life's ambition.

Years went by.

oto de Caza in Southern California was the site of a management retreat in the early eighties.  After a banquet, a dozen of us sat around swapping stories.

"Ever hear of 'Smokey Joe'?" I asked when it was my turn.

Nobody had.

 "Fourth of July -- must have been 1959, when my kids were still pre-schoolers.  We held a block party.  I remember having gone all out in buying fireworks.  The 'Jumbo Box' sold for $5.95, the limit of our budget.  In addition to sparklers, it featured a couple of small, fiery fountains, some of those worm-like gadgets that you burn, and a cardboard cylinder which was labeled 'Smokey Joe.'"

My audience recognized all but the last item.

"After dark we lit up the punk.  The neighborhood kids waved their sparklers around wide-eyed; you know the scene.  Soon there were burned out fireworks all over the driveway, along with the ashes of worms.  The attention span of children is quite brief.  They were about to run off to run through the sprinklers in the back yard.  It was then that I found 'Smokey Joe' -- part of 'Smokey Joe,' that is."

At this point in my story, I paused ostensibly for a sip of coffee.  Something told me, a "three-lunger" was indeed possible that night.

"Part of 'Smokey Joe'?" someone asked.

"Unknown to me, there was a clown-shaped manikin also made out of cardboard lying face down in the bottom of the 'Jumbo Box.'  The idea, I found out later, was to put Tab A into Slot B and stand the thing up.  A circular hole formed the clown's mouth and was supposed to receive the cardboard cylinder, which I was then holding in my hand.  But as I said, I knew nothing of this intended arrangement."

One of the managers at the far end of the table stifled a laugh.  I struggled to keep a straight face.

"The instructions printed on the cylinder were plain enough: 'Place in mouth and light end.'"

Laughter and lung number one.

"Which, of course, I did."

Laughter and lung number two.

"As I fell to the pavement and passed into unconsciousness, I wondered how my children would remember me -- "

Suddenly one of my listeners stood up, knocking over the table.  It was my boss, Gordon.  He was clutching at his throat.

"What happened then," asked David over the phone.

"I came to, with searing pains in my chest, but -- "

"No, I mean with your boss."

"Gordon?  Oh, he's okay.  Listen, the important thing was the kids.  They didn't see anything, and I'm glad.  Don't want to be a bad role-model, you know.  Not that I think it matters all that much -- "

"I have a class," said my brother.  "Besides I already heard your 'nature-versus-nurture' speech."

"Time for one question, David?"

"Better make it quick."

"Is a two-lunger and a Heimlich Maneuver as good as a three-lunger?"


 
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