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Author Topic: EP454: Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One  (Read 5273 times)

eytanz

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on: July 14, 2014, 03:42:11 PM
EP454: Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One

By KC Ball

Read by Dani Cutler

---

Lori Meeker pushed her hair out of her eyes and leaned back against the sink. She squeezed the cold porcelain edge to still her trembling hands and focused on the pair of plainclothes cops shoehorned into the women’s can with her.

The space was hardly bigger than a closet but the restrooms were the only private spaces in the bar, and the detectives had insisted on questioning her alone.

“The restrooms always this clean?” Detective Gayle asked.

“Yeah. Augie’s bat-shit crazy about dirt and germs.”

Gayle raised an eyebrow. “Bat-shit crazy, huh? Is that your professional opinion?”

“Pardon my French,” Lori snapped.

Lori had met women just like Gayle. Always judging, always pretending they could do anything a man could do. Always looking down their perfect nose at girls who had to work in joints like Augie’s Bar & Grill.

And Augie was bat-shit crazy about germs. A damned phobia, that’s what she should have said. It was a bar, for god’s sake, not some fancy restaurant. The place was cleaner than it had any need to be.

“Tell us what you saw and heard,” Detective Osbourne said.

Osbourne looked like a nice man, the kind of guy who would listen without judging. Lori decided to talk to him. She weighed how much to tell him, though. She was afraid he might call her crazy, might laugh and stop listening to her, if she said she didn’t think the dead body out on the bar floor was human.

Lori fished her cigarettes from her sweater pocket, shook a fresh one from the pack and sparked it with her butane lighter. Gayle turned her head away and coughed. Lori smiled.

“You going to talk to us?” Gayle asked.

Lori blew more smoke toward Gayle and focused on Osbourne’s big, brown hound-dog eyes.

“I unlocked the door at eleven,” she said. “Right off, this little guy strolled in, just like he owned the place. Augie gave him the once over, went back to stocking the cooler with a case of Red Hook.”

“What did you make of him?” Osbourne asked.

“I saw right off that he was slumming. I can tell the type. But Augie always says it doesn’t matter where a customer is from or what they look like, long as they have money.”

Gayle jumped in. “And this guy had money?”

Lori nodded. “A wad of bills would choke a horse.”

“Did he sit at the bar?” Osbourne asked.

“Uh huh,” she said. “He crawled up on one of the stools. Could barely see over the edge. If we had booster seats I think I would’a offered him one.”

Her cigarette had burned down to the filter. Lori flipped it into the toilet, listened to it hiss, and popped her butane lighter to spark another one. A skinny job with lots of filter and not much tobacco. Her mother called them coffin tacks.

“What did the fellow look like?” Osbourne asked.

“Bald, a big head. Glasses on a little nose, not much chin. He ordered one drink. Straight-up scotch. Never touched it. Most times, that sets Augie off. This time he never say a word.”

“Any idea why?” Osbourne asked.

“They told each other jokes.”

“Jokes?”

Lori nodded. “Augie loves jokes, can tell them all night and not repeat himself. This little guy could tell them, too.”

“What sort of jokes?” Detective Gayle asked.

“All kinds. The one about the farmer’s daughter and the salesman. The golfer and the dead priest. The special pig. That one makes me laugh, but I can’t remember it to save my life.”

Gayle leaned in close now, ignoring the cigarette smoke. “Tell us what happened at the end.”

“I’d almost finished setting up the tables, when I heard the guy say, ‘Augie, you ever heard the one about the little green man that walked into the bar?’”

She could feel tears welling. She tried to push them back.

“Go on, Lori.” Osbourne said, kindness in his voice.

Lori closed her eyes, held on to his words. “Augie yelled, then I heard the shotgun. Almost peed myself. When I looked, the little guy was on the floor, his face shot all to pieces.”


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Max e^{i pi}

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Reply #1 on: July 15, 2014, 10:48:15 PM
Well, this was either a rather short story or a rather long joke.
As a story it worked quite well, up until the part where Augie went out in a blaze of glory. After that it got too alien for me. The sudden shift of perspective was expected, but it was too much. I went from a context I was comfortable and familiar with to a completely alien discussion where I missed 3 out of 5 words. I understand the need for such an abrupt and absolute shift, but it was poorly executed. There were too many unfamiliar terms mixed in with completely normal terms as well as an inconsistency in the aliens' terminology. On the one hand they knew the term for barkeep but on the other they called cops "peace enforcers". Did they not know the proper term? Doubtful since the one alien had just spent quite some time telling good jokes. "Two cops and a nun walk into a bar" is much better than "two peace enforcers and a female religious zealot walk into a bar".
As a joke it was worse. The buildup was great, the delivery was perfectly executed, but the punchline was awful. It was more of a light-tap-paragraph than a punchline.
As for the concept of aliens coming to Earth just to record some quality comedy... I kinda like that. It appeals to my cynical side to discover that we are just a great setting for Candid Camera. It's much better than being the setting for reality TV.

EDIT: this is the last time I post from my tablet at 1 in the morning. So. Many. Spelling. Mistakes.
« Last Edit: July 16, 2014, 06:12:02 AM by Max e^{i pi} »

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adrianh

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Reply #2 on: July 16, 2014, 04:08:48 AM
Felt a little like a slightly darker variant of one of Asimov's shaggy dog stories — but wasn't quite shaggy enough for me ;-)

This was one of those times where I wonder if I'd have liked it more as text than audio. Reading it would have been five minutes and probably raised a brief smile. After a fifteen minute listen it the punch line wasn't really enough compensation for the time investment.



skeletondragon

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Reply #3 on: July 16, 2014, 05:33:44 AM
I mostly enjoyed the dark humor of this story, but I also definitely had a feeling of "maaaybe this is going just a little too far". I liked that the aliens seemed culturally foreign while clearly having at least a superficial understanding of human convention.  It reminded me of the problems that arise because of differences in humor just between human cultures. A friendly joke from a person used to teasing their friends could be a deathly insult to a new acquaintance. Maybe the aliens infect each other with diseases all the time - wacky fun! Or maybe they're just space jerks who love to see humans suffer.

This is why I got a kind of sick amusement out of Augie's decision to kill himself, which is the climax and the best part of the story. From Augie's point of view, he is saving himself from a horrific death of an alien disease. Maybe the aliens didn't give him anything, and it was just his paranoia, so his death was for naught. That's black humor. But these aliens are so sadistic, maybe they actually did give him a disease, and he saved the whole planet from casual destruction. That's black humor with a lump of sugar, like those jokes about people making sensible decisions at the beginning of horror movies and ending the film two hours early.



Varda

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Reply #4 on: July 16, 2014, 12:33:55 PM
I'll agree with the consensus so far and say this story didn't entirely work for me. I really enjoyed the narrative and was curious to see it going, until the abrupt POV shift to the aliens and the ensuing As You Know, Bob conversation up on the space ship. At that point I felt like a joke had been played on me, the reader, instead of within the story itself. I think "shaggy dog story" sums it up pretty well, as Adrianh put it, and unfortunately I've already read this particular kind of punchline many times in the past, and this version didn't really distinguish itself from the herd for me.

I also didn't find the aliens particularly alien. They seem to have some cosmetically different biology, but doing sick things on camera for the laughs is  a very human motivation. Just jump on over to Youtube for all the evidence you need. I think there's some room for some commentary on dark humor gone too far, but then I think I'd have liked it better if that motivation were pinned on humans instead of aliens. It would be interesting to see this type of story told with the aliens and humans reversed.

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albionmoonlight

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Reply #5 on: July 16, 2014, 12:58:20 PM
This was one of those times where I wonder if I'd have liked it more as text than audio. Reading it would have been five minutes and probably raised a brief smile. After a fifteen minute listen it the punch line wasn't really enough compensation for the time investment.

I agree with this.  A little too much build up for a punch line.  The original comment about it being a long joke or a short story also seems to fit.  Not sure how I would classify it.

I did like that it had a bit of Golden Age feel to it.  The idea of beings with the power to travel the stars and impersonate humans still care more about silly jokes than anything else. That they are just working the standup set across the galaxy, hoping to get noticed and maybe make it into the big time.  That felt very much like something that could have been written in the 50s or 60s.  Which was cool.

Oh, and a small town bar with strange happenings.  Was I the only one picturing the bar from True Blood?



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #6 on: July 18, 2014, 03:47:06 PM
My biggest takeaway is that the aliens were real assholes.

Not that humans don't take a twisted pleasure in this behavior; I'm sure some do.

It puts me in mind of the difficulty of writing aliens as alien. This behavior is recognizable as human behavior, because people do it. What would be alien would be if, oh, the alien had come in, prayed to the toilet, and left. Repeatedly. Or something equally or more inexplicable.

And who would want to invade Rat City White Center anyway?? I supposed that would be inexplicable alien behavior right there....



Devoted135

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Reply #7 on: July 24, 2014, 04:50:01 PM
Okay, so not being familiar with the term shaggy dog story, I've done a bit of reading. This appears to be a particularly sick version of the trope? A man committing suicide for what turns out to be no purpose at all (theories of actual alien infection aside) seems to be well outside of the more typical consequences in these stories. I can get behind it if it's short and light-hearted enough (as in the case of many stories from our flash contests), but this went too far for my sensibilities. I'm not laughing along with the aliens, I'm grieving with Lori for a man who seemed to be a pretty good guy.



InfiniteMonkey

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Reply #8 on: July 24, 2014, 05:09:18 PM
Okay, so not being familiar with the term shaggy dog story, I've done a bit of reading.

I was always under the impression that "shaggy dog story" simply mean a tall tale, an unbelievable story.



Varda

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Reply #9 on: July 24, 2014, 05:15:19 PM
The Wikipedia definition is pretty succinct and sums it up pretty well:

Quote
In its original sense, a shaggy dog story is an extremely long-winded anecdote characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax or a pointless punchline.

ETA: So in this case, you've got a long setup involving a bar, and human characters, and the guy worried about infection, and then a completely pointless punchline of, "It was just aliens filming a gag reel the whole time!"

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Scott Spath

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Reply #10 on: July 24, 2014, 05:53:52 PM
I have to agree with Devoted135. I wasn't left laughing at the end of this story. I understood that it was supposed to be a big joke, but I just don't find suicide very funny. I was enjoying the story until the end, but the finale just left me depressed.



Unblinking

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Reply #11 on: July 24, 2014, 08:52:29 PM
I was interested in where it was going.  But when the aliens showed up and made it clear it was a joke, it struck me as just being a tired Golden Age trope reused.  And even then the aliens kept talking and talking even though the "it was a joke" had been conveyed early in their dialogue so that dragged on as well.




Tango Alpha Delta

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Reply #12 on: July 25, 2014, 03:07:40 AM
You know, if you're reading this story as straight comedy, i don't think it works. I say this as someone who has written a story like this going for straight comedy, and it didn't work. (Fun fact, the story i wrote was rejected by one Mr Steve Eley!)

But what DID work was the implicit dark criticism of the kind of humor that Jackass, Borat, and some of those other prank-style shows try to pull off. Picturing the aliens as crude little Johnny Knoxville creatures kind of redeemed the whole thing for me.

I mean, I still didn't vent my alimentary canals, but...
« Last Edit: July 27, 2014, 01:59:00 PM by eytanz »

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Zelda

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Reply #13 on: July 29, 2014, 08:12:00 AM

"Lori had met women just like Gayle. Always judging, always pretending they could do anything a man could do. Always looking down their perfect nose at girls who had to work in joints like Augie’s Bar & Grill."

Every once in a while a sentence is so off it kicks me right out of a story. There are a lot of reasons the waitress could dislike the female cop. But in 2014 I find it implausible that a woman would find the existence of female cops offensive. Hostile beliefs that the cop "acts like a man", "thinks she can do a man's job" or "thinks she can do anything a man can do" are plausible, old-fashioned and archaic respectively. But describing a group of women as "always pretending they could do anything a man could do" takes it to a different level. Pretending is a more sweeping accusation. I've never heard anyone make in real life.

The strangeness of Lori believing Gayle was pretending misled me into thinking I wasn't supposed to trust what Lori said. By the time I figured out my mistake we were finished with Lori and the story was almost over.

I'm sure I've explained this badly. Sorry.




wintermute

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Reply #14 on: August 01, 2014, 01:27:20 PM
Okay, so not being familiar with the term shaggy dog story, I've done a bit of reading.

I was always under the impression that "shaggy dog story" simply mean a tall tale, an unbelievable story.
A shaggy dog story is an elaborate build-up to a bad pun, or other deliberately bad joke. See some of Asimov's works, notably Shah Guido G (which he like to point out was literally called "Shaggy dog")

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Windup

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Reply #15 on: August 04, 2014, 06:23:34 AM
Yeah, this one was a misfire for me as well, for pretty much the same reasons it failed for Varda.  I wasn't able to see the redemptive satire Tango Alpha Delta found in it, either, so I guess I'm just going to say, "Better luck next week."

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hardware

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Reply #16 on: September 18, 2014, 11:44:10 AM
Sorry, not much more love from here either. Agree that it needed a better twist, and that line about the female cop left me pretty uneasy as well.



CryptoMe

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Reply #17 on: March 30, 2015, 04:23:58 AM
This story left me feeling slimed, as if I had just watched a snuff film, which is kind of what the aliens had filmed (even if unwittingly)...