Two Old Jokes That Kinda Fit…
1. NORTHERN EXPOSURE
Malcolm Simpson had purchased the struggling Shady Palms Resort in North Efate. He guessed it was struggling as the previous owner had obviously attempted to diversify. The sign behind the reception desk advertised:
- Cheap Rooms
- Fresh Bait
- Keys Cut
- Bicycle Repairs
Simpson sighed, blew the dust off the Guest Book and turned to the last entry: “October 1994. It was a fortnight we’ll never forget”, the Blakes had written, “It may have only been two days but it seemed like a fortnight. Thank God that head gasket arrived!”
He closed the book, picked up his ‘Under New Management” sign, a hammer and some nails and braved the humidity for a walk to the main road. On his way down the front stairs he noticed a figure hurrying down the track towards him. It was a man, unshaven, with a shock of wild, grey hair. His thin, tanned, bandy legs clacked with a limp. He was wearing sandals, black socks, khaki shorts and a once-white shirt, buttoned only at the navel. To a non-parallel button. He was waving his arms frantically in the air.
“Howdy neighbour,” he called, “what brings your neck to these woods?”
“Oh, hello, I’m the new owner here,” Simpson nodded, smiling.
“Thought you must have been. Moved in a week or so back didn’t you?”
Simpson was unsure whether to look at the eye that moved or the one that was still, so he focused on the bridge of the nose.
“Where you from then?” said the man, hoisting his hands onto his hips.
“Sydney?! Well, saddle me sideways. Brings back memories of when I lived in a city. In Queensland.”
“Um… right.” What had appeared to have been a moustache from a distance was, in fact, two clumps of uncontrollable nose hairs.
“So, welcome aboard and all that! We could do with a bit of chlorine in the gene pool round here, if you know what I mean.”
The other disconcerting thing about the man’s eyes was that they didn’t blink.
“Have you, er, been here long?” Simpson asked, breaking a short uncomfortable silence.
“Only a couple of minutes.”
“I meant in Vanuatu.”
“Oh! With you now.” He gave a wheezing chuckle. “Good man. Yes. Long enough I s’pose. They say ten years here and it’s about time to get off the rock.”
“You’ve been here ten years?”
“Twenty six. I just count my luckies that I kept my standards up.”
With that, he broke wind. Loudly. Without blinking. And extended his hand…
“Malcolm,” Simpson replied, shaking the gnarled hand. He noted that it had been a while since Keith had attended to his fingernails. Either that or he’d been scratching himself. “And, er, we’re neighbours eh?”
“Yep,” said Keith. “Next door neighbours, in fact. I live just a mile down the road, a few hundred yards past the last electricity pole in a little shack on the water. You married?”
“Um, no. Not any more. I bought this place with my half of the divorce settlement. Wanted to get away from it all.”
“Well, it’s all here to get away from, eh?” Something small and black crawled out of his hair then nipped back behind his ear. “Pity about the divorce.”
“Yes, well, these things happen.”
“No, I meant, pity because I was planning a party for Saturday night, thought you and the wife might like to attend.” He pulled at his scrotum through his shorts, which displayed a large stain that looked like egg. “I mean, the invitation still stands for you on your Pat Malone of course. Say seven o’clock?”
Simpson shuffled through the standard excuses he would have once offered, but none seemed appropriate.
“Well, that is kind of you. I suppose I should make an effort to meet some of the locals.”
“Good man. But I should warn you…” Keith paused, looked both ways and lowered his voice. “There could be some heavy drinkin’… kava, beer and spirits.”
Simpson smiled. “Sounds good, I used to be a journalist, I think I can hold my own.”
“Good man.” He looked both ways again and winked. “And there’s every chance there’ll be some fightin’…
“Well, I get along with most people,” Simpson said. “I’ll see you Saturday then…”
Keith leant forward and dropped his voice to a whisper.
“Oh, and I should tell you that there’s been some pretty wild sex at these parties on occasions too…”
“Well I’m fairly broadminded, and as you know, I am single…”
“Good man.” He squinted his eyes together for one, long blink, broke wind again and turned to head back home. “I’ll see you Saturday then, young Malcolm!”
“Yes, sure. Oh, what should I wear?”
Keith stopped and looked back over his shoulder.
“Whatever you like. Just gunna be the two of us!”
And meanwhile, back in Port Vila…
2. ON THE WATERFRONT
Port Vila’s full of sleepy little places where you can sit and watch the world go by and The Waterfront Bar and Grill is one of those sleepier little places where you can watch the world stand still.
This day was like most days… the same boats sat at the same moorings, their masts clinking on the same reflections, while their owners sat on the same stool at the same bar contemplating pulling in a big catch.
Or the next day.
The only one reeling in a real living today was Don, the owner, who sat behind the bar practising his card tricks.
Other parts of the bar were populated by regulars, mostly expatriate retirees who had chosen to dwell in a tax haven to avoid paying death duties when the time comes.
One such regular was ‘Flamingo’ Fred, so-called because of his pink face, one leg and the way he tucked the stump up under his backside on the bar stool in the corner.
He’d lost his leg in a boating accident.
The wooden one.
He couldn’t remember how he lost the real one.
He was sitting at the bar, nursing his third Tusker for the morning, when another elderly man approached him.
“Is this stool free?” he asked.
“Nothing’s free in this town, mate” Fred replied, “But you’re more than welcome to park yourself on it.”
“You a tourist or a local?”
“Pity. I could have told you the story of how I arrived here in the eye of a cyclone, was washed up in the jungle and survived on nothing but coconuts and snakes for three months.”
“You can tell me that story.”
“Nah, you might find out I’m lying. Tourists get so wrapped up in the adventure they always buy me at least two beers.” Fred laughed a laugh that ended in a disconcerting nasal chortle.
“Oh well, I’ll buy you one anyway,” the new man offered.
“Ta. That usually works as well.”
“Two Tuskers thanks,” he called to Don. “Anyway, Roger’s the name…”
They shook hands and sat, for a moment in a comfortable silence with Roger taking in the array of maritime flags that adorned the walls.
The drinks arrived.
“So, Fred… you lived in Vila all your life? Roger asked.
“Not yet, but it’s getting closer,” he chortled a chortle that ended in an even more disconcerting wheeze.
“Know what you mean,” Roger said. “So, what did you used to do here?”
“I actually ran a pretty successful small business.”
“I hear that’s rare for this town. How’d you pull that off?”
“Started with a big one.” Fred laughed like a drain. Roger was unmoved. “So it’s an old joke,” Fred coughed, pouring the dregs of his old drink into the new. “Old jokes are allowed, we’re old people!” He dug his new friend in the ribs. “Cheers.”
“Cheers. What line of business were you in then?”
“I ran a dive operation.”
“Uh huh. I’ve actually been sniffing around for something to invest in,” Roger said.
“No, you never know, something could work…”
“No, I meant, would you like a peanut?” Fred said, offering him the bowl on the bar.
“A nightclub, eh?” Roger mused. “Those were the days. These days my back goes out more than I do.”
“Me too,” said Fred. “And restaurants, they’re gone as well. It’s no fun when you sink your teeth into a big juicy steak… and they stay there.” Fred chortled and wheezed loudly again at his own joke.
“Yeah,” Roger nodded, taking another handful of nuts.
“Yeah. You know, they say there are three signs of old age… the first one being losing your memory…”
“And what are the other two?”
He paused. “Can’t remember. But I know I sometimes forget names, Rodney…”
“Oh, you’re an air force chap too, eh? Roger, over and out, eh? Nice nuts?”
“Yes thanks, they’re fine.”
“Good. So, what were we talking about?”
“Losing your memory.”
“Oh yeah. Yeah… I know I sometimes forget names, Rodney… Even forget faces. Forget to zip up sometimes. Forgot to zip down a couple of times. Still, can’t complain, eh?”
“No, I guess not, at least we’ve got our health.”
“Too right. Help yourself to the last of the peanuts, Robert, there’s only a few left.”
“No, no, you have some.”
“Oh not likely, not with my poor old gums. Once I’ve licked the chocolate off them, they’re no good to me.”