The Joke’s on Them

soda shop, 1940s, true story, before WWIIWhen the older man enters the soda shop, Nev ignores him and continues wiping down the counter. The usual customers are teenagers right after school. But it’s 5:30 now, and Nev just wants to finish up his chores and get home.

“Coca Cola, son,” the man says. He must be over 40, and wears a business hat and fedora, carrying a briefcase. Nev fills the glass and takes it over to the bar stool.

They share some incidentals. The man works in the city and takes the train to work every day. The high schooler relates that his mom works two jobs; his dad hasn’t been around since he was 2, so he pitches in when he can.

“That you I see smoking with the Zoot suiters some days near the train station?” the man asks.

Zoot suit, 1940s fashion

Photo Meier & Rivera 145

Nev straightens up, ready to defend his friends. Only outcasts wear Zoot suits in their small New Jersey town – blacks and Hispanics. Nev is neither, but he likes to be a rebel.

“Yes, sir.”

“You ever dress like that?” the man asks, not unkindly.

“I’d lose my job,” Nev admits. “Plus, I’ve got my eye on a girl. She wouldn’t approve.”

Ignoring this, the man begins to tell Nev an off color joke. Surprised, Nev listens and laughs uproariously at the punch line. The man throws him a tip and saunters out.

Two days later, the older gentleman reappears, drinking a soda and bantering with the teenager. “You hear the one about the fisherman and worms?” the man asks. He’s never revealed his name, so Nev never does either. “No.”

“Well, a man drinks a shot of whiskey every night before bed. After years of this his wife wants him to quit, so she gets two shot glasses, filling one with water, the other with whiskey. She gets him to the table with the glasses and his bait box. She says ‘I want you to see this.’ The wife puts a worm from the bait box in the water, and it swims around. She puts a worm in the whiskey and the worm dies. ‘So what do you have to say about this experiment?’ she asks her husband. He replies, ‘IF I DRINK WHISKEY I WON’T GET WORMS!’”

Nev laughs so hard he begins to hiccup. He feels so emboldened that he tells a joke to the older businessman. A joke he heard from his Zoot suit friends. A very dirty joke.

When he recites the last line: “And he never asked her to do that again,” Nev pauses, afraid he’s crossed the line and lost a friend. Silence ensues for a long moment, and then the man says, “That’s a good one, but this one is even better.” Within a minute, Nev’s blush is redder than the shop’s bar stools.

Fedora, 1940s fashionA few weeks later, Nev’s older friend asks a personal question. “What do you do for fun, son?”

Nev mumbles about enjoying jazz and pizza with the guys.

“No girlfriend?”

“I’m gonna marry the cutest girl in our senior class,” Nev boasts.

“Really? When?” the man sips his soda and checks the time on this watch. He always leaves by 5:45, saying his wife expects him by 6 p.m. on the dot.

“I’ve got to ask her out, first,” Nev confesses.

“Good god man, where are your balls? Ask the girl out and be done with it!” Then he narrates another dirty joke, and Nev does the same.

Coca ColaBut Nev realizes that his old friend, a man he wishes were his father – though Nev knows of no fathers who tell their sons dirty jokes and drink Coca Cola after work – is right. So the next day at school he asks Marcia out. She’s the most popular girl in school, flirts with all the good-looking boys, and dresses like a fashion model.

“Sure!” she says when he tells her he’d like to take her to the new place in town where jazz is played all night long. “But you’re going to have to meet my parents first. My dad is strict!”

Nev picks Marcia up at her home in a neighborhood much nicer than the one he lives in. He wears his best pair of pants and his only dress shirt, shines his shoes, and slicks his hair back with cream. Heart pounding, he bangs the brass knocker on the large oak door.

What if her parents don’t like him? What if they can tell he’s from the other side of town?

He considers turning around and running, but then he thinks how he’d disappoint his older friend the next time he comes to the soda shop for a Coke and a joke.

Marcia opens the door with a sunny smile, “Come on in and meet my dad and mom!”

Standing there, right behind the girl he loves, is the soda-shop-gentleman with his arm around a petite older woman.

Marcia’s father doesn’t bat an eye. “So you’re Neville,” he says, hand out for a shake.

Not one word that they know each other.

Not one word that they’ve bandied dirty jokes twice a week for the past two months.

“Nice to meet you, sir,” Nev replies. He promises to have Marcia back by 10 and walks her out of the house, waiting with baited breath to see if the father, his old friend, stops them.

“Have a great time!” Marcia’s dad shouts.

And the two young people step out into their future.

WWII, WWI vet, WWII vet

This is a true story about my Dad, Neville (on right), and my mom’s dad, Phillip (on left).


WW II romance

The two men didn’t tell Marcia or her mom about their soda shop acquaintance until three years later, after Nev served our country as a paratrooper in WWII and married Marcia one week after his return.



122 thoughts on “The Joke’s on Them

    • I realized as I wrote this story about my dad and grandfather that I learned to be a story teller from my dad. He told most of his stories in ‘joke’ form though! Guess he learned that from his father-in-law. 🙂 Many thanks for your response!

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    • I didn’t know whether to tell readers from the beginning that this was a true story, but I figured either way, they’d enjoy the gist of it. Just icing on the top to learn it was true. Thanks so much, Barbara. xo

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    • I think we could entertain ourselves, and others, with our real life ‘ordinary’ stories, if we just stop and think about it, Ally. You’re so right. I heard this story about my dad and grandfather my entire life, and all of a sudden realized it would be a good one to write. :-0

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    • WOW, thank you Amy. It was one of those things when all of a sudden I remembered this story as I was pondering what to post. I think the fact that I recently made a new photo album out of my mom’s old coming-apart 1940s album helped spur me on. ❤


    • Many thanks, Bernadette. I recently found these old photos of my dad and grandfather and dad and mom when he was on furlough from WWII, and their story almost wrote itself. I certainly heard it a lot when I was a child. xo


    • Ohhh, thank you so much Ben. My parents definitely did step out into their future as soon as the war ended. Their love kept them together for many years as they raised a family (and listened to a lot of jazz). I was raised on their love, jazz records, and family stories like this one.


    • That’s the way I read it, Kate ~> Marcia had a crush on Neville, the dreamy guy that worked in the soda shop . . . dad decided to stop by and check him out . . . Nev passed muster . . . dad then encouraged him to ask out “the cutest girl in the senior class” (knowing that Neville meant Marcia).

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  1. Often real life is better than fiction. This is really an inspiring story and I just love it to pieces. Your dad and mom and you grandfather must have been wonderful and down to earth people. Wonder if you could turn this into a book?

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    • Thanks for enjoying my true-love-tale about my dad and grandfather and mom. I don’t think I’d continue it as a book, because in the distant future, the ending is not particularly a happy one. But perhaps the times of their life that were full of love and laughter count just as much as the pain of lost love. My dad and grandfather had a delightful friendship that helped my grandfather cope with the too-early-death of my grandmother. My granddad never fully recovered. As sad as that was for me as a child, I also realized how deep and wonderful my grandparents’ marriage had been.

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  2. I love this–wonderful story with a true punch–Lie is so fabulous with all its ups, downs and surprises around the corner! When I “grow up”, Pam–I want to be a great story-teller like you 🙂

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    • Ohhh, you’re so sweet! My dad taught me how to be a storyteller (although I didn’t realize it at the time). He had the ability to remember every joke he’d ever heard, and he always told just the right joke for the right circumstance. I think my grandfather passed on that gift to him. xo


    • I wonder, Patricia. The way my dad told the story, the “older gentleman” (who ended up being my grandfather) didn’t know that the boy serving him at the soda shop was his daughter’s sweetie. That truth may never be revealed. 🙂


    • Thank you, Gerlinde. My parents definitely had a romantic dating time. Dad introduced my mom to jazz, and they even watched a young Frank Sinatra sing at a NYC bar before they were married! ❤


  3. I’m so used to your spinning a yarn that the truth at the end brought a happy gasp! 😀

    I remember drinking ice cream sodas at the Rexall drug story in my hometown, the seating area glowing with indirect indigo lighting. And my dad wore a fedora, no feather thought. He was Mennonite after all!

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    • Thanks for enjoying my dad’s (and granddad’s) story, Peta. I remember as a child my dad trying to explain to me what a Zoot suit looked like. He always wished he’d been brave enough to wear one. He began hanging out (and smoking) with the “Zoot suiters” when he was 14. Unfortunately, he was then addicted to nicotine his entire life. :-0 But he was always grateful that he met ‘the older gentleman,’ who made him feel like a beloved son (and then became his father-in-law).


    • I DID get my storytelling abilities from my dad, for sure, Balroop. And my dad’s mom wrote a ‘romance’ novel that she kept in her lingerie drawer until she died. I’m writing in honor of both of them. ❤


    • I promise, the story of my dad and granddad is 100% true. My granddad was a veteran of WWI, and he supported my dad so much when he fought in WWII. They became good friends their entire lives. (And enjoyed telling each other a good joke always…)


    • I’m so glad I still have these photos! I digitalized them and made a new album so they’ll continue to be passed from generation to generation. xo Thanks so much for reading and enjoying. ❤


  4. That’s one of the better stories I’ve heard. I knew there was a hook in there but never imagined it was true. I would have loved to hear everything that followed, especially when the truth came out…:)

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    • I would have loved to have heard my dad and grandfather confess how they first met up too, George. Although my grandmother died too young (when I was 6) I can still hear her saying to my grandfather, “Oh Philllll,” every time he did something silly. 🙂

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    • I just read this post to our granddaughter Sophie (9). Her eyes were big the entire time, and she loved the photos of her great-grandmother Nanny (now 93) and her great-grandfather, whom she never met. I realize now the importance of sharing our family stories through the generations, Sue. You are so right! xo


    • When a reader gets emotionally involved with a story I’ve written, I get emotionally involved with the reader. THANK YOU for feeling how amazing it was, the way this story played out for my dad and (to be) grandfather. The world is a mysterious incredible place.


  5. I can hardly believe this is true! Wow, to think this happened, and to your family. No wonder you are who you are–the Universe has been actively engaged in your family since way back when! Great story, Pam.

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  6. I thought it was fiction until I got to the end. Since I love happy endings and it turned out to be a true family memoir it was even a better ending, Pam. Wasn’t it amazing how the relationship between your Dad and the anonymous business man evolved into a long lasting family bond? Wonderful story!

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  7. Pam, what a heartwarming story and how wonderful that it’s true!! 😀 I wonder how your father felt when he saw your mother’s father for the first time at their house … bet his heart rate didn’t slow down for a long while! I love how they both kept their cool and didn’t let on they already knew each other … until three years later! So glad you shared this tale with us – it’s beautiful. xx

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