Bill came down in a wheelchair today. He has gray hair with a display of stubble growth on his chin and cheeks. He face is sunken and his smile reveals four yellowed incisors standing up like a gate guarding his palate. He parked his chair by the donated book section.
“I found a book,” he yelled out with a smile as he showed me the cover and asked if I ever heard of or read Stephen King. I nodded and said told him I read many of his novels.
“My father had a cabin in northern Main four doors down from him. King bought the cabin from me eight years ago after my father passed away. We used to spend our summers there.”
Now he had my full attention, mostly because I had read about King’s cabin in Bangor, Maine.
“What brings you to the hospital,” I asked him.
“I have terminal lung cancer,” he said with a smile as if it was a joke.
I asked him what the next step was.
“I’m going to live out the rest of my life doing whatever I want to do.”
He then asked me if I had heard about the death of Willie Nelson earlier in the day.
“What did you say?” I asked him in disbelief as I paged through the day’s newspaper trying to find the details about the Nelson death.
“I don’t see anything in the newspaper,” I told him. “What time did this occur?”
I think early in the morning,” he replied, still smiling. “But hear me out,” he said. And then he proceeded with a punch line which I don’t recall except that it had to do with being “On the Road Again.”
“That isn’t funny,” I told him. “Never tell a joke about someone dying.”
It was as if he didn’t hear me, as if he was oblivious to what I had just said.
“What do you call a rabbit under anesthesia?”
I shook my head.
“An ether bunny.” And he laughted at his own joke.
“What do you call a bald-headed rabbit?”
I just shrugged my shoulders.
“Hare today and gone tomorrow.”
“What do you feed a gay horse for breakfast in the morning?”
“Where does the Lone Ranger take his garbage?”
“Where?” I asked as if the question wasn’t related to a punchline.
To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump.”
That one brought me a smile and some laughter.
“What do you get when you cross a blond with a gorilla?
“Oh, no. Not the blond jokes.” And yes, I’m a blond.
“You wind up with a retarded gorilla.”
“What do you call six blonds in a circle?
“A dope ring.”
“That’s enough of the blond jokes,” I told him as I grinned.
“You’ve heard of Tony Orlando . . .
He died from a heart attack three days ago.
He woke up at the crack of dawn.”
Oh no, I thought. Another joke about someone dying. This time I didn’t point it out to him. I thought about his coping mechanism and suddenly I understood what he was doing. I looked at him as he pondered his next joke. He grinned and stroked the two day stubble on his chin before he began to speak again.
“What do you call . . . . .