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Labor Day Memories, and a Few Jokes

Today is Labor Day, which always falls on the first Monday in September. I’m sure that everyone here knows that Labor Day is meant to celebrate the contributions of working people. The concept began in America in the 1880’s, and President Cleveland signed legislation to make Labor Day a national holiday on June 28, 1994. And a well-deserved one it is.

For me as a boy, Labor Day was sort of the unofficial end of summer vacation. I loved summer vacation. I liked school, but I was never bored with days off. It also meant the last doubleheaders of the baseball season. They actually used to play doubleheaders on holidays, until the owners figured out that they could make more money by separating the games into two different days, so there went the doubleheaders I loved, except for when they made up rainouts, which virtually never happened in Los Angeles, so the only doubleheaders to listen to were on the road. Still, I got to see two doubleheaders; one in Dodgers Stadium, and maybe this was actually scheduled in advance. I think the Dodgers won both games, one might have gone extra innings. What fun!

The other one was in San Francisco, and I think it was on Labor Day; we had gone for vacation there, and my parents dropped me and my brother off at Candlestick Park to see an important doubleheader, the Giants vs. the Braves, which mattered to the Dodgers, who were battling those two teams in the division. The original Candlestick Park, in which these games were played, was known to be a park of sometimes howling winds, off the bay, and not muted by enough construction, such as was later put in when they built a new version of Candlestick.

So what I remember is that about the sixth inning of the first game, the winds started to pick up, and in a while, they were blowing everything; bags of peanuts, wrappers, plastic and paper cups, plus a lot of dust. And of course it affected the game. By the time the doubleheader was over, and they were two good games, I was completely sunburned and windburned. The Giants won both games, I was rooting for them, because the Dodgers needed the Braves to lose more than they did the Giants. It was a nice vacation memory, and I can still see that wind whipping through the stands, so unusual at a baseball game. There was actually a pitcher, the Giants’ Stu Miller, who was blown off the mound during an All-Star game played at Candlestick Park.

Well, those are my baseball memories of Labor Day. I have always thought of it as a day to honor working people, and also perhaps to celebrate lounging around, being sure not to do any work on that day. It is hard for many people to actually take a day off, much less a week, but it is necessary. The Protestant Ethic which is imbued in this country, may have some value, but I think it has had a negative effect on our culture, and on the psychology of all of us who live here.

But that is a topic we will save for another day! Since we should be trying to do nothing (unless you really like barbecuing), I will tell a few jokes which I learned from my father, who may have gotten them at work. He always told them well; they were always completely clean; and they were told as stories, like the classic jokes; not one-liners, but little vignettes. And they sort of had a moral to them, at least a light subtext, which actually made the jokes more amusing and memorable. My parents would be proud that I still remember my father telling us the jokes, and I have told them to many people over the years. These are the ones I remember.

The Dodgers were not doing well, they were losing most of their games. Their manager (who may have been Leo Durocher in the original version, but later became Tommy Lasorda), had run out of things to do to possibly turn it around. But one day, as he was sitting in the stands, watching practice, a man he didn’t know, came up to him, and said, “Tommy, I am going to save your season. I’m going to give you the chance to sign the greatest baseball talent I’ve ever seen.”

Lasorda doesn’t believe a word of it, and tells him to go away, but then he thinks that he has nothing to lose So he tells the man to bring out his player, and he’ll let him try out. A few minutes later, the man reappears….leading a horse. Lasorda starts yelling at him to leave and take his horse with him, but the man pleads, “Just give him a chance.” So Lasorda tells a pitcher to go out pitch a few balls to the horse. The horse walks up to the plate, holds the bat between his front hooves, and hits the first pitch about 450 feet over the fence. He does the same with the next eight pitches, he hits them all out of different parts of the ballpark.

Lasorda says, “Okay, that’s impressive, but can he field?” The scout says, “Watch this.” The horse walks out to the outfield, puts a glove on a hoof, and catches every ball hit to him. Lasorda is amazed, and says that he will offer the horse a contract right there. He tells his coaches that he will not put the horse in the starting lineup, but will save him for a key moment. And sure enough, in that night’s game, the Dodgers fall behind again, and they are down 3-1 going into the bottom of the ninth. But they manage to get the bases loaded with two outs. And Lasorda tells the horse to grab a bat and pinch-hit.

The other manager and players complain, but there is no baseball rule that says a horse cannot be on the team, and he has signed a contract, so the umpire waves him to the plate to bat. The first pitch is a fastball, and the horse swings and hits the ball to the deepest part of the ballpark, where it hits the very top of the wall, and bounces away from the outfielder. The runner on third scores, the runner on second is rounding third. But the horse is still standing at home plate. The outfielder is chasing down the ball; the runner on second crosses the plate, the runner on first is now rounding third with the winning run, but the batter has to get to first for any of the runs to count, and he is still standing at home plate. Lasorda jumps out of the dugout and screams at the horse, “Goddammit, why don’t you run?!” The horse turns around, and says to him, “Tommy, if I could run, do you think I’d be playing baseball?”

Another sports joke. A guy named Dave likes to play golf with his friends from work, but they always place bets on the outcome, and he almost always loses, because he is not very good. Sometimes they play in twosomes, where whoever on the two-man team has hit the best ball, closest to the hole, takes the next shot for his team. Dave is absolutely determined to beat his co-workers, for both money and pride, so he is out at the driving range one afternoon, hitting balls. Then he sees an amazing thing. At one of the spots, there is a gorilla, driving balls. He hits a ball 500 feet, right to what would be the green, on a regular golf course. He hits the next shot 480 feet or so. The next one, the same.

Dave goes up to the gorilla, and begs him to play with him in his weekly competition. To his surprise, the gorilla agrees. So at the scheduled weekend game, Dave arrives a little early, and tells his two so-called buddies, that he wants to play with two-man teams, and best ball. They agree. Dave says that he has been practicing, and that he wants to raise the wager from $50 a hole to $250 a hole. They are a little suspicious, but they love taking Dave’s money. They say that that they don’t care who his partner is, as long as he has never been on the PGA Tour, or on any high school or college team. Dave promises that he has not, so the bet is made. Then Dave brings out the gorilla from the clubhouse, and the men are astounded.

They line up for their first shots. One of the men on the other team hits a nice drive on the Par 5 hole. Dave hits a weak drive, about 100 yards less. The other opponent, hits a comparable drive to his partner. The gorilla takes out his driver, steps up to the ball, and whack!, hits the drive about 500 yards, straight down the center, past the fairway, on to the green, where it stops two feet from the hole. Dave’s opponents are stunned.

Dave is chortling. “You guys want to pay me now, at a discount, or do you want to lose all 18 holes?’ The other guys say nothing; the man who hit the best ball for them, takes his second shot, with a wedge, and gets it on the fairway, pretty much in line to get it in the hole in three more shots, and make par. The gorilla is of course best ball for Dave’s team, his ball two feet from the hole. He takes out a putter from his bag, walks up to the ball…and, whack!, he hits the ball 500 yards..

The final joke is one which almost took me aback when my father told it to me, and then I started laughing, which is rare for me when I hear a joke, I usually just smile; and my father started laughing, too. It is about a workplace where the employees usually take their lunches to a large lunchroom, where they can spend the hour together, talking about the day, telling stories,and the like.

One day, a new man comes to work there. He appears to be a taciturn type, he just does his work, and when it is time for lunch, he goes to an empty chair in the lunchroom, sits down, and opens his lunch bag. He eagerly looks inside, takes out the wrapped paper opens it, shakes his head, and says, “Peanut butter again.” He eats a bite or two, then throws it away.

The next day, the same thing happens. The man sits down by himself, opens his sack lunch, shakes his head, sadly says. “Peanut butter,” and puts it away. This happens every day for two weeks; the man opens his lunch with an eager expression, then says, “Peanut butter, once again,” and either throws it away, or eats a bite or two, then wraps it back up, and puts it back in the paper bag.

Finally, one of the other men, feeling bad for him, gets up and walks over to him and says, “Hey, I don’t mean to intrude, but every day I watch you come in here, and you look forward to your lunch, and then it’s peanut butter, and you barely eat any of it, or throw it away. Why don’t you tell your wife to make you something else for lunch??” The man shakes his head, and says, “That wouldn’t do any good. I make my own sandwiches.”

So there you have three jokes which might elicit a smile or two. They are in an old-fashioned style, as befits a nicely old-fashioned American holiday. Happy Labor Day.