Sunday, December 9, 2007


I have been thinking about my comment yesterday that the ability to tell a good joke is an asset in all walks of life (see: steward). Our priest is an example of that. He keeps us entertained with a good joke every now and then, like this one after Mass this morning.

Jew: “You stole all our commandments.”
Catholic: “True. But we didn’t keep them.”

Truth is, the ability to tell a good joke is an asset in most walks of life, but there was a time in my own life when it wasn’t helpful at all.

In the summer before my senior year of college, I was working at the Chamber’s Belt Factory in Phoenix, AZ. I was employed to stand at a table and paint the edges of belts with black ink. If some of the ink accidentally spilled onto the front of the belt, it could be carefully removed with a rag before it dried; but if some of the ink accidentally spilled onto the inside of the belt, it left a permanent stain that decreased the value of the merchandise. It was tiring, tedious and surprisingly stressful work. The quality of my inking could determine whether a belt went to Marshall’s or Macy’s and the supervisors were always on the lookout to judge if someone was ruining too many belts.

There was one other requirement that made the job almost unbearable for me. We could not talk to our co-workers at all. We were required to remain absolutely silent and I am not the silent type. There was a woman stationed at my table directly across from me who did not have a problem with this. She was as proficient as a robot, and she didn’t make a sound. She would grab a stack of belts from the cart on her left, stand them on edge on the table in front of her, tilt them slightly toward her, hold them steady with her left hand while she dipped her sponge into a bowl of ink with her right hand, spread the ink across the edges of the belts with just the right amount of pressure to avoid a spill, return the sponge to the ink, tilt the belts slightly toward me and repeat. She would then flip the belts over onto the just painted end, repeat the entire process and place the finished belts on another cart to her right. Though she was only about six feet away from me, she never looked across the table at me and she never said a word. She just worked her magic on one stack of belts after another.

I spent most of my first day wiping the ink off of the leather and painting belts that would end up on somebody’s discount rack. It was really difficult to get the angle of the belts and the pressure of the sponge exactly right. Once I, more or less, got the hang of it, the silence got to me and I decided to talk to the lady at my table whether it was against the rules or not. I figured a joke would be a good icebreaker.

“You’re really good at this. You must have quite a few years under your BELT!”

No response.

“Want to go out for a few BELTS after work?” Trust me, it’s not hard to come up with belt jokes when you have nothing but the companionship of belts for hours on end.

The robot looked at me as if I were an alien. No smile. No comment. There was definitely, no laugh. I would have been happy with a groan.

On subsequent days, I tried:

“You make this job look like a CINCH!”

“If you don’t answer me today, I’m going to BELT you one.”

“I think this silence rule hits way below the BELT.”

In the end, I was making the jokes for myself. I didn’t even expect a response. I should not have been devastated when I was fired, but I was.

Years later, I heard a belt joke that was actually funny:

“What did the number 0 say to the number 8?”
“Nice BELT!”

For just a moment I wondered if that would have made the robot smile. I doubt it. Being able to tell a good joke is an asset in most lines of work, but it’s not worth diddly squat at Chamber’s Belts.

1 comment:

Jill said...

I've always thought those jokes on the belt line were pretty clever and funny. Maybe the woman didn't speak English?