Oct 16: SKULL


Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

So a guy walks into the Hangar Bar last Sunday night, well after the game had wrapped up, with a big fake skull under his arm.  I mean, this is no normal-sized skull, it’s as big as a beach ball.  There are little purple lightbulbs in the eye sockets.  That kind of thing.

He puts it on the bar, holds up a finger, and the skull says, “I’d like a beer for me and a vodka for the skull.  He only drinks spirits.”

We all crack up about that.  I tossed down a pair of fives on the bar.  A schtick like that, you shouldn’t have to pay for your drinks, even if it is a cheesy one-liner coming from a cheap plastic skull.

He downs the beer while the skull says, “What’s a skeleton’s favorite food?”

Someone shouts out, “Spare ribs!”

“What do skeletons say before they start to eat?”

“Bone appetit!”

More laughter.  Every time the skull said something, its eyes flashed purple.  I started looking it over to see where the mike was, but didn’t spot anything.

“So how does it work, mister? You got a thousand cheesy jokes programmed in this thing or what?” I asked.

“Nah, just a good funny bone,” the skull said.  That’s when I became convinced that the guy was an honest-to-God ventriloquist and not just a guy carrying a joke-telling skull.  The timing was just too good.

“You got a real skull with words,” I agreed.

The skull’s eyes flashed as it chuckled appreciatively.  I patted the guy on the shoulder and went back to my beer.

And wouldn’t you know it, but that’s when Hank walked into the bar.  For the first time in months.

Hank was a barfly to beat all barflies, charming until he was so violent he had to be carried outside by the cops and dried out overnight in a cell.  He walked a knife’s edge of goodwill all over that part of town, cycling through the local bars, trying to spend enough time away from them that they forgot about his bad side and just remembered the good one—a jovial tall-tale teller who laughed at everyone else’s jokes.

Hank said, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but why did the skeleton go disco dancing?”

The skull said, “Why, to see the boogie man!”

You coulda heard a pin drop as Hank looked over the duo, man and skeleton.

“Don’t go spoiling other people’s jokes,” he said.  “It ain’t polite.”

Scratch the surface of Hank’s good side, and you get down to his bad side real quick.

He cleared his throat.  “What do skeletons say before they start to—”

This time, half the bar chimed in, skull included.  “Bone appetit!”

“Shut up, you clowns!” Hank shouted.  He stalked closer to the ventriloquist.  “Let a guy tell a joke or…”

“Or what?” asked the skull.

Hank’s face turned red.  Through gritted teeth, he said, “You wanna find out?  Why do skeletons only drink vodka?”

“Because…” The skull paused for effect.  Strangely, Hank was staring into the skull’s eyes and not the ventriloquist’s.  “…they only like spirits.”

“That’s it,” Hank roared.

I expected him to punch the ventriloquist in the mouth, but no.  He picked up the skull off the bar with both hands and threw it on the floor.

The thing smashed open.  Not like glass.  Not even like plastic.  More like a pumpkin.

Inside was…nothing.  No mechanical equipment, no speaker, no wires eletrical or mechanical.  Just a thick skull-shaped rind around a layer of white squash flesh.

We all stood and stared.  Hank too.

The bartender, Tully, said, “I think it’s time for you to get out here, Hank, before I call the cops.”

With an immense dignity, Hank turned around and walked back outta the bar.  He hasn’t been back to the Hangar since.

The ventriloquist pointed at the smashed skull pieces, then at the bar, and we all helped him pick everything up and put it all on the bar an a jumbled heap.

“I’m sorry, mister,” Tully said.  “We can take up a collection for you to get it replaced—”

The ventriloquist lifted a finger and we all went quiet.  Out of one pocket came a silk handkerchief, which he shook out and spread over the smashed skull.  Then he pulled a collapsible wand out of his pocket, shook that out, and started making passes with it over the skull pieces.

Not just a ventriloquist but a stage magician, I realized.

But not a single mystic word did the man speak.

Finally he held out his hand, made one last pass with the wand, and started to lift off the handkerchief…slowly.

Very slowly.

Under the handkerchief, the skull said, “Wait for it…wait for it…”

The magician swept the handkerchief away.

The skull was back, just as it had been before.

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one,” it said.  “Why was the skull such a motormouth?”

Nobody answered.

“Because it could jaw all night long!  Open your mouth, Joe, and give ’em something to remember us by.”

The magician opened his mouth.  Inside we could all see the stump of a tongue…

He picked up the skeleton and put it under his arm.  I suddenly noticed that the shot glass of vodka, which had been under the handkerchief with the rest of the bits, was now empty.

I tucked a hundred dollar bill in the man’s pocket on the way out.

A shtick like that, you shouldn’t have to pay for your drinks.


This one is Spider Robinson meets The Twilight Zone.