#558: Overinvolved Explanations to Four Chicago Jokes I’ve Heard

November 20th, 2015

There are two seasons in Chicago: Winter and construction.

Although this joke is commonly applied to many major metropolitan areas, Chicago’s position as a northern U.S. city (latitude 41°52′55″N according to this version of Wikipedia apparently written in a Scottish accent) coupled with the “lake effect” of cold winds move across long expanses of warmer lake water, picking up water vapor which freezes and is deposited on the Lake Michigan lee shores, creates cold and snowy winters.

The 1956 creation of the Eisenhower interstate system can be seen as both cause and effect of the white flight of Chicago post-WWII. Whether chicken or egg, the roadways exacerbated Chicago’s car culture by creating a commuter class dependent on the automobile for transport between Chicago workplaces and suburban homes. Chicago’s heavy traffic load coupled with the freezing and thawing of the city’s cold winters and hot summers create citywide conditions of potholes and other damaged roadways.

The combination of those two factors creates a city where gravely needed construction and road repair projects must be shelved for long periods of time, waiting for and grouped within warmer months.

The joke might also be a wry allusion to the history of corruption and graft in city construction projects, depending on how big a nerd that particular joke-teller might be.

Why can’t Jay Cutler use the phone anymore?

Because he can’t find the receiver.

This is in reference to American football (called “gridiron” overseas according to this version of Wikipedia written for people just learning English), specifically the quarterback of the former Decatur Staleys football club.

The term “receiver” has a dual meaning here, both technological (the portion of a telephone, or “phone,” into which a person listens) and athletic (the “wide receiver” offensive position in both American and Canadian football expected to catch forward passes from quarterbacks such as Jay Cutler [not to be confused with human Rob Liefeld drawing Jay Cutler]).

Rightly or wrongly, Cutler has a reputation as a poor quarterback, unable to “find” the “receiver” with the ball during passing plays.

How many Chicago cops does it take to throw a black guy down a flight of stairs?

None. He “fell.”

This one means we’ve given up.

The Chicago Police Department’s long history of violence against suspects, particularly African-Americans, is documented to the point of calamity. While most of the most egregious practices have been linked to past administrations, the department under current head Garry McCarthy has played numbers games with murder statistics and has been accused of a litany of crimes in the global press.

Several local lawyers’ major problem with a UK newspaper’s investigation into one CPD detention facility is that the article made it sound like the problems were limited to that one spot.

But we don’t call for officials’ heads, we publicize their weddings.

For the record, I salute the police for the work they do on a daily basis. I watched a press conference online yesterday where officers asked reporters to encourage an uncooperative public to assist with the investigation into the death and dismemberment of a 2-year-old boy.

I cannot imagine what it takes to be involved in a situation as gruesome and troubling as that. I do not have the courage to step into a gang firefight or intervene in a domestic abuse situation.

But courage isn’t a pass. Neither is telling a relatively clever joke.

“Black guy down a flight of stairs” is my favorite Chicago joke. I’ve told it probably a few hundred times in the 12 years since I’ve heard it. I think I’m going to retire it from the repertoire.

By making a joke of it, even a joke that points out an ongoing social issue, I’m playing into Chicago’s long history of accepting the unacceptable. Like the online commenter who chuckles about “the Chicago way” or the suburbanite expat who shrugs off new stories of graft and corruption with comparisons to the days of Daley the First, I’ve confused savvy with apathy.

As any satirist knows, humor can inspire social change. But this isn’t J. Swift or Dick Gregory. This is a drunk guy at a party thinking pointing a finger at social injustice is somehow the same as fighting it and hey that’s pretty funny, did you hear the one about Chicago streets that rhyme with vagina and that “Cubs” stands for “Completely Useless By September”?

We can use humor to galvanize people to action. We can also use humor to numb ourselves against things we should let hurt. This seems more like the latter to me, and I like my humor a little more meaningful.

What three Chicago streets rhyme with “vagina”?

Paulina, Melvina and Lunt.

I don’t get this one at all, Mom. I swear.

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