The East Coast Jokes are Hip

Fifteen of my schoolmates and I recently embarked on a week-long trip to Washington, D.C. and New York City. The primary purpose of this trip for the five of us who are on the school newspaper staff was to get away from the goofy reporters who have been following us around lately, trying to engage us in annoying conversations.

GOOFY REPORTER: What would you do if, because of the April Fool’s issue of the Tiger Times, the school district were to suspend its publication?
ME: I would buy an Uzi and wipe out the better part of a Vons check-out line.

We all met at 4:00 one Saturday morning, took a bus to Ontario airport, and hopped on a plane, where they promptly tried to eliminate the over-booking problem by feeding us healthy-sized globs of what they probably expected us to think were eggs but that actually more closely resembled, in both taste and texture, soggy tree bark. Since we were all extremely hungry, however, we had no choice but to push the tray aside and nibble on our seat cushions (which, they graciously informed us, could be used as floatation devices if we should happen to make an emergency ocean landing while flying over, say, Kansas).

We flew on TWA (slogan: “We Make You Feel Glad to be on Solid Ground Again”) to Baltimore International, where we were met by our tour-guide/bus driver, whose name was — I swear — Elvis. For those who have been wondering what happened to The King, he is now an illiterate man driving a bus in Maryland (which is pretty much what I’ve thought all along).

Anyway, Elvis herded us onto his bus, where we soon realized that we were trapped and would have no choice but to listen to his Washington, D.C. spiel, which was at best incoherent and at worst made one think that one had bees caught in one’s inner ears.

After taking us to dinner, Elvis took us to the Washington Monument. This particular monument was fairly awe-inspiring, but you could tell the government was in charge of building it. At the bottom, there are all these drawings of the various ideas for the monument that weren’t used. All of them are very ornate and beautiful and spectacular, except for the one they actually chose to use, which resembles a 555-foot white pencil. Leave it to the U.S. Government to insult its forefather by stacking a bunch of white bricks as a memorial to him. I’m glad I’m not a forefather.

We eventually arrived at our hotel, which was in Williamsburg, Virginia. For those of you who have never visited the metropolitan wonderland of Williamsburg, Virginia, let me give you a word of advice: Don’t. It was such a hole in the wall that we all found ourselves wishing we were back in Lake Elsinore, where at least there are some decent frozen yogurt places (847 of them, in fact). It is doubtful at this point that the residents of Williamsburg could even spell “yogurt,” let alone freeze it.

The only thing we could find to do at our hotel was order Domino’s Pizza and hang around the lobby, eating it, and belching. I think the hotel was glad to see us leave the next day.

Next week: Jamestown, Williamsburg, and authentic colonial women’s-libbers.

We spent four days in D.C., then another three in New York City. It was an extremely enjoyable trip, and there were relatively few fatalities.

The part at the beginning about trying to get away from reporters has a history to it. On April 1, the school paper printed its now-famous April Fool's edition. We did this every year on April 1, and it was nothing more than an issue of the paper filled with fictitious stories. Everyone KNEW the stories were fake. There was no question about it. It was all in fun. But, as with most things that are done in fun, some people don't find them funny. And in this case, we went overboard.

When I say "we," of course I mean "the other editors besides myself." Several stories elicited a great deal of anger from faculty and parents. Some of these stories included swear words; another -- the one we got sued over -- implied that two former students were gay. One of the two, who I think actually IS gay, sued the school district and eventually got quite a nice settlement, out of court. I am pleased that I was not involved in the writing of any of the more controversial stories, and that the swear words were written by the editor-in-chief, who was the last one to see the paper before it went to press and was therefore able to slip them in without anyone seeing.

Anyway, the stuff really hit the fan, and every newspaper in the galaxy did a story about the controversy. I was being called by reporters all the time, and so were the faculty adviser and the other student editors. Our trip to the East Coast was already planned for the second week in April, and it couldn't have come at a better time. We were eager to get away from everything for a few days.

Unfortunately, my reference to the April Fool's uproar elicited an uproar of its own. Here is the letter we got, as it was printed on the Letters to the Editor page two weeks later:

I just read 'On the Light Side,' and Eric Snider is right. His jokes ARE tired. [The original headline on the column in question was "I Just Flew in from the East Coast, and Boy are My Jokes Tired!"] Moreover, his 'jokes' are disgusting. In a single article, he called the Washington Monument a 'bunch of bricks' and Williamsburg, Va., a 'hole in the wall.' Most reprehensibly, he evidently considered killing innocent people with an Uzi an appropriate response to irritating questions. It is (to Mr. Snider) a joke to write about it.

Every day innocent people are killed in drive-by shootings. Funny? More and more frequently someone seeks revenge for a lost job by killing former co-workers. Funny? And is it funny that National Park Rangers now carry weapons because two rangers have been killed while patroling our parks?

I just finished jury duty in a murder trial -- a murder just as senseless as the one Mr. Snider jokes about. [I would like to point out that the murder trial this woman was involved in was one in which the victim was killed with an Uzi. This explains a lot about why she was so bothered by my "Uzi" remark.] That little dot of blood surrounding the bullet hole as shown in movies is in reality a pool of blood that covers the victim and the floor surrounding him. It was not funny to look at pictures of the victim in a pool of bright red blood for four weeks. The victim's face is white. Blood is everywhere. The clothing is saturated with blood. it is not funny. It was not a funny experience for the jurors, the district attorney, the victim's family and friends or the witnesses. I think I can fairly say it was not funny for the victim. It did, however, elicit a few snickers from the killer from time to time during the trial. To the killer, it was funny.

It was also not funny when threats were yelled to the jury and the district attorney while the verdicts were read.

But, then, maybe I just have no sense of humor. [Ah-ha!] Maybe I am missing the fun things in life. Maybe I am wrong in believing life is a precious gift to be cherished. Maybe that old bunch of bricks (and the other bunches, such as the Vietnam Memorial) only symbolizes the freedom and right to criticize and degrade what othes have done before in their struggles to create a free and proud land, rather than inspire new generations to keep America great. [Not to argue, but that kind of IS what those memorials memorialize: freedom of speech, and freedom, if we so choose, to degrade what others have done. That's not what I was doing, but she is right in stating that it is my right to do so if I choose. One of the greatest things about America is that I have the right to hate America if I want to. And she has the right to be upset about it.] Maybe they symbolize the right to murder or just joke about murder, regardless of the pain it might cause others. [I agree that Americans have the right to joke about murder, but I have to draw the line at actually murdering. If she considers murdering and JOKING about murdering to be the same thing, then she is a deeply troubled woman.] Maybe the Bill of Rights is incomplete. Have we forgotten the right to indiscriminately kill each other? Or is it just that Americans see so much of it every day that we have become comfortably numb to it -- as long as we, personally, are not involved.

I wrote this letter because I felt Mr. Snider's article to be extremely offensive and inappropriate for a small, supposedly proud, American town -- a town that is currently the chosen location of a serial killer (to dump his victims' bodies). [Yep, we had our own serial killer for a while. Bill Suff was his name, and as it happens, he and I worked together at my grandfather's business for a couple years. Nice guy, except for the whole "killing prostitutes" thing.] Perhaps because the victims, so far, have been drug users and prostitutes, Mr. Snider things that is okay, too. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department doesn't think so. And I bet Mr. Snider would not think it either okay or funny if he should ever be or know a victim.

At the time of the McDonald's restaurant murders, my husband and I lived in the Middle East. We listened to Voice of America daily. VOA described the McDonald's murders as a tragedy. Radio Moscow described the murders as typical of just another day in America. Is Radio Moscow right?

Murder is NEVER funny. Jokes about murder are as disgusting as the actual act.

The letter was printed anonymously, for the woman's safety, as she had received death threats from the man she and the rest of the jury convicted.

I am always glad when the angry letters I get are longer than the columns that inspired them.

I think I am entitled to say that the Washington Monument is a "bunch of bricks." All I meant was that it's not as fancy and beautiful as George Washington was worthy of having to memorialize him.

And I stand by my contention that Williamsburg, Va., is a "hole in the wall," because it is. I will defend this position to my last dying breath.