"You can sit by me. I don't bite. I've had all my teeth pulled. Declawed, lobotomized, circumcised -- I'm safe," said the cigar smoker perched at the end of the bar at Melrose Club.
Despite the purported surgical procedures, he was full of jokes. "I went to that fundraiser for Jim Long and learned lots of new black jokes," said he, then launched into an ancient joke about an African-American child being unable to spell the word "electrician." Except he didn't use the word African-American.
"I'm not prejudiced," he said. "I hate everyone. You ever read the Whirl? It's hilarious!"
He gets the bartender to hand him a copy of the legendary local fishwrap from behind the bar, chuckling as he reads aloud headlines about "two-legged jackals."
"Stay away from streets named after states," he chortles. "Hey, I've got another joke. This one's not dirty at all. The teacher asks a boy to use the word 'fascinate' in a sentence. Kid says, 'My aunt's got such big titties that her sweater has ten buttons but she can only fasten eight.' See? That's one's not dirty."
As the evening unspools, the Joker's fellow patrons are glued to the Cardinals-Brewers game. When Yadier Molina puts the Cards ahead with a two-run single, the Joker cheers and applauds with the rest of the bar. His repertoire appears not to contain any jokes about Puerto Ricans who win baseball games.
As the bocce ball leagues finish their games at Milo's Bocce Garden, players stop at Melrose for a cheap nightcap and to share the gossip from down the street under the statue of a bead-bedecked Roman goddess planted at the corner of the bar.
The Joker's tired and considers going home. "Leave work at 6:30, gotta be home by 10:30." He leaves before 10 so he can catch a rerun of Two and a Half Men from the couch where he sleeps.
"Yeah, quit sleeping with the wife years ago, so might as well be on the couch so I don't have to walk up the stairs."
"You don't even have hallway sex with her?" the bartender puts in.
"What's that? When you flip each other off and say 'fuck you' as you pass in the hallway? Yeah, we still do that."
Set 'em up, knock 'em down.
He complains that dinner won't be waiting for him. Maybe he'll make a shrimp and pasta salad.
The bartender wishes him luck with that endeavor. The Joker stubs out his cigar, puts The Evening Whirl behind the bar and takes his leave.
Melrose Club 5400 Southwest Avenue 314-644-5288