The dim room was almost filled to capacity — not bad for a Wednesday night. The buzzing hum of alcohol-induced conversation mingled with the upbeat background music. A low spotlight shone onto the stage and in its haloed grasp stood a dented chrome microphone stand and a wooden stool.

Sam stood a few feet off stage with a furrowed brow. If any of the patrons had bothered to look over their drinks at him, they probably would have thought the comedian was reviewing his set. But they’d be wrong, because Sam was mulling over something much more serious than his routine.

Thirty minutes earlier, Sam had received a phone call from a friend who worked in a lawyer’s office and in a hurried conversation she blurted that Sam’s Aunt Minnie had been in that afternoon. Apparently, Aunt Minnie and the attorney met in the conference room behind closed doors, and while most of the privileged conversation was imperceptible, the eavesdropper managed to make out a few muffled words: will, son, and change.

It wasn’t exactly the words, but more the order in which his Aunt Minnie had said them, that sent Sam into a rage. After all these years, after all I did for her, he thought. His fists slowly clenched and unclenched as his cheeks turned slightly red. The endless doctors’ visits, carting her to church every Sunday, doing her godforsaken grocery shopping — even walking her ugly bulldog mutt! She is stabbing me in the back for her bum-of-a-son who has been in and out of jail his entire adult life. He just waltzes back in from his most recent stint in that Florida rehab and she is giving him everything and cutting me out! Now that loser is getting the million in the bank and the house free and clear and I’m getting screwed. I DON’T THINK SO!

The sound of his named pulled Sam out of his mental rant. Polite applause and drunken hoots met him as he walked up to the stage and grabbed the mic. It was show time.

“Good evening, everyone,” he greeted as he scanned the crowd. He noticed a young couple in the front row who appeared to be on a very awkward first date. “If you are looking for comedy, you came to the wrong place. I’m a white, middle-aged man. I’m not funny. I’m angry.” A few titters broke out. The young couple looked at each other nervously.

“Speaking of being middle-aged,” Sam continued, “I learned the hard way that you never stop growing; it’s just that instead of growing vertically, you start growing horizontally.” Sam beamed at the audience and gave his slight paunch a pat, causing the crowd to laugh a little harder. “That’s okay because I have found the secret to middle-aged weight loss — untuck your shirt!”

Sam paused to take a swig from his bottle of Evian. I’m going to kill her, he thought as the slightly warm water slid down his throat. Hell, she’d be dead already if it weren’t for me. I was the one who went to check on her and found her naked and crying in the bathtub last year because she couldn’t even get out on her own. Nobody even realized she was missing except me. If I didn’t find her she would have eventually drowned or suffocated or suffered from hypothermia. He screwed the cap back onto the water bottle and watched as the young girl in the front flinched when her date tried to hold her hand. Hmm, getting hypothermia in your own bathtub — there’s got to be a joke somewhere in that.

Sam continued his monologue, making sure to keep his clear and even tempo. “Well, it’s that time of year again and me and my family went to get our Christmas tree. As I was paying for it, the man behind the counter said, ’don’t forget to give it lots to drink when you bring it home.’ Now, why the hell would we want to do that? If it drinks too much, won’t it become tipsy and fall over?” He looked over at an overweight brunette who clearly had one too many a martini. “She knows all about that!” he shouted, pointing at the drunken lady.

The audience roared.

He went on with his Christmas theme for a few minutes before concluding with “… and then Rudolf the Red-Nosed Rat told Santa that Mrs. Claus was screwing one of the elves. Santa, who has mad enough to shoot a reindeer, got in his wife’s face and screamed ’YOU’RE A HO, HO, HO!”

The room filled with hoots and hollers — even the young couple was laughing. After a minute, the laughter subsided. Off the cuff, Sam mentioned, “Ah, the ho joke never gets old.”

He spun around to face the wall for a minute so his ever-loyal audience wouldn’t see him gritting his teeth. Speaking of being old and a ho, how am I going to kill her and make it look like an accident? Suffocating her with a pillow should work, Sam ruminated before shaking his head slightly. Nah, I saw somebody try that on Law and Order and they got caught. I think it was something about bruises to the chest — that damn coroner was always such a pain in the ass.

Sam regained his composure and slowly turned around to face the crowd. “So I took my seven-year-old son to his first karate class and the instructor told him that he must look his opponent in the eyes when bowing. As he and my son did a run-through, he wanted to make sure my boy had been paying attention and quizzed him by asking him to name the color of his eyes. You know what my boy says without missing a beat? ’Bloodshot.’”

The audience roared and Sam chuckled as he replayed the memory in his head.

“Chip off the old block,” Sam proudly announced. “When you have kids the jokes practically write themselves.”

Sam’s warm smile suddenly turned icy and calculating. Maybe I’ll stage a break-in, make it look like a burglary gone bad. I’ll smash her face with a hammer. Yeah, that could work! Sam thought. Wait, no, that wouldn’t be right. Aunt Minnie always says she wants an open casket when people say their final goodbyes. I’m no monster; I’ll grant Aunt Minnie her last wish.

Sam noticed more and more people were diddling on their phones and knew he was slowly losing his audience. It was time to pick up the pace and break out the one-liners. Yes, it was time for his infamous Old Man jokes.

“Let me tell you something about my ole man!” Sam shouted.

Some of the regulars began to hoot and holler because if Sam was known for one thing, it was wreaking verbal havoc on his old man.

“Let me tell you, my ole man was something else,” Sam continued with a grin. “He could really tell up a storm. Whoever thinks light travels faster than sound, never heard my ole man yell.”

The crowd responded with a hearty laugh. Sam smiled triumphantly as he saw a few people tuck away their iPhones.

“My ole man was particularly loud when drank — and he drank all the time,” Sam confided. ’In fact, my ole man is the only person who got carpal tunnel from popping too many beer cans!”

The crowd hollered away, with some listeners nodding their heads as if they now shared some kind of drunken-father kinship with Sam. They didn’t need to know that Sam’s dad was actually a God-fearing veteran whose only sip of the Devil’s liquid had been champagne at his wedding.

“As my ole man liked to say, alcoholism ain’t a disease — it’s an adventure!”

Maybe they had all experienced an AA meeting or two, but for whatever reason, this line struck a chord with the crowd and they burst into cheers.

When they had quieted down, Sam shot them a knowing grin. “If you just laughed at that last joke, congratulations — you’re alcoholic!”

An old man, who looked to be a long-lost member of ZZ Top, raised his bottle of Budweiser. “Cheers!” he yelled, as beer dribbled into his gray rat’s nest of a beard.

“Anyway,” Sam said without missing a beat, “my ole man drank so much that when I was little, I thought beer commercial songs were lullabies. Every night, Dad would sing me these songs to get me to sleep. This one’s for you, buddy!” Sam shouted, pointing to the old drunk.

Here comes the king,

Here comes the king,

Here comes the big number one.

As Sam finished his rendition of the classic Budweiser jingle, he went straight into another ditty. “Oh, Shaffer is the one beer to have when you’re having more than one” he warbled as the crowd clapped along. “What about this one? You have to know this tune. Come on guys, sing it with me!”

I got a taste for living, I’m drinking cold blue ribbon,

I got Pabst Blue Ribbon on my mind!

The room erupted with cheers and clapping as the song came to its raucous end. Sam glanced at the clock and went into his Winnie the Pooh monologue. As he joked about Pooh Bear and Mrs. Roo’s secret romance, the comedian was having quite a different conversation in his head. What about an overdose? Aunt Minnie is taking all sorts of drugs. I’ll slip a whole container of her heart medication into her grapefruit juice. Nah, on second thought, she’d probably just throw it all up and I’d be back to square one and have a mess to clean up. That would really suck.

“… so, Winnie the Pooh took the Viagra and that’s how he got the 100-acre wood!”

Think! Think! How else can I kill her?

Sam cleared his throat and prepared to batter the government. “You know, Congress is at it again with trying to come up with a budget. Man, giving Congress the right to legislate is like giving a pyromaniac a flamethrower.”

That’s it! I can burn the house down and make it look like an electrical fire! Sam grew excited at the solution until he realized he wouldn’t be able to go through with it. He just couldn’t do that to Aunt Minnie; he still had feelings for her and burning to death was a rough way to go.

Sam carefully assessed the crowd and noticed a number of African Americans sitting toward the back. It was time to try some new material.

“The other night,” Sam continued, “I was flipping through the millions of cable networks searching for something watch. I stumbled onto A&E and found Duck Dynasty, a show about these nutty white people with long beards. Then on the Animal Network was Turtleman.

“You guys ever see Turtleman?”

The audience yelled in affirmation. The ZZ Top lookalike stood up and roared his approval. It was apparently his favorite show.

“Yeah, I couldn’t get over how this crazy white guy was using his bare hands to catch snapping turtles, possums, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and just about everything else that’s got fangs and carries rabies,” Sam continued. “Then I landed on the History Channel, which was playing Moonshiners, a show about a bunch of white guys brewing alcohol even my old man couldn’t handle and cruising around the backwoods in their pickup trucks with guns in the air.

“And on Turner Classic Movies, lo and behold, was Deliverance. Ladies and gentlemen, I had an epiphany that night.”

Sam paused, trying to time the punch line perfectly. The crowd seemed to lean in ever so slightly on the edge of their seats as they waited for him to reveal his discovery.

“White people really are crazier than black people!” Sam shouted.

The room erupted in hoots and hollers. The group of African Americans was nodding in agreement as they slapped the table in amusement.

“It’s true,” Sam mused out loud. “It really is.” Then he smirked and whispered, “Look at me, I’m crazier than hell.”

Drown her, it’s the only way, he thought as his audience gave him a long ovation. After the show, I am donning plastic gloves and heading over to Aunt Minnie’s house. I’ll let myself in and run a warm bath. I’ll gently wake her and tell her it’s morning and that I am taking her to get her hair permed. She is so out of it that she won’t notice it’s midnight. I’ll let her sit for a short while in the bath until I go back in, take her by the shoulders, and slip her under the water. I’ll hold her down until the bubbles stop coming up.

There’s got to be a joke somewhere in that.

John Hartmann is an attorney with the state of New Jersey. Before practicing law he served a term in the New Jersey State Assembly. Married with two children and a resident of Lawrence Township, he has written two published books, “The American Partisan, Henry Lee and the Struggle for Independence,” and “Jacket, The Trials of a New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney.”

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