Jewish World Review Jan. 22, 2003 / 28 Teves, 5764

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Joke history: The Romans had Top X lists; refreezing raw meat | Q: Where did jokes come from? Who first started telling them, and why? - Cheryl Richardson

A: Cheryl, let's begin with a joke.

A reader asks a Q&A columnist, "How much would you charge to answer three questions?"

"Four hundred dollars," says the portly and bald - yet eerily handsome - columnist.

"Isn't that a little steep?" asks the reader.

"I guess so," says the columnist. "You got one question left."

The joke is courtesy of today's guest expert, Joe Boskin, professor emeritus of American social history at Boston University and author of numerous books on humor, including "The Humor Prism in 20th Century America."

"The history of humor is a huge topic," Boskin says. "But the bottom line is, for whatever reason, every human being is born with a sense of humor. It's part of evolution. Every culture has a different sense of humor, but every culture has one."

A "timeline of humor" might begin with ancient Greek celebrations of the god of mischief, Dionysus, then move to Roman plays about romance. Renaissance jesters and comic scenes followed, then Elizabethan comedies of errors, and finally modern comedy.

"But laughter has always been crucial to civilization," Boskin says.

Jokes, as in rapid-fire one-liners, are more of an urban phenomenon, he says. In agrarian cultures, humor was contained in the body of a story. There was plenty of time, and a long story helped to fill it. But in cities, there's less time - and more aggression. Each Henny Youngman-style joke contains a new surprise of a punchline to keep the audience off-balance. So with cities, the nature of jokes changed. They became quicker, sharper.

(A typical Youngman joke: "This meal is fit for a King. Here King!")

Our thanks to Professor Boskin, a heckuva nice guy. And a few jokes to end with:

_A blonde, a rabbi and a dog walk into a bar. The bartender says, "What is this, a joke?"

_A dyslexic guy walks into a bra

_Oscar Wilde on his deathbed: "Either that wallpaper goes or I do."

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Q: My whole life I've "known" that you can't, shouldn't, oughtn't refreeze thawed meat. But if I ask why, the authorities lose their air of superior knowledge, smile weakly, and back away muttering something about lateness for an appointment. Can you help? - Lisa Maclin, Israel

A: Uh, sorry Lisa, I gotta be somewhere

As long as the meat has been thawed properly (for instance, in the refrigerator), it's not unsafe to refreeze it. But the quality will suffer some as the meat gets a bit mushy. But if you cook the meat after it's thawed, you can refreeze it without much loss of taste or consistency.

But meat thawed at room temperature or in hot water is not safe to refreeze - or to eat. It can cause food-borne illness because bacteria multiply rapidly in food left above 40 degrees, even if the center of the package is frozen.

There are three safe ways to defrost food: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

Which brings us to the greatest frozen meat story I know.

In "Lamb to the Slaughter," Roald Dahl's classic 1950s short story, a detective tells his devoted wife he's found another woman and wants a divorce. Stunned, she begins making him dinner. But then the anger hits her - and she hits him, square on the head, with a frozen leg of lamb.

She then puts the lamb in the oven and goes to the grocery store.

When she returns, she calls the police - who are her husband's buddies - and hysterically reports the "mysterious" murder. She says it happened while she was out.

The police come to investigate, but are frustrated by a lack of clues - and especially the lack of a murder weapon.

The dead man's wife cries in grief and begs the police to eat and enjoy what would've been their friend's last meal. As they dig into the leg of lamb, one muses that the missing murder weapon "might be right under our very noses."

So I guess even safely defrosted meat can be detrimental to your health.

SOURCE: United States Department of Agriculture



On tear-jerker movies:

Several readers have accused me lately of being a knuckle-dragging cromagnon.

I resemble that remark.

To prove how sensitive I am, this week's quiz is on tear-jerker movies.

1. Oliver Barrett IV went to Harvard. Where did Jenny Cavalleri go?

2. In what movie does a psychic help a deceased banker protect his living girlfriend?

(How am I doin' with the sensitive stuff? Pretty good, right?)

3. "Sleepless in Seattle" included references to what 1957 classic tearjerker?

(I gotta be honest, I'm feelin' the need for some sports.)

4. Gary Cooper's "luckiest man on the face of the Earth" speech is guaranteed to put a lump in your throat in what movie?

(OK, that one had a LITTLE testosterone. It still qualifies.)

5. In what brawling hockey comedy does Paul Newman coach the Hanson brothers? (What do ya want from me? I hung in there the best I could.)





"An Affair to Remember"

"Pride of the Yankees"

"Slap Shot"

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.


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