by Chelsea Rathburn
The details of his story aren’t the point,
nor is the listener, who looked as bored
as we, two accidental eavesdroppers
in a London restaurant. The point is, well,
his point, which after ten long minutes
he came to abruptly, and with a flourish,
saying slowly and in perfect seriousness,
“All we are is dust in the wind. All
we are. Is dust. In the wind.” I think
we bit our fingers to keep from laughing,
I know we mocked him through Paris, Barcelona,
Rome, and even years later, when one
of us became a little too serious,
the other would turn and quote his quote again,
jabbing the air as he had jabbed the air.
I picture him still sitting in some café,
proclaiming we were always born to run
or urging wayward sons to carry on
the way we tried to carry on, the couple
at the next table who couldn’t help but listen,
with so little of our own to talk about.
I meant to post a lovely optimistic love poem for the last day of April, and then I read this on yesterday’s April Is and I couldn’t resist. Inside jokes are one of my favorite things, and one of the most tragic things to me when a relationship of any kind ends for whatever reason: “No one will ever get this joke again.” The hardest times for me after my mother died were (and are) when I saw something in the newspaper or heard a story and thought, “Mom would have thought that was hilarious,” and I couldn’t call and tell her about it.
As a writer, it can be hard to create a real sense of intimacy between two characters who are supposed to have known each other a long time. And I think giving them a few inside jokes that are hilarious to them, and maybe not to anyone else (sometimes including to the reader) is a great place to start.
I thought it was done really well between Holmes and Watson in the recent movie, who had practically an entire language of case-solving and Inspector-Lestrade-mocking that very, very clearly had a long, shared, affectionate history behind it. And while I’ve only seen part of the first season, I thought Marshall and Lily on How I Met Your Mother was a great example of a believable longterm relationship with its own in-jokes and rituals that still didn’t confuse or exclude the viewer.
Can you think of a time you’ve seen inside jokes done really well in a story or on TV?