Sunday, April 30, 2006

Cramming for exams

I'm overrun with motivation--deep motivation, the kind that can only be inspired by shame.

I wasn't good enough to get my prudish girlfriend's clothes off. Her ex-boyfriend back at home, with his Billy Dee Williams moustache and backwards baseball cap, he got the job done. But not me. She made me fall for her, made me open up to her, and then went back to her dorm room and downloaded every morsel of information to her roommate like chemistry notes. I'd show Marlene, and I'd show her meddlesome roommate too.

"So what's your situation," I say to Brenda, with a sly smile.

She looks at me. She's wondering how I'm not affected by the whole thing, how I can smile after being eviscerated by my girlfriend.

"Why?" she smiles.

"Tell me." Being a nice guy didn't work; perhaps being a cold-hearted bastard would be more effective.

"I'm 20. I think I'm too old for you."

"You're funny when you're drunk."

I refill my cup, and the haze slowly returns. I lean in closer each time her voice softens, until our faces are almost touching.

"So, I'm gonna walk home now."


"It's dark out. And it's raining."

"Do you... want me to walk you home?" I ask, my heart fluttering like a trapped bird.

It's strange seeing the room from Brenda's bed. The posters and furniture are familiar, but different somehow. Maybe it's just the angle.

She's wearing striped panties. I have been eyeing them through her white capris all night; so was every other guy in the room. Seeing them in stark relief as she pulls her pants off is pure triumph.

"I can't do this very well," she whispers, as she lowers herself onto me, and the alcohol evaporates from my bloodstream instantly. There is no guilt anymore, no Marlene, no studying to do, nothing except this warm and willing female who happens to be fucking me.

And just fucking her is not enough. My manhood has been questioned, and I have something to prove. So I fuck faster and harder, like the crude, inexperienced kid I am. I'm not patient enough to try different positions, and even if I were, I don't have the stamina or the patience to hold out. But I do know enough to drink in every detail, to see the swatch of pink beneath the tuft of black hair, to watch her pussy stretch subtly as my cock enters her, to notice the jiggle of her breasts and to listen to the squishy sound of wet flesh against wet flesh.

The haze lifts intermittently, sometimes just long enough for me to feel a warm puff of breath against my neck, or the flicker of her tongue against mine. Headlights pass by, briefly illuminating us, and I watch like a bystander, surprised at the coldness of our sex, but turned on by the desperate strength with which she pins her knees against my hips.

"Cum. Cum, Steve," she is saying, as I grow harder and her insides grow wetter. I was too stupid to wear a condom, or even to ask if she was on the pill, and I unload an ocean inside her, oblivious to everything except my own euphoria.


Monday, October 17, 1992

"Did you see Jose out there?"

"What? No! I don't talk to him anymore!"


"I told you that already, Steve!"

"I know, Marlene."

"Why did you ask?"

"Did you... did you and Jose ever--"

"Steve, I'm a virgin! I told you that!!"

"No you didn't! You never used that word, 'virgin'."

"Fine," she says, moving her mouth exaggeratedly. "I'm a virgin! Happy now? Why are you so jealous lately?"

"I'm not jealous."

"Did you talk to any girls while I was away?" she smiles.

That depends. Does "can you get me a towel?" count as talking?

I'm beginning to think I made a huge mistake. How could I have been stupid enough to trust Brenda? I should have known she just wanted to stir up trouble.

I better hope she doesn't open her mouth. And that no one saw me entering or leaving her room that night.

I am still pissed at her for telling Brenda about the tit incident, but if I confront her, I'll have to admit I was talking to Brenda, which would lead to Marlene confronting Brenda, which might lead to Brenda telling Marlene about the creampie I left a few inches south of her appendix.

For once I'm going to be smart and keep my mouth shut.


Friday, October 21, 1992, 7:30pm
Steve and Paulie's apartment

"What's the glans?" Marlene asks.

"It's the head of the penis."

"There's so much about that stuff I don't know."

This is a good sign. She's curious. If she's curious, she'll want to try things.

"What do you want to know?" I ask, supportively.

"Like, when a guy has an orgasm, that stuff comes out, right? Semen?"


"But pee comes out of the same place. So why doesn't pee come out?"

"There's a little valve in there that closes when the man gets aroused."

"What if the valve doesn't work right?"

"Then you call Roto-rooter."



The TV blares incoherently on the other side of the room. Marlene pulls her mouth off mine for a second to look down at the zipper of my Guess? jeans.

"How does it get hard?" she asks, running her fingers across my fly.

"Blood rushes to it."

"Is it getting hard now?'


Her eyes flicker up at me, as if to ask my permission.

"It's okay," I say, popping open the button.

She's touching it over my BVD's. It doesn't matter. I go statue-hard in ten seconds.

"You can touch mine, if you want," she says, averting her eyes.

You have a dick? I guess that explains why Jose didn't fuck you.

Her panties are dainty, like you would find on a kid's doll. I pull them away and slip a finger into her, and my pulse races at the feel of her tight box.

This is no ordinary pussy. Even a novice like me knows that. It would hug my cock, tight and warm, like a homemade sweater. Sexual pleasure is new for her; I'll watch as she makes her first fuck-faces, losing all self-control, succumbing to me totally.

I don't bother pulling down my zipper. The rubbing takes care of that. The outline is clear beneath my white briefs now, and she rubs it ever more feverishly between her thumb and first two fingers.

The head pops out. "Ew! Put it back, put it back!"

I tuck it back in.

"It was...shiny. Why was it shiny?"

"That's when the skin on the head gets really tight. Like on a bald man's head!"

"Oh yeah," she says, rubbing again.

"You're making me slippery," she says, her voice sinking to a hoarse whisper.


"You make me slippery when you kiss me sometimes."

"Oh really?"

"And when you talk to me on the phone. I love your voice."

"Me too," I manage, but I'm only marginally aware of what she's saying.

She's wet now, wet enough to fuck, if she wanted me to. But I'm not going to push it.

And then she finds the right spot, and rubs it just the right away, and I am totally gone. My eyes close and I hear myself moan softly as the first dollop oozes out of me. Nothing happens for long moments, and she probably thinks it's over. But then I cum like only a 22-year-old can, blasting wave after wave in my shorts, soaking them from the inside out. She pulls away too late, and it smears her wrist.

"It's... gooey!" she smiles.

"You see what you do to me?"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I know a Krack when I taste one

Once Tim moved in, I knew it would only be a matter of time before she found something incriminating.

Oh sure, her stuff has been here for months, but when move-in day came, and she unpacked the copy paper boxes full of sweaters she never intended to wear, the trouble started.

"Honey?" she calls from the master bedroom.

As soon as I see the workboot box on the bed, I sit down. Some things can't be dismissed quickly, and this is one of them.

"Did you open it?"

"Was I not supposed to?"

"I don't have anything to hide, if that's what you mean. But it is personal."

"I'm sorry, hon," she says with a lilt of her head. "Curiosity got the best of me. I only peeked for a second."


"It's a trophy box, right? You'd have sex with a girl and then put something of hers in there?"

"But you only peeked, right?" I smile.

"Can I ask you one question?"


"What's the big Krackel bar for?"


Her name was Marlene. She was a new freshman; I was just starting grad school.

She was half Puerto Rican and half black, but she was far from the feisty Latina you're probably imagining. Everything amazed her; each new fact was an earth-shattering revelation; every joke was the funniest she had ever heard.

I didn't like her at first. She was naive, uninteresting; her face was pretty yet immature, overshadowed by her gleaming teeth and feathery hair. I was a 22-year-old big shot, remember, who had lost 50 pounds a year before. Girls noticed me now; I had gotten laid a few times, and I just knew that I was the studliest guy within a five-mile radius.

Friday, September 9, 1992, 11:00am
University development office

It is my desk, technically--Nancy, whose cubicle this is, is on a leave of absence--but I lack the balls to take down the fake flowers and Precious Moments figurines that adorn her workstation. I looked ridiculous sitting there, but at the time I didn't know better.

I was fortunate to get this job: It's a work-study, 12 hours a week of clerical drudgery which I enthusiastically perform, not because I love making copies, but because it pays 50% of my tuition.

"Ask him," Marlene's coworker says, in a stage whisper.

"Noo," Marlene giggles.

The office couldn't be quieter if there were a final exam going on. I hear their every word, clearly; do they not realize it?

"Just ask him!"

"Later, later!"


"Steve?" Marlene says, meekly, brushing the hair from her eyes.


"Are you... do you... "

We stare at each other, and my stomach starts to churn. She must dig me; otherwise, why would she be so nervous?

But why me? What would an attractive college freshman want with me? And isn't she too pretty to be so shy?

I want to let her finish her sentence, but she wants me to help her. "Yeah?" I say.

More uncomfortable silence. "Do you want to come to a party at my sorority? I mean, a sorority I'm pledging?"


"Okay! Thanks! So, that'll be fun!"

"Yeah, definitely, Marlene!"

She scoots away.

Two minutes later, I track her down in the copy room. "Marlene? About that party..."

"What? You can't go? Oh, that's okay--"

"You didn't tell me where it was. Or when!"

I never thought it could be so easy to see a dark-skinned girl blush.


October 10, 1992
Kelvin Hall, room 310

"A Nestle's Crunch is the same thing as a Krackel," Marlene says.

"Sorry, but you're very wrong."

"People are so crazy! Like, they get all goofy about Coke and Pepsi and they don't even know the difference! I bet you couldn't tell the difference between Krackel and Nestle's Crunch!"

"Bet I can."

"You can't see, can you?" she asks, as she ties the silk scarf around my forehead. I like that it smells of her perfume.

"Which one is this?" she says, gently slipping a small piece of chocolate into my mouth, as if feeding a baby. The tip of her finger brushes my lip longingly, and for an eternal moment I forget about the candy.


"Hmph. Okay, here comes another one." The finger again, slower this time, deeper into my mouth, and it flicks briefly against my tongue. She's doing it intentionally; she has to be!

"Crunch again," I say, softly, and my sex drive is completely out of control. She has to know; she has to hear it in my voice. She has to feel it too!

We've gotten close, Marlene and I. We talk on the phone until after midnight, and she pleads with me to take her for ice cream at 1:00am. She giggles at my jokes and pulls closer when I put my arm across the back of her waist.

I haven't nailed her yet. We've had wet, mushy, sloppy makeout sessions, but it's gone no farther. Tonight is going to be different. Blindfolds? Chocolate? It's straight out of a porn movie! This is her way of telling me that she's ready: All of the waiting is going to pay off tonight.

"Try this one," she whispers, and now there are two fingers in my mouth, and I close my lips on them as she slowly pulls them away. "You got my fingers," she coos, with a little laugh.

"Kiss me," I say, and her lips engulf mine instantly, as if she were only an inch away. It's true what they say about not being able to see; your other senses are heightened. The touch of her hot mouth revs me, and I grab her pert breast in my hand, squeezing softly.

"Hey! Hey," she shouts, pulling away from me. "What are you doing, Steve?"

"I... you..."

"Don't do that! Don't touch me like that! Ew!"

I pull the blindfold off. "What do you mean, 'ew', Marlene?"

"I told you I wasn't ready for that!"

"You said you weren't ready yet! That was a long time ago!"

Yeah, like almost long enough to microwave some popcorn!

"It was last week, Steve!"

"Well, I know, but I mean, the whole blindfold thing, and the chocolate..."

"You thought I... ew! You thought I wanted to do that?"

"You don't have to make me feel like a pervert, Marlene."

"I'm not having sex until I'm married. I hope you're okay with that, or else..."

We make up. She waits until I cool off, then sits on my lap, playing with my hair like she always does. "You're not a pervert," she says. "And I really really like you, but I know this is hard for you, and I'll understand if you want to break up."

I like her too. It's comforting to know that we can talk things out. She handled an emotionally charged issue with a lot of maturity, and that impressed me. I am proud of her! How can I break up with someone like her?

I should have, though.


"I'm gonna bring you back a Krackel from San Diego," she says. "A huge one!"


"I promise, baby boy."

"Thanks, baby girl."

Marlene is home for the long weekend, and I'm not planning on going out, but after studying to exhaustion, I walk through the dark and drizzle up the hill to the dorms, admiring the colored leaves on the shiny pavement.

I almost don't open the door to the building. I don't like any of those people, really, and I don't want to waste the whole night drinking. Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened if I had just kept walking.

"Man! You need to relax," Marlene's roommate, Brenda, says. "You look like somebody died! You look like you died!"

"Thanks, Brenda."

She hands me a red plastic cup. "I better not see that empty," she says, wagging a finger.

Hours pass. Faces and conversations run together like cheap paint. I stop drinking and the haze clears a bit.

"...why are you dating a freshman, anyway?" Brenda asks.

"I like her! She's--"

"You're a grad student, right? You're 22, aren't you?"

"Well, yeah, but..."

"She's 18, Steve! And this is none of my business, but she... never mind."


"It's just that, you're so much older than she is, and she's making you look dumb."

"How is she making me look dumb?"

"I heard about the boob incident," she smiles, looking down at her beer.

I felt my face go pale. "You what?"

"You were blindfolded, she was feeding you chocolate, and you thought she wanted to have sex. So you squeezed her tit," she says, stifling a laugh.

"Oh, man, shit, I--"

"I'm just saying, I'd be pissed if someone said that about me. I mean, all you wanted was to have sex. She acted like you fucking raped her!"


"Oh man, she was all in tears and shit."

"I swear, I didn't force her to do anything--"

"Oh, I know. Marlene is such a fucking baby sometimes."

You'll never catch me having a conversation anything like this today. No one tells me my business, even if they happen to be right. Being played by someone much younger than me is the most humiliating thing I can think of. I can handle being wrong, but not being manipulated.

"I know you like her and all, but there are some things you should know."

"Like what?"

"Like that whole virgin thing? She's not a virgin, you know. She was sleeping with her ex-boyfriend. The one in San Diego?" Marlene never did use the word "virgin"; I picked up on that.

So she was fucking Jose. Jose wasn't a pervert. Jose got to see her naked, got to spread those sweet little thighs apart and bury himself deep in her 18-year-old pussy.


What the hell was I doing wrong? Why was Jose getting all the action, while all I was getting was teased? What words did he say, how did he look at her? How did he touch her, how did he kiss her? How did he melt her defenses, make her fling aside her Banana Republic wardrobe and dive at his cock?

Fuck Marlene. I don't know Brenda from a hole in the wall, but I know she's telling the truth. How the hell would she know about the tit story, if Marlene wasn't blabbing? The two of them were probably sitting around, laughing. Laughing! At my expense!

The chocolate incident, the fight, the reconciliation, all of it seemed so private. It felt like we were the only two people in town that night; it never occurred to me to tell someone else about it. But obviously, Marlene felt differently. How could she betray me that way?

"Your cup is empty," Brenda says.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Dairy Products for Dummies

It amazes me how many people are unfamiliar with the term "butterface".

It refers, simply, to a girl who is sexy but ugly: everything is hot but-her-face.

There were plenty of nights I ended up jerking off because the girl who was talking to me at the party wasn't pretty enough. From time to time, especially when I was younger, I overlooked stringy hair or clownlike makeup and nailed the girl anyway, but I wasn't proud of it. As far as I was concerned, any guy who enjoyed such things, who targeted butterfaces intentionally, was a loser.

April 3, 2006, 9:03am

Marriott Hotel, conference room 1
Semi-annual leadership conference

I notice Gretchen immediately. Her eyes are too narrow, and her bangs obscure them anyway. Her mouth is crooked, and her bright pink lipstick accentuates the flaw; her glimmering cocktail party earrings are completely wrong for a business meeting.

Facewise, she has little to work with, and her style choices have made matters worse.

Then she stands up.

She has a wiry waist, like the thorax of an ant, giving way to a bouncy ass, and her breasts pop voluptuously from under her mohair sweater. Her body has somehow remained pristine, immune to her ugliness.

As I steal delicious five-second glances at her, I suddenly get it.

I have always wanted to be seen with attractive women; I felt I belonged with them. But as my taste for toys and status has mellowed, I see the appeal of the Gretchens of the world.

A relationship with a Gretchen would be an overdose of lust, a steady stream of hot nakedness. I wouldn't want to be seen publicly with her. I wouldn't want to feed her, keep her warm, or satisfy any other biological need; she would exist only to satisfy mine. I would fuck her mercilessly and I would want her to like it, but only because it would pride me to know that I had the power to make her scream. Her personal happiness would mean nothing; she would be a vehicle for my entertainment, a geisha or a concubine, living to please me.


I need to see if I could actually make this happen. Would I be able to seduce her? Would I overcome the desire to avert my eyes from her less-than-magazine-ad-ready mug?

I'm not going to bag her. But I'll go through the motions, and stop just short of the actual act, becuase I need to know I haven't lost it.

"Hey, Gretchen, how's it going?"

"Oh, hi... Steve," she says, reading my name tag.

Some chicks look better far away than close up, like a painting by Monet. Gretchen is the opposite. She impresses me, attracts me, even, with how she carries herself, her back straight, her chin held high.

Her confidence sells me. Yeah, if I were single, I'd fuck her.

"Did you end up getting the lobster bisque last night?"

And speaking of white creamy stuff...

"Oh, yeah, it was heavenly," she moans, with a skyward eye tilt. And then I listen to her speak, examining every word, waiting for an opening to extend the conversation, reading her eyes, gauging how aggressive I can be, how hard I can push, just like I used to do.

I joke about the tie the presenter was wearing and she smiles politely, her mouth bent like a flexed crossbow. Her mouth is her worst feature; at least when she sweeps her hair from her eyes, their deep blueness catches my attention.

She tells me that she is an agent in commercial lines. "How did you get invited here? You must have impressed someone," I say.

"Or pissed someone off," she retorts, grinning.

The conversation continues and I am drawn to her ever more desperately; I have gone from "I wouldn't mind fucking her" to "I want to lay her out on the nearest cocktail table right now". But where do I stop? How do I stop? Do I wait for her to hit the ladies room and just take off? Tell her about my girlfriend? Get her naked, mount her, then stop with my dick two centimeters away from her steaming gash and say, "Oh shit! I'm missing Prison Break!"?

"I'm going for a smoke," she says, holding up a pack of Marlboro Menthols.

I don't smoke, but it doesn't nauseate me, either. If I'm loaded, and someone offers me a butt, I'll take it. Especially if that someone is as fuckable as this hottie, if for no other reason than that I can watch her succulent rump as I follow her outside.

She turns to leave, and two guys trail her closely.

Fuck this. I don't care how hot she is. I don't chase anyone, especially someone I've already decided I'm not going to have sex with. I was looking for an easy out: maybe this is it.

"Steve? Steve!"

I turn to see Lisa, from our training department. She's attractive and all, but every time she's nearby, I have the urge to strangle the perkiness right out of her. I swear, they get these training chicks straight out of cheerleader camp.

"Hi, Lisa."

The hiball glass wobbles unsteadily in her hand, and her voice is too loud for the conversation. But I let her talk, smiling slyly at her bad jokes, nodding patiently as she draws one asinine conclusion after another.

This is how I used to do it, and the technique comes back to me easily, though I've been out of practice for months. I go after one, and if she doesn't work out, I find another. We've all gone to the store looking for a certain sweater, found that they didn't have it in stock, and left with something we liked just as much. Too many guys go after one girl, and when they strike out, they go home feeling sorry for themselves. Why? Not that I give a shit, of course, because losers like them make it easier for me.

She's not dumb, Lisa, just naive. She doesn't know enough to flirt subtlely, so she keeps joking about taking me up to her room and letting me eat oysters out of her navel. She's trying to be cute, and coquettish, but instead she's coming off as a huge slut.

This is what they call low-hanging fruit, easy money, taking candy from a baby. I've fucked a million Lisas in my life, conned each one of them into thinking that there was some kind of connection between us, that her moronic story about surfing in Australia interested me. I played them, all of them, got them to suck my cock, to tell me that they wanted my big fat dick inside of them, and I unceremoniously blasted their faces with white stuff, right between their saucered eyes. Welcome to the major leagues, honey, I'd think, and stifle a laugh.

Suddenly I hate Lisa. I detest her lack of common sense and self-respect. Is she an idiot? I can't be the only guy she's hit on this way. Surely a parade of men has marched in and out of her bedroom, each one of them sticking it to her good and then avoiding her like an IRS auditor. How many times is she going to get used before she wakes up? And am I the only one who finds it funny that this trainer, who gets paid to teach other employees, is apparently unable to learn herself?

"Good night, Lisa," I say, though she is in mid-sentence, and I head upstairs to call Tim.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Your eyes do not deceive you

Nice to know you guys are still checking in. Things have settled down, a little, so I will try and post a bit more often.

March 31, 2006, 8pm
Steve's house

"Hon?" says Tim.


"Do you realize we're gonna be living together tomorrow?"

"Yeah, 'cause you don't live here already. All your shit is already here! Your move is basically going to be sending in an address change to the post office."

"I've slept home a few nights."

"Tim. I think you've slept home twice this year."

This is different, though. No matter how many nights in a row she sleeps here, she can always take off for home if something goes wrong. We have had a couple of bad screaming matches in which we both needed to cool off alone, and we managed to do so without leaving the house, but it's been nice knowing that her place was available if she needed it.

This move made sense, anyway. Financially, it's going to be huge for us to be able to rent out her condo; she can pay her mortgage and still have a lot of money left over each month, which we'll stash while we figure out what to do with it; we could buy a new van for her catering business, or a boat, or save it for--gulp--our kids' college.

Did I just say that?

Oh yeah, your boy Stevo is in a right proper state these days, folks. The other day, I caught myself saying "When we get married..." to Tim, as if it's not even a question anymore. I told her that we need to live together for a year before we can discuss marriage, but I think if I asked her tomorrow, she'd say yes. But don't go thinking I've totally lost my mischievous streak.

The phone.

"Can you give me a reference?" asks Vicky.

"A reference? For what?"

A doctor to remove your bunions? Someone to sandblast your brick walk? A nice porn site?

"A job! I'm interviewing with a new company. Can they call you?"

That would be an interesting call: "Yes, I would highly recommend hiring this chick. Have you looked at her mouth? I mean really looked at it? The way her lips form a dick-shaped hole when she puckers them? A dick fits in there perfectly, too, believe me."

"I'd be glad to, but you never actually worked for me--"

The other line rings.

"You gotta get me outta dis friggin' place," Dad says.

We moved Dad into an assisted living home after he was released from the hospital. We can all sleep easier knowing that doctors and nurses are nearby, but Dad has made a 100% recovery; in fact, he's healthier than he's been in a while, and he doesn't think he belongs there.

"What happened, Dad?"

"Dere's nothing but old geezers in here! My next door neighbor shit his pants at dinner! He shit his friggin' pants, Steve!"

"Take my advice: If the oatmeal looks brown tomorrow morning, don't eat it."

"I'm not kidding!"

"Dad, lemme call you back."

I click over and Vicky is gone. I call her.

"Hello?" says a male voice. Must be her husband.

"Hi, I'm looking for Vicky?"

"Who's this?" he growls.

"It's Steve."

"Steve who?"

"Caruso. I know her from--"

"Oh, Steve! How you doing?"

Great, just great. By the way, did your wife ever mention that I fucked her?

"Very well, thanks. How's married life treating you?"

"Super. I've got a great woman here, I'll tell you that."

You ain't kidding. Like, this one time? She let me fuck her up the ass. It took a while to get in there, but once I got it going, I pulled out, just like they do in the porno movies, and that sucker was wide open. It looked like the Holland Tunnel!


"You know, I really appreciate you--"

I fucked your wife

"--giving her this recommendation--"

I fucked your wife

"It really means a lot to us--"

I fucked your wife I fucked your wife I fucked your wife ifuckedyourwifeifuckedyourwifeifuckedyourwifeifuckedyourwife

"You got it, man."

"She'll be here in just a minute. She just ran out to the car."

Remember when you were at that dental convention in Chicago? It just so happens that, at that exact same time, Vicky was deep throating me with that wet, cavernous mouth of hers. So while you were lecturing about Gingivitis to guys named Ira and David, there was an entirely different kind of oral care going on! Amazing how she suppresses that gag reflex, by the by.

"Here she is. Steve, take it easy, ok?"

I have to say, your wife has amazing tits. Small and hard--perkiness is not a bad thing! She'll never be an old battle axe with her boobs in her underwear. And you know what's funny? The way she wears that big cross around her neck. It used to bounce against her chest when I fucked her. It's nice to watch, but I'm guessing Jesus doesn't appreciate the visual.

"Hey Mike, it's good to talk to you."

"You too."

Before you go, we should probably talk about that popsicle thing. I know I'd be pissed if some guy fucked my chick with a popsicle. In fact, pretty much any dessert food being rammed up her snatch would piss me off, if it weren't being done by me.

Vicky comes back on the line. "What are you laughing at, Steve?"

"I just thought of an old joke."