The old truck struggled up the hill to the garage at the top of the slope. It was late, there was snow on the ground, and the truck driver had his hands full with just keeping the truck on the driveway. As it crested the hill and slowed down to allow the attendant to open the garage door, a man approached the truck with a flashlight.
Blinded a bit by the light, the driver stopped the truck and rolled down the window. “Hey, lower that damn thing, will ya. You’re ruining my night vision, pal,” he complained.
“I got to check your manifest before you unload. Hand it over, please,” the man with the flashlight demanded.
“Okay, okay, hold your horses, sonny. I got it right here,” the driver wise-cracked as he handed the paperwork to the man.
As the man with the flashlight checked the paperwork, he wondered, “Just the one item? Is that right?”
“Yeah, that’s all they gave me tonight. Just the one barrel. But they said it was important and that I wasn’t to stop between the Government depot and here for nothin’,” the driver explained. “So, can I unload and get back on the road?”
“We’re going to have to have our specialists check the contents of the barrel before you leave. Shouldn’t take long. They just take a sample for their records. Government red tape. So go ahead and pull into the garage and park where the orange cones are,” the man with the flashlight instructed, shining his light in the general direction. “You’ll be out of here in no time, pal.”
“Hey, can I get a cup of coffee while I’m waiting?” the driver asked.
“Sure. But don’t hang out where the specialists are working. It’s some sort of hush-hush thing with what’s in that barrel. Just stay in the canteen. We’ll let you know when you can leave.”
Nodding and then grinding the gears of the truck a bit, the driver maneuvered the vehicle into the open garage and parked by the cones. Climbing out of the truck, he checked his watch and headed for the canteen for his coffee. He figured if things worked out, he’d be on the road and back in Jersey City by two in the morning.
The specialists meanwhile had donned their special clothing and had unloaded the barrel from the back of the truck and had positioned it in an enclosed testing booth. Robotic arms allowed them to tap into the barrel remotely from behind the safety of the enclosure and extract a very small sample of its contents. But even with all the safety precautions in place, a minuscule amount of the contents fell on the floor of the enclosure.
The specialists froze in fear as the small sample vaporized. They immediately activated the emergency vacuum pumps, but before the vapor could be completely captured, they heard, “A three-legged dog walks into a saloon, his spurs clinking as he walks, his six shooter slapping at his furry hip. He bellies up to the bar, stares down the bartender, and proclaims . . .”
Just then the driver emerged from the canteen and having heard what the specialists heard, asked, “Is that what’s in the barrel?”
The man with the flashlight nodded and then added, “You might as well know. They're jokes in this barrel. The punch lines come in another barrel. You’ll probably bring them tomorrow night.”
“Punch line? Doesn’t ring a bell, pal. What the hell is a punch line?” the driver asked.
“Look, just forget you ever heard what you just heard over there and what I said about punch lines, okay? You want to keep healthy, take my advice. Don’t tell anyone!”
“Okay, okay, no problem. Who cares about gun toting dogs anyway? You guys are really strange around here, you know,” the driver exclaimed. “So, can I get my rig and leave now?”
“Knock, knock,” the man with the flashlight mysteriously announced.
“What? I asked if I could leave. What is it with you guys, anyway?” the truck driver complained.
“Yeah, you can leave. You’re all cleared.”
As the driver got into his truck and backed it out of the garage, one of the specialists sidled up to the man with the flashlight and asked, “You think he’ll keep his mouth shut?”
“That guy? Oh, yeah. No problems there. I gave him the ‘Knock, Knock’ check. He passed with flying colors.”
“So, one more barrel and we’ll be about done here,” the specialist said with a sigh of relief. “Tonight’s barrel was all the ‘Guy walks into a bar’ jokes. Tomorrow will be the punch lines. That'll make it six thousand barrels all together.”
The man with the flashlight shook his head in wonder and replied, “It’s been a couple of years now since the country lost its sense of humor and the Government's been collecting every joke we could find and saving them for . . . .”
The specialist stopped him and put his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t get your hopes up, kid. It could be a very long wait.”