(SNN) Pope Francis’ recent visit to the US reminded me of my late Uncle Eddie, who told the best Pope joke ever. It’s a sweet joke and was most appreciated by an audience you wouldn’t necessarily anticipate.
Eddie Murray, an Irish-American Catholic and legendary raconteur, lived in New York City and worked as a travelling salesman for companies in the primarily Jewish garment district. Uncle Eddie once told me some people thought “Murray” was his first name, but added, “that just got me through the door. I was a great salesman and even better at Jewish Dialect jokes.”.
Eddie drove around the Northeast in the latest Cadillac, always with the back seat replaced with a clothes rack full of samples. He and other sales people would go from city to city and set up shop in the same hotel. Buyers from local and regional stores would come there to stock up for the new season and schmooze over food and drinks. Back in those days—post WWII through the 1960’s—everybody knew everybody, the jokes and liquor flowed, and a salesman’s personality was critical to moving the goods.
Uncle Eddie’s travelling companion and co-salesperson was my late Aunt Mary (Gallagher) Murray. Their suite was party headquarters. No slouch herself, Mary knew the line, held her own in any conversation, and was known to burst into a few quick choruses of “Tangerine” at the drop of a swizzle stick.
Eddie would tell his stories and Mary would sing her song to each new group of buyers. I never learned if “Tangerine” was the only song Aunt Mary knew, or only song she liked. One night a friend of a buyer, a well-known manager searching for a girl singer for a famous big band, asked her to audition. ”When? “ Aunt Mary asked. “Tomorrow, 10 AM,” he replied. “I don’t do AM," Mary said, ending her professional career before it began.
Heaven help anyone who tried to out-tell one of Uncle Eddie’s stories.
"Acch, you should hear Murray tell that," was the reaction from anyone who’d heard Eddie tell it. His favorite joke was known as the Pope story, even if it’s really about prestige.
Here’s roughly how it went, although it rarely went the same way twice.
Two New Yorkers named Goldberg and Schwartz were always arguing which one of them enjoyed more prestige among their co-workers and friends.
Goldberg had just returned from Rome and was telling Schwartz what a prestigious event it had been. “I was standing along the Appian Way when who should come along, but the Pope himself in his golden carriage.”
“So you saw the Pope. Big Deal,” Schwartz said. “Millions of people do. Where’s the prestige in that?”
“I haven’t gotten to the prestige part yet,” Goldberg said. “Now, imagine my delight when the Pope saw me in the huge crowd and waved right at me.”
“Where’s the prestige in that?” scoffed Schwartz. “The Pope waves to everybody.”
“I haven’t gotten to the prestige part yet,” said Goldberg. “The Pope stops the carriage, opens a door and says ‘Goldberg my old friend, come ride with me.’ Next thing I know I’m riding on the Appian way in the carriage with the Pope.”
Schwartz is taken aback. “So, okay riding the carriage with the Pope, I admit that’s a little bit with the prestige.”
Goldberg again says, “I haven’t gotten to the prestige part yet.”
Schwartz is shocked. “What do you mean?”
“So I’m riding along the Appian way in the Pope’s golden carriage, His Holiness is in his Pope outfit, when I happen to overhear hear a bystander say something to his wife that to me is the ultimate in prestige.”
Okay, Schwartz said warily, “What did he say?”
“He said: ‘Who’s that in the carriage with Goldberg?’
“Now that’s prestige.”
You should have heard Murray tell it.
Photo: Mary and Eddie at Copa. Courtesy of the author. © John "Cork" Corcoran Jr.
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