Note: this is a work of fiction. For the background story, see Birthright with Israel Outdoors, and Extended Adventures in Israel

Clay is a wonderful person. I feel like I should say this now, in case you’re only looking for one takeaway before you stop reading. Have a nice day.

Still here? Ok, so Clay told me this disgusting joke. I wouldn’t say it’s objectively disgusting. It’s not disgusting cause of the blood. It’s not disgusting cause of the incest. It’s disgusting because I’ve already attached the label “disgusting” to it in my mind, and now it’s too late to reevaluate. It’s disgusting, and that’s final. In fact it gets more disgusting every time I think about it, without thinking about the content of the joke at all. Like the fisherman’s fish that grows with every telling. The curse of having a good memory, eh?

Now, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t breathe a word about this to anyone. Clay is a friend, why would I want to replace him in everyone’s head with a disgusting joke? Think about it, what’s the most memorable impression you have of Clay? Was it that time he made you laugh? That’s sweet. If it’s also true, then I’m insanely jealous. Was it the time he said something really profound, and you thought to yourself, “holy shit, Bob, I had abandoned all faith in enlightened thought!” If that was the case, pass that holy shit forward, I could use some enlightenment in my diet.

For me it was Clay’s joke. Every time I think of Clay, I think of blood and incest, and the griffin’s squawk the joke tore out of my throat before I curled up into a fetal ball and mourned the loss of our friendship’s innocence. Or as Jews say, celebrated our friendship’s bar mitzvah. And still, I consider him a dear friend, which tells you something about how wonderful he is. It doesn’t tell you anything about me. I’m just a man with no innocence left.

So if it were up to me, I would try in vain to forget this for the rest of my life. Just a little more garbage on the ever-growing mental landfill. Unfortunately, it’s not up to me, because past me, specifically me from two days ago, the fucker, already leaked the events to the press. We can only pick up the pieces now, and lie to each other that they fit. Don’t worry, it’s not that hard. Picasso did it for a living.

Here’s where things get complicated. Clay didn’t just tell the joke to me. Ben was also present. Yes, that Ben. The second one from the left in my mental picture. He’s grinning, because he loved the joke as much as I did, and he’s looking worried now that I dragged him into this. He should be, he’s not getting out of this one easy.

Still, this is a containable situation. As long as everyone just sits back, has a beer, maybe a lobotomy, and doesn’t wax too curious, this joke can be buried forever.

Alas, someone waxed. You know who you are. You know what you did. Steph, please come forward. Can you hear me? A little closer to the mic? How about now? Yes, well, you just couldn’t put your curiousity in your mind vice and crush it, could you? You had to ask. Remember, you pushed that domino.

After buttering me up with compliments on my unique hairstyle, Steph asked me if she should ask Clay to tell her his joke, or if it was better left unheard.

Steph: ok, now that I’ve buttered you up with compliments, should I ask Clay to tell me the joke? Or do I not want to know?
Me: the joke that I warned him explicitly, in a public forum, against telling anyone ever again?
Steph: yes, that joke. Why, was there another joke?
Me: yeah, Clay told me this great joke about this Russian war hero that…no wait that was me. Also you should ask Ben about the difference between jelly and…never mind.
Steph: ooh, do I want to know that one?
Me: I think you’re too far down the rabbit hole. You’re stuck, like Winnie the Pooh
Steph: you’re right, the only way is through. Oops, pooh, through, that rhymed, sorry about that. Also, how did Winnie the Pooh manage to get his big bear head into a rabbit hole in the first place?
Me: he used his poetic license
Steph: I’m going to ask Clay to tell me the joke
Greek Chorus: the old Steph is dead! Long live the new Steph!

Did you see how nonchalant I was? Well I wasn’t really. Meanwhile, in a chat with Clay:

Me: Clay, you’re going to have to leave the country
Clay: shit. How long do I have?
Me: about thirty seconds
Clay: not enough time. Just hold me
Me: [hold Clay emoji]
Clay: it’s been thirty two seconds. I’m still alive. Was this a joke? Oh shit, Steph just messaged me
Me: put her on hold! Don’t answer any of her questions! Pretend she got the wrong number!
Clay: she’s asking me to tell her that joke! I told you that in confidence!
Me: Ben made me do it!
Clay: ok, this is no time to panic. We need to think. There has to be a way out. I’ve been answering her messages with a five minute delay from day one, for just this eventuality
Me: really? I need to refactor my thirty seconds estimate then. Hold on
Clay: hurry
Me: uh…ok, the math shows that if we didn’t waste time doing the math, you would have had just enough time to escape to Canada
Clay: phew. And fuck
Me: Amen to fuck
Clay: ok, wait, I think have an idea
Me: I think I just had the same idea
Clay: on three?
Me: on three
Clay: one
Me: two
Clay: Ben!
Me: Ben!
Clay: ok, what did you mean by “Ben!”? Cause I meant we need to get our story straight with him, so we can substitute in a different joke without Steph suspecting anything
Me: exactly. Except that’ll never work, because Steph might have already gotten to him. You know how intelligent she is
Clay: shit, I wish it was her trying to dupe me. Or her trying to dupe you. You know, something feasible
Me: or Ben
Clay: which Ben?
Me: the second one from the left in my mental picture
Clay: right. For a second I thought you switched them. Ok, so what did you have in mind?
Me: well first, Ben’s lost. Collateral damage. We don’t know if Steph got to him already, so we can’t trust a word he says. We can only trust each other. Because we would never lie to each other, never ever, right?
Clay: right. Well…if we’re being completely honest with each other from now on, remember when I told you your sun hat looked good?
Me: it’s one of my best memories from the trip
Clay: oh. Well, in that case, I don’t think I properly conveyed how much I loved it. Some things just aren’t meant to be expressed in words. By me
Me: wow, that’s beautiful. All those words you didn’t say, they’re really speaking to me
Clay: yes. But go on. Ben’s lost, you were saying. Who’s Ben?
Me: “who’s Ben?” exactly. It’s sad to lose four people in one go, but we have no choice. It’s just you and me now. Here’s what we say in the group chat, or rather what you say: “guys, I know you’re wondering what the joke was that Mark said I should never tell, so in the interest of never telling it again, here it is.” Then you paste the substitute joke
Clay: perfect. I’m going to find a plausible replacement right now. What do they know about the joke? Just that it’s disgusting, right? Piece of cake. Googling “mildly sick joke”
Me: and when any of the Bens say something like “that’s not the joke!” we have to act all affronted
Clay: like, “Ben, I thought we were friends! We snored to each other, doesn’t that mean anything to you? Why would you want to frame me like that?”
Me: poor Bens, I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes now
Clay: who’s Ben?
Me: right, sorry. But you do need to know his name, in case he says something in the chat
Clay: good point
Me: ok, it’s settled then. You tell the joke in the group chat, we commit the Bens to a mental asylum if necessary, and we can all move on with our lives. Steph won’t think you’re a monster
Clay: because I’m not
Me: you’re a man that got mixed up with the wrong joke. It could have happened to anyone
Clay: ok, I’ve got the perfect joke

[Chat with Steph]

Steph: I bugged Clay till he told me the joke. He says he’s going to tell the whole group in a minute
Me: oh yeah? How are you feeling?
Steph: uh, fine? A bit underwhelmed if anything. Kind of offended, actually. You guys thought a little bestiality would freak me out?
Me: bestiality?
Me: I mean, yes. Bestiality

[Group chat]

Clay: guys, I know you’re wondering what the joke was that Mark said I should never tell, so in the interest of never telling it again, here it is:

Dr. Jesse had sex with one of his patients and felt guilty all day long.

No matter how much he tried to forget about it, he just couldn’t.

The guilt was overwhelming.

But every once in a while he would hear a reassuring voice in his head that said:

“Jesse don’t worry about it. You aren’t the first medical practitioner to have sex with one of his patients and you won’t be the last. Just let it go, Jesse.”

But invariably another voice in his head would bring him back to reality, whispering:

“Jesse… Jesse… you’re a veterinarian, you sick bastard!”

Steph: lame. This joke was so oversold
Clay: I blame Mark
Me: hey, what’s a little hyperbole between friends?
Ben: uh Clay…I don’t remember you telling that joke

[Chat with Clay]

Clay: here we go
Me: remember, present a united front

[Group chat]

Clay: what?
Ben: no, you definitely told a different joke. Does the word “jelly” ring a bell?

[Chat with Clay]

Clay: wtf? He’s trying to stick his own jelly joke on me!
Me: stick him in the mental hospital. All four of them!

[Chat with Steph]

Steph: I thought the jelly joke was Ben’s
Me: uhh…

[Group chat]

Irad: what’s the jelly joke? It sounds legit
Clay: I have no idea, ask Ben
Ben: don’t be coy Clay, tell the man the joke. Irad likes a good joke
Me: yeah Clay, tell the man the joke

[Chat with Clay]

Clay: wtf man?
Me: sorry. The pressure…

[Chat with Steph]

Steph: wait, the jelly joke was Clay’s too?
Me: ugh, I can’t do this anymore. Okay, the truth is, Clay’s sick. I’ve just been covering for him
Steph: wow. So you guys have been lying to everyone this whole time? Is there even a “jelly” joke or are you just getting all our hopes up?
Me: “our hopes up?” Steph, I think you might have a problem. Being disgusted by a joke isn’t exactly winning a Nobel prize
Steph: tell me the fucking jelly joke! I have a right to be disgusted!

[Chat with Clay]

Me: hm, I’m not sure Steph is who we thought she was
Clay: fuck you, dude. I’m in Canada

[Group chat]

Ben: well if Clay won’t tell his joke, I will!
Ben: what’s the difference between jelly and jam?

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