Four Years of Jokes and a Stoop

Four years ago today, my wife and I started posting a Joke of the Day in our front yard, to help brighten the Covid lockdown for the many folks who walked by for exercise or pleasure.

At first, a hand lettered joke on a plastic sign stuck into the grass.
We made holidays fun.
Tired of waterlogged joke pages, I installed an outdoor restaurant menu board in my yard.

The tradition continuous, and sparked this essay.


Each morning, that hunched black form emerges from the chipped brick façade which has witnessed generations of care and neglect. This stoop is her domain, her public face, white marble steps still elegant in her eyes. She scowls at the low slanting sun highlighting the cracks and missing corners of her steps, also beloved by neighborhood kids for playing stoop ball. Bounce a ball off the steps, scramble to catch it before the dreaded second bounce to keep your turn. But that is an after-school game for balmy evenings. On the top step, her broom swiftly dispatches leaves, then each step all the way down, sending gum wrappers and butts to the gutter for the City to deal with. From there she smiles at her handiwork, a single “Ah” escaping her lips as benediction. She climbs her steps towards a new day.

This morning, in my black down jacket, I snag my Durham Bulls ballcap and a freshly printed white page, close the front door behind me and cross the porch. With only one step, I cannot call it a stoop. Besides, it is too far from the street for kids or balls, or for me to sit to greet neighbors with a friendly word. In this suburbia, walkers must take to the street, front lawns a No Man’s Land unless you wield a mower or a blower. Yet every morning I navigate the cracks and heaves of an old concrete driveway to change my Joke of the Day. I am not an old widow, but my ritual helps me start each day with something I trust will uplift my community in some small way. A public service announcement: Stop; smile here; maybe even laugh. I close the almost-waterproof door on today’s joke and, yesterday’s joke in hand, walk back to my porch, noting that I need to break out the blower to clear leaves and acorns. No white marble, no venerable history, but here is a public face that I don’t mind tending, even long past Covid and its time of need.


Blaise Kielar received Honorable Mention in the 2022 Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for an excerpt from his memoir in progress, "Be Heard: The Quiet Kid Who Started the World’s Loudest Violin Shop." He opened Chapel Hill’s first violin shop in 1978 and retired from a music retail career by transitioning Electric Violin Shop into the first worker-owned co-op music store in the United States. He plays jazz violin and clarinet in several bands and leads the Bulltown Strutters, Durham’s community New Orleans brass band.

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