Yo Mama Wants to Know what Kind of Shit You’re Reading

“Yo Mama Joke #4,” an essay by Wynne Hungerford

Yo Mama Wants to Know what Kind of Shit You’re Reading

Yo mama’s breath stinks so bad that when she goes into your room and picks up William Trevor: The Collected Stories from the nightstand, she breathes that stank breath on that old paper and the characters living in the pages start to do shit they aren’t supposed to do, like Malcolmson in “Access to the Children,” a fair, tallish man in a green tweed suit. The way it’s written that dude Malcolmson is supposed to exit his Volvo, keys jangling, and get his kids from his ex-wife’s place but yo mama’s breath stinks so bad that even Malcolmson can smell it, that stank breath seeping through the cracks in the car door, and he refuses to get out. Yo mama’s breath stinks so bad the fucking story don’t work like it’s supposed to anymore. Malcolmsom won’t get his kids and take them to the zoo or the movies or anywhere at all because he’s trapped in that Volvo, trying to save himself from yo mama’s breath, that heavy stank burning the paint off his car, and the story can’t move forward, which is kind of a good thing for Malcolmson because he can’t go get drunk in front of his kids and then say some regrettable shit to his ex-wife. In a way, yo mama’s breath saves Malcolmson from himself.

That doesn’t make a good story, though. The whole reason you’ve got that book on your nightstand is because you’re looking for a good story, and the only reason yo mama is flipping through it is because she wants to know what kind of shit you’re reading in your room all night, which is better than being with her downstairs, where she slumps nightly on the couch and eats tuna salad from a mixing bowl and watches reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and laughs as the cockatiel whistles along during the theme song from his cage in the corner. The worst thing about yo mama’s breath is that it makes everything else stink, too, like the carpet, the drapes, the furniture, the laundry, and all those old books you bring home from the library, all those old books that once smelled so good and so sweet.

The New Oxford American Tells a Story — An Essay by Helen Betya Rubinstein

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