With supplies of fresh meat scarcer than they have been for many years throughout the Soviet Union, Muscovites have turned the weapon of their ironic humor on empty shelves and long lines:
A man comes up to a meat counter, the story goes, and asks one of the two assistants for fillet. "No," says the assistant, "just outl."
"Do you have any mincemeat?"
"No, maybe next week."
"No -- last week."
The man turns and leaves the shop, and the second assistant turns to the first and says, "foolish, asking for all that."
"Foolish, yes," says the first assistant. "But what a memory!"
That's the kind of anecdote heard across Moscow these days, typical of the biting jokes people use to describe the everyday shortages that make life hard.
Another story pokes fun at the way enterprising black marketeers from sunny southern republics, such as Georgia and Armenia, make fortunes by flying north to Moscow and other cities with much-needed items:
An Aeroflot plane en route from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi to Moscow is hijacked by a man with a gun, who orders it to fly to Paris. The pilot alters course obediently, but suddenly a burly Georgian attacks the hijacker with a knife, subdues him, and orders the pilot to head for Moscow again.
When the plane lands, authorities arrest the Georgian as well as the hijacker. They are certain he is up to something.
"Why did you give up a chance to go to Paris?" asked on of the security men.
"What would I do in Paris with 200 kilograms of oranges?"
Anecdotes make fun of communist slogans as well as current shortages:
Question: "What is proletarian internationalism?"
Answer: "That's when there is no meat in Moscow -- and strikes break out in Poland."
A joke that convulses Muscovites follows the release of a widely known film about growing grain on the virgin lands of central Asia. The film was called "Vkus Khleba" "The Taste of Bread). A sequel is now being made, the story runs. It is to be called "Zapakh Myasa" (The Smell of Meat).
Current events again:
Question: "What is the most neutral country in the world?"
Answer: "Afghanistan. It's so neutral it considers its own internal affairs to be none of its own business."
Another Afghan joke, based on the official explanation that all Moscow has done is to send is a limited military contingent to help against outside aggression:
Question: "What's the definition of the Tatar yoke (the Mongol invasion of 1237 that lasted 250 years)?"
Answer: "The introduction of a limited Mongol contingent invited by the Russian principality to aid in resistig intervention by Poland."
On the Polish crisis:
A Pole finds an ancient lamp in the forest, rubs it, and conjures up a genie. "What is your command?" the genie asks.
"I want the Chinese Army to sack Poland," replies the Pole.
Surprised, the genie nonetheless obeys. Poland is sacked.
"Your command?" asks the genie.
"I want the Chinese Army to do it all over again."
Astonished, the genie obeys. Once more he asks for the Pole's command. Once more the Pole asks destruction by the Chinese.
The genei obeys and finally asks, "Why do you want your own country destroyed like this?"
Retorts the Pole: "Yes, my country is destroyed -- but the Chinese Army had to cross Russia six times to do it."
Question: "Why are Russian soldiers learning Polish?"
Answer: "Because Chinese troops won't stop until they hear it."
Among the dozens of private, critical stories about Soviet leaders in the Kremlin:
Brezhnev and the Politburo take off in an Aeroflot plane for a vacation in the Crimea. Suddenly the pilot's voice is heard:
"ATtention, attention. We have an emergency.Please hold on tight to the overhead racks. The bottom is about to fall out of the plane."
Everyone holds on to the overhead racks. Out flaps the bottom of the plane?
Pilot again: "I can't keep her in the air. We need to drop another 250 pounds."
Brezhnev shouts to his colleagues: "I have had a long and sucessful life. Now I am prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for you all. I well let go."
The others clap.
Dissidents tell anecdotes galore:
Asked what had happened to the school cat the previous week, a school class put up a forest of hands. The teacher picked out one young girl:
"Our cat had kittens, and they're all good communists."
The teacher was pleased.
The following week, the little girl again raised her hand.
"Our kittens are no longer communists," she reported.
"Why?" asked the teacher.
"Because they've opened their eyes."
The inability to travel abroad leads to many stories:
Says one Jew to another: "I'd like to go to Paris again."
"What's that?" replies his astounded friend. "You've been to Paris before?"
"No," says the Jew, "I wanted to go once before."
A final joke that typifies many here:
Brezhnev goes to East Germany for a visit. He drops in on a high school, where fourth graders had been carefully rehearsed.
"Do you know who I am?" Brezhnev asks the children.
"You are the leader of the great Russian people," replies Dieter.
Brezhnev smiles. "Do you like the great Russian people?"
"Yes, says Waldemar. "We love the great Russian people."
"And why do you love the Great Russian people liberated us from fascism."
Suddenly Brezhnev throws in an unrehearsed question:
"And what do you think of the American people?"
Heidi doesn't hesitate: "We hate the American people."
Her teacher nods in relief.
"And why do you hate the American people?"
"Because," replies Heidi, "the American people did not liberate us from fascism."