Tim Whyte | I’ve Had an Emily Litella Moment: The Polish Tunnel

Tim Whyte
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A lot of things were broadly accepted when I was a kid that would no longer be broadly accepted today. For example, left over from my early-teen years, I have a couple of two-sided books, which was one of those Clever Devices book publishers used in the 1970s to save money on book production.  

One side of the book would be a book about one topic. The other side of the book would be a book on another topic. And here’s the Clever Device — if you FLIPPED THE BOOK OVER, the first book was upside down and your new Bonus Book was right side up.  

It was like getting TWO BOOKS. Two books in one! 

Those 1970s book publishers were marketing geniuses.  

So my two-sided books are these:  

One of them is a book of Democrat jokes. And when you flip it over, it’s a book of Republican jokes. Which I am pretty sure is NOT what happens if you flip over an actual Democrat. 

The other two-sided book – again, which is TWO BOOKS IN ONE – is a book of Italian jokes on one side … and Polish jokes on the other.  

The Italian jokes had a lot of mob references and punchlines about excessive body hair. The Polish jokes included classics such as, “Did you hear about the Polish Navy’s submarines? They kept sinking so they had to replace the screen doors.” 

I know. SO inappropriate. I’m probably getting Canceled right now just for mentioning it. 

Fifty years ago, though, this was high-end humor for a kid approaching junior high school. We had no idea how inappropriate it was. Or maybe we did and were just insensitive enough not to care. But there was no internet so we didn’t get publicly shamed for being such doofuses. 

In researching for this column — because I am all about historically accurate research — I found the original Polish-Italian joke book on Amazon. It was published in 1974 and you can get a copy of your own for $23.20. (Original price: $1.25.)  

But be careful. It’s not for the faint of heart, 50 years later. Here’s an excerpt of one review on Amazon: 

“Only one member of my extended family were particularly offended by the jokes, even though most of them, including myself, have at least some Polish roots. The only exception was an Italian American uncle, who probably thought that the rest of us were piling on with the Italian jokes. He was right about that,” the reviewer wrote. “Don’t buy it if you’re the politically correct type. But some of the jokes are pretty funny if you’re not overly PC. I still chuckle when I recall the one about three hunters arguing about whether the tracks that they’d stumbled upon were deer tracks or bear tracks shortly before being hit by a train.” 

I hadn’t thought about those flip-over books in years, until I noticed a construction site on my way home from work, along Copper Hill Drive. 

“COMING SOON,” the sign announced, hanging from a chain-link fence next to a gas station. “POLISH TUNNEL.” 

My first thought was, “A Polish tunnel? It’s 2024. How offensive! I bet the people who made that sign are getting canceled RIGHT NOW AS WE SPEAK.” 

I envisioned the Polish Santa Claritans Association (POLSCA) storming Santa Clarita City Hall in protest. The City Council would absolutely have to issue a proclamation condemning the Polish tunnel. Perhaps they’d even order city staff to launch an investigation, or form an ad hoc committee. Or both. 

Yet, I couldn’t help wondering, what, indeed, is a Polish tunnel? I harkened back to my flip-over Polish-Italian joke book of one-liners and wondered, what would the punchlines be? 

“Did you hear about the Polish tunnel? No roof.” 

“Did you hear about the Polish tunnel? Opening at one end, brick wall at the other.” 

Or, I imagined, maybe the Polish tunnel was a place where you could drive in, and be fed delicious Polish sausages. Drive-thru kielbasa? I am SO in for that. 

I wondered about it for a while. It’s not like it occupied my daily thoughts or anything, but every time I passed that sign, I thought to myself, “What IS a Polish tunnel?” 

Then I took a closer look, and noticed the name of the Polish tunnel company, which had originally escaped my attention. I looked up their website. 

As it turns out — and this makes perfect sense — the business being advertised is not an insensitive, politically incorrect joke upon Polish-Americans, nor is it a drive-thru sausage emporium. 

It’s a car wash.  

And it’s not a Polish tunnel. It’s a polish tunnel. You know. Where they apply polish to your vehicle so it comes out shiny and sparkly.  

Oh.  

Never mind. 

Tim Whyte is the editor of The Signal.

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