"I don't like the word midget," I said.
The woman stopped talking, registered what I said, and started to talk again. "There is a little person in Phoenix. He is a psychic. He committed a crime." At that point, I knew the woman hadn't approached to ask if I knew a little person from Phoenix.
There are two little people jokes that get repeated more than any other I know. The first one always uses the m-word. The punchline is, "That's like getting the award for the world's tallest midget." People use the joke as a tool to discredit the recipient of praise. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks Basketball Team, repeated the joke over Twitter, referring to Starbucks' Via Coffee being named the best instant coffee. Matt Damon, during the interview on the Today Show, used the joke to disparage himself when the hosts announced that he had won an award, something like the "World's Sexiest Family Man." The actual meaning of the joke is troubling enough because it reveals an inherent bias against short stature. Throw in the m-word, the joke provokes tired exasperation.
The second joke is the one the woman in the airport started to tell. It involves a little person who is a psychic or an astrologer. He or she is arrested, but manages to escape. The punchline is, ".....a small medium, at large." For some, a cute play on words. But if the joke includes the m-word, it only inspires more eye rolling.
In the airport, I thought the woman was going to ask me about a real little person who lived in Phoenix. I guessed she was going to ask if I knew the person. But it didn't take long for me to figure out that she had approached a stranger, who happened to be a dwarf, in the middle of an airport, in order to tell him a little person joke. Realizing she was leading up to the standard punchline, I stopped the woman a second time.
"I know this joke," I said. I used a monotone. She paused, focused her eyes a bit more than they were already, gave a slight nod, then started in on the punchline. "A small...." she stopped, waiting for me to finish the joke. I don't know if she stopped because she wanted me to prove I really knew the joke or to allow me to share in the joy of the punchline.
In another monotone voice, I said "medium, at-large." She chimed in for the last bit. We said "at-large" in unison.
With a somewhat satisfied look on her face, the woman squeezed my shoulder, said, "you are a good boy," then walked off.