This is not a story about my friend Jack, although it might as well be—it’s the sort of thing he’d do. This is the story behind a phrase that’s been around in my family for as long as I can remember. Whenever someone seems to enjoy being pessimistic, we say take that jack.
The phrase is a contraction of a story about an old, foul-mouthed farmer who got a flat tyre in the middle of the night along a deserted dirt road. The story is very likely apocryphal, but so what?
“What in pink flabby fuck?” the farmer said to himself as he got out of the truck.
He walked around to the back.
“Fucking great,” he grumbled as he kicked the flat tyre. “Fucking wonderful.”
He got a flashlight from under his seat, and crawled in underneath the truck. After considerable swearing and a long struggle, he managed to lower the spare wheel.
“It’s probably flat,” he muttered as he pulled himself up out of the dust.
But it wasn’t. The farmer looked behind the driver’s seat for the jack but found only the lug nut spanner.
“Where the fuck is the jack?” he wondered out loud and scratched his head.
He got in under the truck again, but the jack wasn’t where the wheel had been. He searched the inside of the truck thoroughly, but no jack.
“Shit!” he said to the sky. “Wonderful.”
For a minute he considered other ways to raise the truck, but he couldn’t think of any. The dirt road stretched to the horizon under a low moon. In the distance was a single light. Livid, the farmer set off along the road.
“It’s not a light,” he said out loud after a few minutes. “Fucking typical. Just some arseholes huddling around a cigarette.”
He walked on and the light stayed where it was.
“It’s not a house,” he said, a little out of breath. “It’s a beacon on a fucking pole, one of those stupid fucking surveyor things, in the middle of nowhere.”
In the distance, the single light resolved into a few lights, close together, like those of a house. As he walked on, he thought of something else.
“The place is a fort, barbed fucking wire and electric fences everywhere, with one of those little signs with a fucking skull. Typical!”
Ten minutes later he came to a gate and an uphill jeep track that looked like it led to the house. The gate wasn’t locked and nothing was barbed or electrified. There was a sign, but instead of a skull it had a picture of a cow and the words Pete Farrell, Cheesemaker.
“Cheesemaker,” the farmer mouthed as he regarded the sign in the dim light. “Fucking arsehole.”
He opened the gate and went inside.
“Pete’s not home,” he said out loud as he began to walk up the track. “Pete’s in town, having cocktails. Fucking cheesemaker. All this way for nothing!”
As he walked on, the lights moved in and out of sight as trees and the hill he was climbing got in the way.
“Pete’s got a dog,” he panted, “protecting his stupid cheese. From fucking what?”
He paused to rest and stood with his hands on his knees.
“I can see the headlines—German shepherd mistakes man for a mouse.”
No dog barked as he approached the house a few minutes later. By now the farmer was beside himself with rage.
“Pete won’t even come to the fucking door! I’ll stand there like a goddamned idiot!”
He was out of breath and sweating.
“Pete’s a fucking sissy! I should’ve known. Cheesemaker. He doesn’t even have a jack!”
He slowly climbed the steps to the porch and rang the bell.
“Pete has a jack,” he seethed, “but he won’t lend it to me, the selfish prick!”
A few moments later, Pete the Cheesemaker opened the door.
“Take that jack,” the farmer cried, “and shove it up your arse!”