The cartoon milkman

… and a bad grandpa pun, in the One Big Happy from 8/14:


(The characters, left to right in the first and last panels: the neighbor boy James; the son of the OBH family, Ruthie’s older brother Joe; and Joe’s grandfather.)

Grandpa reproduces a bit of culture lore, about liaisons between housewives and milkmen. The boys are no doubt somewhat vague about what would be involved in a woman’s running off with the milkman. But, more pressingly, they don’t know what a milkman is: the N +  N compound is scarcely transparent semantically, so unless you’ve actually had milkmen in your experience, tales of women and milkmen are just baffling.

The pun. On the idiom throw oneself on the mercy of the court ‘beg for clemency’, with quart (of milk) vs. court.

The boys just disregard grandpa’s egregious pun and focus instead on what’s important to them: the milkman mystery.

The milkman figure. From Wikipedia:


A milkman is a delivery person who delivers milk, often directly to customers’ houses, in bottles or cartons.

Milk was delivered to houses daily in some countries when a lack of good refrigeration meant milk would quickly spoil. Before milk bottles were available, milkmen took churns on their rounds and filled the customers’ jugs by dipping a measure into the churn. The near-ubiquity of refrigerators in homes in the developed world, as well as improved packaging, has decreased the need for frequent milk delivery over the past half-century and made the trade shrink in many localities sometimes to just three days a week and disappear totally in others. Additionally, milk delivery incurs a small cost on the price of dairy products that is increasingly difficult to justify and leaves delivered milk in a position where it is vulnerable to theft.

Milk deliveries frequently occur in the morning and it is not uncommon for milkmen and milkwomen to deliver products other than milk such as eggs, cream, cheese, butter, yogurt, or soft drinks.

In some areas apartments and houses would have small milk delivery doors. A small wooden cabinet inside of the residence, built into the exterior wall, would have doors on both sides, latched but not locked. Milk or groceries could be placed in the box when delivered, and collected by the homeowner.

… In 2005, about 0.4% of consumers in the United States had their milk delivered

… The frequent deliveries by milkcarriers to homes during the day has led to a high level of familiarity with many homemakers — often female — which has made the occupation a central figure in numerous milkman jokes.

On to the milkman joke. Again from Wikipedia:


In English-speaking culture, a milkman joke is a class of joke exploiting fear of adultery and mistaken paternity. This class of jokes has its roots in the early part of the 20th century, prior to the regular availability of milk in supermarkets. At that time, milk in glass bottles was delivered directly to customers’ houses by milkmen, generally in the morning (at which time empty bottles were also collected). Men were commonly the main financial supporters of their families, and a man’s wife tended to remain at home to care for their children and home. As the milkman would visit the home at a time when the husband would be away at work, this created an opportune situation for adultery.

Similar jokes referring to other professions, such as postmen, plumbers, pizza delivery drivers, and swimming pool cleaners, are also known. [As I’ve noted in other postings on this blog, pizza boys and pool boys are staple figures of gay porn.]

The Blunt Card in #1 tackles the paternity theme directly. There’s also a rich vein of humor, including cartoons,  working the adultery theme: while the husband’s away, the wife and the milkman will play. One from Playboy (and Punch) cartoonist Erich Sokol (1933 – 2003):


Sokol. A major exponent of the 1950s-era pinup drawing, his work is populated by extraordinarily busty young women (most of them topless, with very perky nipples) and resolutely horndog men. His men are often feckless and foolish, his women are frequently more than mere objects of male sexual desire, as here:

(#5) “Sometimes I think I’d like to move to another city and start all over as a virgin”

Bonus: Max Cannon’s Milkman Dan. From the far reaches of the milkman world:

Max Cannon’s Red Meat is an independent comic strip begun in 1989. It appears in over 75 alternative weeklies and college papers in the United States and in other countries. Since 1996, it has been available for reading on the web.

… [among the recurring characters:] Milkman Dan – The local milkman; eccentric and hostile towards people and animals, especially Karen, a neighborhood child. Constantly battling against sobriety. Dan also dresses as a cow in the part of McMoo, the anti-drug cow. (Wikipedia link)

Karen’s tag line is “I hate you, Milkman Dan.”


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