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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 787

Charlie is Evan’s boyfriend. Described as ‘‘independently wealthy [with] an amusing little job in book publishing,’’ Charlie spends his time at home watching football games on a television that gets fuzzy reception and has a ritual of undressing at night in which ‘‘he kicks up his leg and flips the underwear in the air and catches it.’’ It is in Charlie’s Manhattan apartment that the Halloween party takes places where Zoë meets Earl.

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Earl is the date Evan arranges for Zoë at the Halloween party. He arrives to the party dressed as a naked woman with ‘‘large rubber breasts protruding like hams.’’ Earl has recently gone through a divorce, and throughout the evening he attempts to engage Zoë in conversation about love, only to be continually interrupted by her sarcastic quips and vague allusions. Earl is a photographer who worries aloud about the effect the photographic chemicals are having on him. At one point in the evening, after repeated attempts at having a comprehensible discussion with Zoë, Earl gives up and says, ‘‘You’re not at all like your sister.’’ And in final defeat he announces aloud that he shouldn’t go out with ‘‘career women’’ anymore. ‘‘You’re all stricken,’’ he says and adds that he’ll be better off ‘‘with women who have part-time jobs.’’

Evan Hendricks
Evan Hendricks is Zoë’s younger sister, five years out of college, who lives in Manhattan with her boyfriend, Charlie. Evan has a part-time job arranging photo shoots of food and lives in Manhattan in ‘‘a luxury midtown high-rise with a balcony and access to a pool. . . .’’ Evan sets her sister up with Earl at the party and just prior to the party announces to Zoë that she and Charlie are getting married.

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Zoë Hendricks
The main character in the story, Zoë Hendricks teaches American history in a small liberal arts college outside Paris, Illinois. Considered eccentric or simply misunderstood by both her students and her administrators, she often interjects seemingly irreverent statements to conversations and has been known by her students to sing aloud as she enters class. Cynical and sarcastic, Hendricks loves jokes, but the punch lines are often lost on her audiences. Her response to every situation—whether it is a date with a colleague or the ultrasound tests she undergoes due to the severe abdominal pains she has been experiencing—is to make joke or sarcastic comments. Her favorite joke, and the source of the story’s title, is about the doctor who tells his patient that he has six weeks to live, and when the patient asks for a second opinion, the doctor says, ‘‘You’re ugly, too.’’

As a single woman, she has unsuccessfully tried dating local men, but the only two men she seems to care for are her postman, who delivers her ‘‘real letter[s], with real full-priced stamp[s], from someplace else,’’ and a cab driver, whom she has gotten to know from the repeated trips she took to the airport in order to leave town. When her sister Evan invites her to Manhattan for a Halloween party, Hendricks accepts, and it is there that she meets Earl, a friend of her sister. In her long talk with Earl on the balcony, Hendricks lies to him repeatedly about herself and offers him her cynical views of love and relationships.

Called ‘‘Jare’’ by Zoë, Jerry is the town’s only cabbie and one of Zoë’s two favorite men. He gives her cut rates on her rides, and while dropping her off for her flight to New York to see her sister, he admits that he’s never been on a plane or an escalator before. Jerry represents one of Zoë’s few links to the world outside Paris, Illinois.

The Mailman
Like Jerry the cabdriver, the mailman is also one of Zoë’s few links to the world outside her small town of Paris. Zoë lives for the daily arrival of the postman, ‘‘that handsome blue jay’’ who will deliver her letters which she’ll read over and over again in her bed.

The Students
Zoë considers her students to be ‘‘by and large good Midwesterners, spacey with estrogen from large quantities of meat and cheese’’ who share the ‘‘suburban values’’ of their parents and who have been given ‘‘things, things, things’’ by their parents. Zoë shows very little respect for her students, often chiding them with what she believes to be ironic remarks but which one student points out are sarcastic. ‘‘Illinois. It makes me sarcastic to be here,’’ Zoë admits to her sister. Her students are one of the many excuses Zoë uses to escape Paris as often as she is able.

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