Monday, June 28, 2010

It only hurts when I laugh

We've all been asked the question.

Some of us take no time in coming up with the answer.  Some have several choices for their reply. Others have to really think about it, but eventually can find a suitable response.  Very few are stumped.

What is your most embarrassing moment?

The question is typically asked in a group setting, usually a party, so you have to choose your response carefully so you don't reveal too much about what causes you embarrassment (it might backfire on you later), or tell something you've done that you might not be proud of, or share part of your character that you might not want people who you're not very well acquainted with to know about you.

I have a few responses, but it's more a list of embarrassing things that I've said than done.  And now, faithful blog reader, you're preparing yourself for a humorous accounting of the gaffes, faux pas, blunders, and misspeaks that have rolled off my impetuous tongue in the course of these long years of adulthood.

Not a chance.

I think that inappropriate laughing is a better topic for this blog entry. Really!  Think about it. How many times have you been asked the question at a cocktail party?

"When was the worst time that you laughed inappropriately?" 

Imagine it, several of you are gathered around someone's living room with a drink, a small napkin with a puff pastry or stuffed mushroom that's too hot to eat--you know it, because the last one you ate scorched the roof of your mouth and you've been nursing it with an ice-cube from your drink for several minutes. People exchange topics about the work that they do, their kids' comings and goings, travels they've made--some guests you may know, some you're just getting acquainted with.

You've probably already pegged some of those who you don't know very well.

Type A:  The person who asks you a question, and before you've finished your response, they're answering it for you with the answer that they really wanted to give if you'd asked THEM the question.  For example,  "Have you ever been to California?" and you respond with "Well, funny you should ask, I've just been a few months ago, and found it to be much colder than I expected for this time of yea...." but they interrupt, and begin to tell you about their experiences in California, and you realize they really didn't care about your answer at all--they just had an agenda to start non-stop talking.

Type B:  The person who is everyone's very best friend, and knows everyone else in the room.  They find out something about you in some capacity, feign genuine interest in something that you're discussing, and promise you something in the future like:
a follow-up lunch
a book they'll put in the mail about the subject your discussing that they picked up at a yard sale but can't quite finish.
a telephone call with some information that would be pertinent for you to pursue

but you never hear from them again and you realize they are a big phony--so by now you spot them early on.

C:  The know-it-all.  Enough said.  Some esoteric subject has been brought up that piques your interest, and perhaps you know a few facts, but big mouth in the room, knows-it-all.  Or does he?

D:  Drinky McGluggerton.  He's just there for the alcohol;  he's actually amusing until he's had too many, at which point he becomes a little grouchy and frumps himself down in the Barcalounger (tm) in the corner and watches everyone else with a combative eye as the evening drags on.

But then the question is popped.  Has it ever before?  I doubt it.  Let's pretend it just has.
"When did you last laugh most inappropriately?"

My mother was a terrible offender.  But to her defense, and probably for most of us, an outburst of inappropriate laughter is usually an involuntary expression of stress or relief--(see The Jugular Vein blog entry)  --but not always.

When my mother was in a grocery store parking lot one cold wintry day after a freezing rain, she spied a woman who was pushing her heavily laden grocery cart out of the store to her vehicle.  The unaware woman hit a patch of ice, and the cart went wayward, while her feet went out from under her causing her to fall to her knees while keeping her grip on the cart.  The poor woman slid the entire length of the parking aisle flailing her legs to try regain her footing on the icy-slick pavement, but with no success.  By the time the cart came to a stop, and the woman could stand again, with torn stockings and bloodied knees, my mother was hysterical laughing.

Many years ago, we'd gone out to Bennett Lake in Fundy National Park.  We had an absolutely gorgeous wooden combination canoe-sail-row boat.  The Aphrodite.  It was very heavy, but the three of us (I was 13 at the time) could manage it well, and my parents could manage it with a bit of a struggle between the two of them.  Wally, would bark commands expecting an immediate and efficient response in action, while unloading the canoe and all its accessories from the top of the car until finally launching it into the water.  After several outings, we had a pretty good routine, each of us executing our job with the timely precision of a military mission.

Until one afternoon at the water's edge.  We were going sailing.  While I was setting the leeboards, Dad was righting the mast, and my mother tied the boom.  Something happened at this point, and the boom came down on Dad's head with an audible, and sharp CRACK!  Expletives were abundant, and my mother was immediately convulsed with laughter, which elicited even more expletives. 

After the tweety-birds stopped circling around Dad's head, we resumed our duties, and Dad returned to the rigging, when


it happened again.  Loud.  Hard. The angry sailor's vicious vocabulary was considerably more verbose.  My mother was unable to catch her breath from uncontrollable laughter.  It wasn't that she thought that it was funny, I'm quite sure it just was her coping mechanism. 

In our early days of home ownership in Omaha, we had a large Linden tree in the front yard that had several large, broken, and dangerous limbs that needed to be brought down.  At the time, we didn't have the standard set of homeowner tools like a tall ladder, a chain saw, or other necessary equipment to do the job safely or properly, but we were concerned that some of the dangling branches might come down and hurt someone.  Stephen drove our car up into the yard and stood on the roof to get a better look at them, and indeed, they were precarious limbs.

I advised him to just jump off the roof of the car, grab hold of the branch, and drop down with it as it should easily break off.  This was not good advice.

Stephen sprang off the roof of the car with the grace of an Olympic parallel-bar athlete, grabbed the diseased tree branch with both hands and stopped in time and motion for a few seconds when


the branch did break easily, but poor Stephen fell to the ground FAST and landed on his back completely knocking the wind out of him rendering him breathless and dizzy.  My immediate response should have been to rush to his side for assistance, but I didn't simply because I became helpless with a fit of manic hysterical laughter that I absolutely could not control.  Stephen was not amused.

(Remember when Mary Tyler Moore couldn't help herself at the funeral for Chuckles The Clown? )

Then there was a time when Olivia was in the hospital.  It was just one of several lengthy and successive stays when she was most sick several years ago.  The nursing staff knew us, and enjoyed Olivia--she was a model patient; she didn't cry, scream, or struggle during painful and invasive treatments, didn't demand toys or television or games, and tolerated the needles better than most adults.

An unfamiliar nurse came into her room one afternoon with a series of hypodermic needles to draw blood, and administer several medications through Olivia's IV.  She set the lot of the needles on Olivia's bedside table and turned her back to set up the procedural equipment when Olivia took on of the syringes and inadvertently inserted it directly through her hand---syringe on her palm side, the needle poking out the back of her hand.  Olivia calmly looked up at me from her bed and in a quiet monotone voice recognizing trouble held out her hand and said, "mummy?"

I laughed at first, because it was so incredulous that the thoughtless, careless, nurse would leave these syringes within Olivia's reach, and also because it looked so bazaar!  This strange anachronism of a small child's hand run through and through with a gleaming hypodermic needle filled with poison.  Certainly, not a laughing matter.

I think the next time I'm asked "What was your most embarrassing moment?" I'll return with the question "First, tell me when was the last time you laughed inappropriately?"  I think it will be a better conversation.

Either that, or I'll reply, "A little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants." And see what happens.


  1. These are some good ones. Aren't there more though? Seems every week or so you tell me a story that includes some variation of, "I just started laughing and laughing, and I felt terrible, but I just couldn't stop!" Maybe this is just part one.

  2. I am the Phony, the Know-it-All, and the Drinkie McGluggerton. Also, ask Paul about how I couldn't stop laughing that time he fell down in the bathtub.