I’m working on a paper about the poet W.H. Auden’s involvement in the revisions to the Psalter in the 1970s, and came across something he said about the people in his life. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist is that Auden said the people he’d liked throughout the years crossed all social and cultural and professional boundaries and had little in common with one another, but the people he’d loved had one important thing in common: they’d all made him laugh.
When I read this, it reminded me of a few instances in my life when someone I’d just met made me laugh so hard that I fell instantly in love. A few years ago, for example, I went to a goodbye dinner for dear friends who were moving to Hong Kong, and there was a man at the dinner — a friend of the honorees — who had me crying with laughter from the minute we sat down.
He was a portly fellow; a man of big appetites for food, Scotch and cigars. In rapid-fire speech, he told a story about having gone to dinner the night before and taken on a meal so big that when he returned home to his condominium after dinner, he left the door unlocked so that if a chunk of food had, as he feared, become lodged in his heart – necessitating a call to 911 — the firemen wouldn’t need to cut a hole in the wall.
“It’s not like they can carry me out the door, anyway,” he said, lifting a forkful of rare beef to his mouth. “A couple more meals like this and I’ll be wedged in my bathtub like President Taft, dying in my own swill. That’s my goal – to go out like Taft.”
He then launched into an evisceration of my friend’s politics — “Oh, a liberal New York Jew? How unusual! What an oddity!” — that was so witty and delivered with such precision and speed that I was left holding onto my ribs.
“Where have you been all my life?” I panted, when he paused to breathe. “I love you!”
He looked across the table at my husband and waggled his eyebrows. “Uh oh, pal,” he said, pointing his fork at me. “We’ve got a chubby chaser on our hands.”
Sadly, my repeated entreaties to be in the company of this man again fell on deaf ears (or perhaps my proclamations of love terrified him and he beat a swift path to Djibouti to get away from me), and I haven’t seen him since. This is a source of profound sadness for me to this day…
There’s another guy I met — also a friend of a dear friend — who invoked a similar response in me; an over-the-top, inexplicable love based on laughter. We met at our mutual friend’s wedding (which I officiated the shit out of, thanks very much, despite being stitched up like Frankenstein and only six days post-op: one of the great accomplishments of my life) and, although I’d known him by reputation for years, the actual flesh and blood man surpassed my every expectation. Sitting outside in the Seattle sunshine (I really just said that. It was sunny for an entire day when we were there; all the natives were shucking off their clothes and running around like Canadians in Daytona), he told a crazy story about attending a wedding in the Hamptons that got way, way out of hand.
So out of hand, that he decided, in the sort of wisdom that comes only from hours of excessive drinking, to go for help when the car he was a passenger in stalled on its way back to the city. (It might have run out of gas — I don’t remember because that wasn’t really the point of the story.) So there he is, wandering around the Hamptons in a tuxedo, looking for help. He walks up to a very nice house — this is the Hamptons, after all — and knocks, but gets no answer.
He walks around to the side of the house where there’s a sliding door, and knocks on that. Still no answer. Then (again, this is where the logic and rational thought come in), he tries opening the door. Et voila! He’s in.
The couch looks comfy, so he decides to rest for a minute and watch television. An hour or so passes, and he starts to feel hungry, so he meanders into the kitchen and makes himself a tasty snack, which he takes back to the couch to eat. Another hour or so passes, and he begins to feel very sleepy…so he decides to go upstairs and check out the bed situation. The master bedroom has a lovely, king-sized bed, so he kicks off his shoes and stretches out…and promptly falls asleep. Hours later, he wakes up, puts his shoes on, makes himself some toast, and wanders back out the door.
By the time he finished this story, which he told with no sense of pride or amusement, but rather completely deadpan, the way you might tell someone about the latest version of TurboTax, I was dying.
“Who does that?” I demanded, wiping my eyes. “Who wanders into someone’s house and makes a snack in the middle of the night, much less goes to sleep?”
He shrugged. “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. The bed was really comfy.”
While scientists continue to argue the actual physiological benefits of laughter, I don’t think many people would claim that laughter is anything but good for you — unless you happen to be in the choir stall in the middle of a service and one of your fellow altos whispers something so ridiculously hilarious that you literally (literally!) slide onto the floor under the row in front of you because you are laughing so hard that you cannot stay upright, thereby incurring the wrath of your rector yet AGAIN.
Then it’s a problem….
A huge thank you to all the people in my life who’ve made me choke on my food, blow iced tea out my nose, wonder if my ribs were cracked, and stay in trouble with my priest through the years. I love you all. *Literally!*