Laughing in Public

31 Jul

Laughing in public.

Have you ever noticed that some people cannot stand public displays of laughter?

I don’t mean laughs that sound like Chihuahuas are being stuffed into cannoli shells or laughs like Melvin – who has a “deviated septum” – expels from the cubicle next to yours while reading Star Wars blogs…

I’m just talking about people laughing because something is funny and it makes them want to laugh. And so they do!

Over the weekend, my family was on the boat home from Nantucket, and my sister and I were sitting outside on the poop deck. (I’m not actually sure if where we were sitting would be classified as the “poop deck,” but we were on the deck of the boat and some kid shat himself and everything smelled like poop, so I think it still applies.)

We were having a normal conversation about a childhood friend of mine who once dared me to Google the word “penis” because I told her I’d never really seen, like seen seen one (she told me I could look at her brother’s for $.50 but that seemed weird to me and a little bit expensive) so I Googled “penis” and then her computer got some kind of porno virus and we tried to tell her parents that her brother had accidentally deviated from the “Wiggles” homepage and had clicked on a porno site, but he was three and barely had use of his opposable thumbs so they didn’t buy it, and I wasn’t invited back for a long time.

The story had us in hysterics, mostly because it was at this same playdate that my friend’s sister made out with the wall for five minutes and forced me and my sister and my friend to “watch and take notes for areas of improvement.” It was a weird, highly experimental playdate.

Anyway, we were laughing very hard. So hard, that we couldn’t bother to censor or speak quietly words like “penis,” or “porno” or…THE WIGGLES.

And so, the older woman sitting in front of us – who, up until that point in time, had seemed like a pleasant sort – turned around in her seat, glared at us, stood up, and blatantly moved to a different part of the poop deck. (She actually moved to a section that was downwind from us, and from the kid who’d shat himself, so she really didn’t do herself any favors.)

Cecelia and I erupted into even more hysterics once we realized we’d driven away an old woman who didn’t want to hear about accidental encounters with pornography.


The second laughter-related encounter we had was with Cecelia’s spirit animal.

There was a five-year-old girl wandering the poop deck for the duration of the boat ride. She was one of those precocious kids who walks up to random strangers and engages in hours of endless conversation.

Let’s call her Annie.

When Cecelia saw Annie, she announced, “Oh my God, that girl is my spirit animal!”

(To be clear, Annie was a girl and not an animal.)

Annie had limited social skills and was wearing lots of mismatched prints. Her haircut looked vaguely boyish and unwashed, and she was speaking very loudly and emphatically.

Yes, there was definitely a resemblance.

We probably wouldn’t have even noticed Annie, had she not gone up – unsolicited – to a nice looking woman and announced, “I have a younger brother and he’s always up my bum!”

To be honest, it was really the word “bum” that got me laughing because it’s such a dainty, British-sounding word and yet it really packs a punch.

Also, why wouldn’t Annie just say, “He’s really annoying,” or “He’s a pain”? Clearly, someone had taught her that “He’s up my bum” is an expression meaning “He’s really annoying.” I imagine this person to be a British nanny or a really proper fellow kindergartener…the kind who also has a lisp and who wears Sperry’s and who fits perfectly inside of lockers.

Anywho, Annie was chatting a mile a minute about her brother and her bum, and we could see her chatter taking a toll on this poor woman.

When Annie finally left, the woman’s husband came to protect her from the possibility of future encounters, and the look of relief on this woman’s face was so apparent, you would have thought her husband saved her from a man-eating Chinchilla or the urine stream of an angry homeless man.

But oh no, Annie was NOT through with this tirade. No, she returned to harass the woman, and when she did, she brought with her a stuffed animal.

At this point, Cecelia and I had recruited our cousin, Jake, to join us in watching this dramatic scene unfold.

Annie made the woman pet her stuffed animal, which, to be frank, looked like it had fallen into a pile of dung. But hey, to each his own.

The three of us were laughing uncontrollably. It was like penis porno on steroids.

At this point, there were only a few people out on the poop deck – us, Annie and her dung creature, the victimized couple, and the frigid older woman.

I want to make clear that we weren’t blatantly laughing at Annie. In fact, I went to great lengths to make it look like we were laughing at a passage from Aziz Ansari’s new book, which I am currently reading and which is hilarious.

So, this is how I am certain that the frigid older woman’s disdain was for the sound of our laughter, and not its subject.

Again, she turned her head, glared, and then proceeded to exit the poop deck entirely.

I can assure you that neither myself, nor Cecelia, nor Jake laughs in any bizarre or really disturbing way.

Sure, I’ve been known to snort, but those instances are few-and-far between, and I’m usually able to blame them on my seasonal allergies.

So why was this woman so perturbed? Why do people get so annoyed by laughter?

My parents often tell my sisters and me to stop laughing, or to laugh more quietly. Usually they tell us this on long family car rides, during which we do Robert De Niro impressions and belt One Direction tracks and throw snacks all over the car…so maybe I understand where they’re coming from.

But I’ve also experienced disdainful looks from fellow park-goers, subway-riders, restaurant-eaters etc. etc. These are public, open spaces!

I hate to say it, but it does seem like those people with the biggest aversions to public laughter are on the older side of the spectrum.

In the olden days, was laughter considered a private, “inside” activity, like having sex or trying on really tight leather pants and playing air guitar? Did people have special rooms in their homes designated for laughter?

Or maybe there are more people than we realize who once tried their hand at stand-up comedy and failed miserably? And maybe hearing laughter provokes episodes of PTSD from that time they made a joke about forks and someone in the audience insulted their mother, and so they have to flee the scene before they lash out?

OR, perhaps some people are “laughter intolerant”? I imagine this disorder to have similar side effects to gluten intolerance, like explosive diarrhea and the propensity to become a celebrity fad. Soon, there will be laughter-free versions of all products, like magazines and books and movies.

(These are just a few theories I have. They are scientifically and research-based, so feel free to cite me in medical publications.)

I wanted to ask the frigid poop deck woman all of these questions and more, but I’d lost sight of her. (I’m really hoping we didn’t drive her to jump off the boat.)

I’ll probably never understand what drove frigid poop deck woman away that day. Nor will I ever understand how laughter can annoy or offend anyone. (Within reason, of course. If your dumb laughter interferes with my ability to hear dialogue on The Bachelorette I WILL throw a kumquat at your head.)

So, instead of dwelling over people’s dirty looks and rude repositioning, I think I’ll take a page out of Annie’s book and pass my dung animals from one stranger to the next!

And by that I mean I’ll laugh and talk and joke freely with abandon, until the law or the unfortunate onset of L.I. (Laughter Intolerance) prohibits me from doing so.



One Response to “Laughing in Public”

  1. CVV August 1, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    Quiet down and pass the Rosie.

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