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A Sincere Hyuck Trumps the Fake Guffaw

another form of torture

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, April 22, 2009.

One of the charms of age is how one’s face sags with all the attraction of a Neapolitan mastiff’s after a large bowl of raw chicken livers and suffering from the sniffles. This morning, at the computer preparing a commentary on torture, I kept wiping my eyes because my sight was fuzzy and then, after all else failed, finally washed my face - it being Wednesday, anyway – yet I still couldn’t see well. Turns out my forehead has sagged down upon my eyelids, preventing my eyelashes from clearing my sight. I weighed my options. I considered duct tape, being a guy, and then considered that maybe, when the coffee kicked in and I woke up, the normal turgor and tension of human skin would return and all would be okay.

Indeed, it got better. Then, far off, beyond the murder of crows tuning up outside my window, yet closer than the normally charming chant of those small birds like Chickadees that I’m told are not chickadees, roughly on the same wave length and distance from me of 4500 leaf blowers stretching human tolerance, came the sound of laughter. A woman’s laugh. It was prolonged. It was hearty, then high and shrill, then hearty again. Then, the huge intake of breath and it returned to its sequence. Worse, another joined it, then another, and finally a man’s. Several more. The skin obscuring sight descended again to the bridge of the nose. It’s the sort of audio horror that suffuses bad amateur theatricals, the shills of Saturday Night Live and the Ed McMahons and Paul Schaeffers when caught off guard.

Nothing irritates like insincere laughter, save the fake smile. Not the polite, shy, cheek-dimpling type of smile to which children and adults regress just indicating they’re not upset nor unpleased at first meeting. I mean the gum baring horror normally associated with racehorses getting their cocaine before the race, or when prospective buyers check out their health. It’s that equine unnaturalness that reduces the efficacy of the intent to most beauty pageant participants, who want to suggest both high moral character, sexual attraction to men, and non-threatening friendliness to other women while not looking where they are walking across a stage with a smile like an unwrapped mummy’s rictus.

There is a theory that practicing laughter is good for the soul and body. I read there are groups in Boulder that gather to do this. For all I know, and I don’t, it’s constructive for those in hospice or fighting disease, and it’s easier with others around doing it. For all I actually know, the laughter that annoys me is making someone’s last days better. It would not work for me, so I find this hard to believe. I hope it is not inflicted on someone out of ignorance. It would amount to torture.

To me, practicing laughter is like practicing orgasm, an insincerity that can be argued is polite, maybe kind, but sooner than later fools neither party, and becomes an insult, a condescension and a power play. It’s a stage cue. It says “you owe me,” and they plan to collect.

Years ago, I worked with a beautiful young woman, a single mother, blue-eyed blonde smart and funny, but who never laughed. You could take her to movies but not comedies. Because the world is all about me, I thought this was her way of brushing me off. One day, when I was in full rant about something or other she started to laugh loudly, probably at me and not with me. Again, it’s always about me.

She had a laugh that recalled Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel. Her voice, normally light and lovely, became heavy and basso profundo and there was no denying the hyuck-hyuck that made Goofy famous. I’d known very few with this affliction, and to my shame I stopped in shock. She missed my cue and continued till she noticed, turned shyly to me, blushed bright red, and smiled sweetly looking down. I had no idea what to say, because I wasn’t sure right off that she wasn’t making fun of me with that unnatural sounding horror. But it was her laugh. She loved to laugh, and people like me made it hard for her. Miserable, in fact. I cannot imagine not being able to laugh out of fear it would ruin the event for others plus call scorn down upon yourself. That would be torture. Unbelievably cruel. At least, around people like me. I got used to it, more or less, but it would take time to fully be at home with it. She never trusted me thereafter. I don’t blame her.

But I tell you truly, I could listen to her sincerely laugh all day rather than another ten minutes of the imposters.