Wake Up Laughing. That's Step One.
It’s late afternoon, around 4:15, and my prism rainbow-colored canvas tennis shoes are making these farting noises as make the long walk to the copy room from my office. I work in a healthcare setting, so the sound isn’t startling to my colleagues, but clearly, it’s time to stop wearing socks and switch to a quieter shoe. After six and a half hours, and multiple laps around the office, my feet become “dewey” in my socks and rub rhythmically—and audibly—against the insides of my shoes. The increasingly warmer weather is affecting the very footgear I wear. Switching over to socks-free sandals by May, I should be able to sneak up on my coworkers like a ninja. But for now, I announce my arrival to every occupied cubicle. There’s nowhere to hide, and trying to tiptoe is an impossible posture to maintain for very long. Someone snickers (wasn’t it George Carlin who said that suppressed laughter is the best?), and I try slowing my walk to a slightly labyrinth-like meditative pace and rehearse my explanation in case my boss comes around the corner in her always-dignified quiet heels.
I realize some of you are still stuck at the word “farting”. I’ll wait.
I come by my love of physical humor honestly and perhaps genetically. Dad would laugh himself to tears at those precious M * A * S * H episodes where Colonel Blake was chasing a stray dog (that bit Radar and was thought to be rabid) around the mess tent, his huge floppy feet splayed left and right, cigar tucked firmly between his teeth, or when all of the officers had to cram into one tent to conserve heat during a blizzard, and Trapper John discovered that Frank was wearing battery-operated hunting socks, which led to a fraternity-style ruckus to try and remove them from Frank’s feet as he swung in a hammock above Hawkeye’s cot. Even as dementia stole what remained of Dad’s mind, he could still let loose with that wonderfully cheerful chortle that seemed to echo and return before finally settling into a broad smile on his face. I regret not recording it at one of my many after-work visits with him. I’d have used it as my phone’s ringtone and kept the ringer turned on permanently.
Finding one’s humor tribe is a noble pursuit in life. Not everyone has the same funny bone triggers, and speaking only for myself, it’s been a trial-and-error journey with more than a few humbling red-faced moments. As a child, I managed to drop a few bon mots into the adults’ conversations without really meaning to, and grinned somewhat uncertainly at what I’d done, wondering how I might repeat myself and obtain the same results (few things send a child’s self-esteem soaring than the delighted laughter of adults whose opinions matter to said child more than they will ever fully grasp). I continued to grow up in a circle of folks for whom jokes and laughter and silliness were not merely an undercurrent, but a primary influence of our character development; making people laugh was a great way to start a friendship. Mom and Dad were both quick-witted, and saturated us with their ability to find something humorous in just about every situation. Certain TV shows helped hone our vocabulary and timing—Carol Burnett, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Smothers Brothers, Bob Newhart, Mary Tyler Moore—until we were introduced to the granddaddy of them all, M*A*S*H, and carry that brand of humor with us to this day.
As much as I portray our land and home as idyllic and retreat center-peaceful, there’s plenty to laugh at here, and I don’t know that I expected that benefit when we arrived. In the physical humor genre, chickens are masters at the glance, the Monty Python-esque silly walk, and a broad range of vocables to round out the show. Letting them out of their coop in the morning, I start my day laughing as they tumble over each other toward the scattering of fresh powdery scratch, heads bobbing, rear ends up in the air without the slightest touch of self-consciousness, cackling admonishments and advice in that secret language only chickens can understand. It’s both privilege and tonic to me, and I climb into the truck to go to work, with no desire to spoil the moment by turning on the radio news.
When the month of May brings around all manner of new life and baby everything here, it’s impossible not to smile. One year, I watched from a safe distance as a mother skunk took her twins for a stroll down the driveway, away from the house. She was all purpose and stride, and behind her, the little ones tumbled and bounced along, bumping into each other intentionally and goofing off instead of trying to keep up with her. They invented a game where one would walk in a diagonal line to the right, and the other would walk diagonally to the left until they met in the middle behind mama’s steady gait, giggling and snuffling in the gravel. They kept this up all the way across the bridge, and I clapped with delight for the sheer joy of getting to see such a display of play unfold on the land where I lived and ate most of my meals.
Another summer, when Mom had come to visit for the weekend, a family of deer—doe and buck, and two offspring, their tawny fur still bearing the spots of their youth—picked its way across the neighbor’s mown field to the south, and we watched as the young ones chased each other back and forth, sprinting then stopping short as their noses touched, then jumping excitedly around in circles. Mom was enchanted and I was so grateful; it’s pure gift when the land performs like this and the people I love are within arm’s reach to share the moment.
And isn’t that the point of humor, to bring joy? A good belly laugh centers us in the moment, and refills our reservoir of goodwill, making it possible to face the more serious situations in our lives without completely crumbling into dust. It also connects us to each other in easy and pleasant ways, ways that we hope to repeat the next time we meet, and if this all continues, we’ll have a new friend before long.
I do have my sock-less sandals ready to go as the spring meshes into summer. But I’ll keep my farting shoes handy just in case. Some of the members of my humor tribe work right down the hallway from me, and I’d hate to disappoint them.