I’ve recently decided that it was time I learned how to play well with others. I’ve had this problem for a little while (since birth) where people just annoy the shit out of me by, you know, existing and stuff. It’s not their fault. I realize that it’s not them, it’s me. Chances are good that if you’re annoyed by pretty much every other human you encounter, you’re the one with the problem. I get that.
One of the ways I’ve been trying to be more of a “people person” is by working on a solid fake laugh, because apparently people like it when you give them laughs, even if they’ve done ZERO work to earn them. (Bitter?)
Too often I find myself completely stone-faced in a room full of people who are laughing at something unfunny that someone said, and I’m just standing there thinking, “This does not merit laughter. Why are you people laughing?”. I know, what a fun quality for a person to have! As Sergeant Hulka would say to Psycho in the movie Stripes, “Lighten up, Francis.”
I started to wonder in these situations if people are just fake laughing. I mean, they would have to be, right? Is that it? Maybe they’re ALL fake laughing? And if they’re all fake laughing, how do they all know when to do it? The cue for laughing is something funny happening. If nothing funny has happened, then what’s your cue to laugh? Is it just peer pressure? Is it just ONE person who decides to fake laugh and then everyone else joins in because they think they’re supposed to? Would nobody be laughing were it not for that ONE person who started to fake laugh? Who is this person, and how do we root them out and put their head on a pike?
The whole concept is particularly tough for me because I am so, so, so morally and vehemently opposed to fake laughter. To be honest, I am morally and vehemently opposed to even polite laughter. Like most people who are total dicks, I have a high personal bar for what I consider laugh-worthy. You want a laugh? You better put the work in for it.
Don’t even start on me with my love for lowbrow comedy shows like Perfect Strangers and Just The Ten of Us, because that’s kitsch, and kitsch television is DON’T MAKE ME EXPLAIN WHAT KITSCH TELEVISION IS.
I am bothered when people laugh at something that isn’t funny, because it personally offends me. I know, why the hell should I care?
I suspect this is the reason why so many comics hate each other. It’s because someone getting laughs for something that isn’t funny is like watching someone walk into a Starbucks and pick up a coffee and leave without paying while you’re standing at the register with cash in-hand to pay for your own. Even though Starbucks is the one who’s getting ripped off, it just seems unfair. You get all indignant like, “Excuse me, sir! If I have to pay for this coffee then you should, too!”
That’s the deal. You pay for a cup of coffee, you get a cup of coffee. You put in the work, you reap the rewards. You say something legitimately funny, I laugh.
Laughter is transactional in nature. It’s a form of social currency. Okay, fine. It’s a form of social currency for people who are emotionally-stunted assholes who are trying to keep their distance from you while barely holding themselves together because their entire self-worth is just rickety scaffolding that is entirely dependent on exterior reinforcements to stay up.
So ANYWAY, believe it or not, laughter was actually the currency that bought me my very first boyfriend. Ooh, SASSY!
His name was Lou, and he was one of those boys in middle school who was actually nice to girls, instead of the usual variety who threw rocks at us and hid under the staircases to look up our skirts. Lou was half Filipino and half eastern European Jewish, kinda nerdy in a cute way (he went to Space Camp – in the 80s!), wore those borderline-pervy “Big Johnson” surf t-shirts but actually tucked them in like a nice boy, had a group of fun guy friends who got along with everybody, and he played the saxophone in the marching band.
If you want to know what kind of saxophone he played, I can’t help you there. When it comes to the musical instruments of men who have disappointed me, I can remember various brands and types of guitars, amps, and drums, but that’s pretty much it.
(Now I have to make a website and Instagram called “The Musical Instruments of Men Who Have Disappointed Me”. I’ll go talk to my literary agent (my neighbor’s dog Cooper, therefore, Agent Cooper) about it after I finish writing this post. Don’t steal my idea in the meantime, jerk!)
Edit: I just bought the domain for it, drew the first four cartoons and wrote the first four captions, and you can now visit it at: themusicalinstrumentsofmenwhohavedisappointedme.com or TMIOMWHDM.com, so screw you! Please also follow on Twitter and Instagram at: TMIOMWHDM and thanks!)
So ANYWAY, maybe I would have noticed saxophone details if I’d ever seen someone rip out a solo at 200 decibels on one and then smash it onto the ground and set it on fire. Because while the saxophone may be the bad boy instrument of the marching band, post-St. Elmo’s Fire it’s the straight-up Urkel of the rock ‘n roll world (unless you’re Clarence Clemons, who was a damn genius). Little did I know that dating Saxophone Lou would kick off several unfortunate decades of dating musicians, but this kid was in the marching band, not Poison, so I had a misplaced sense of security about what level of dickhole he would turn out to be. False advertising is what it was!
I know my dear friend Emily, who is a middle school band teacher and is much more acquainted with the personality types of marching band-folk, is reading this right now and saying, “Are you kidding me? You didn’t know that the SAXOPHONE PLAYER would turn out to be a jerk?!” Shout out to that woman, she’s one of my favorite people and I’m extremely fortunate that I get to be friends with her.
Saxophone Lou and I had been friends for a couple of years and got along really, superbly well. We really liked each other, and were lucky that our last names were close enough alphabetically that we often got seated next to each other in class. He was one of my favorite people to shoot the shit with, which mostly meant that I worked tirelessly every day to make him laugh.
I kept my material fresh, while pretending that I wasn’t working off material (that’s the con!), because my brain writes material 24 hours a day and sometimes wakes me up at night and I have to write it down in the dark. It sounds like fun, right up until you sit straight up in the middle of the night and go, “Wouldn’t it be funny to call Patrick Swayze a dumpster-possum in dick-pants?” and then you can’t fall back to sleep for three hours.
When we were in eighth grade, sitting in Mr. Wertzman’s English class, I was sitting next to Saxophone Lou, and I was quietly but savagely ripping on Mr. Wertzman, a teacher we both couldn’t stand. To be fair, literally nobody could stand him.
Mr. Wertzman was one of those teachers who when you saw his name on your schedule on the first day of school, you groaned and grimaced and pouted over it for weeks and tried to get the front office to change your schedule. He was a raging asshole. Just everything you don’t want out of a teacher. Mean, rude, unaccommodating, looked like Joe Piscopo, and constantly looked up my skirt.
He seated me directly in front of his desk both years that I had him as a teacher, even though it threw off the alphabetical order. He would pull his rolling chair out from behind his desk and put it right in front of me and then lean waaaaay back into it so that his eyes were basically at my crotch level, and then look horizontally down his nose at me, with his legs spread completely apart and one of his legs thrown up over the side of the armrest, airing out his Dockers-clad teacher-wiener directly downwind of my face. Every day of English Lit felt like I was visiting a khaki salami shop.
He started doing this when I was 11 years old, by the way. I hated that fucker. You should hate that fucker. Everyone should hate that fucker! It’s a party! If it’s any consolation, my friends and I prank-called him relentlessly for years. I’m thinking about prank-calling him when I get home tonight, actually.
Did I mention how much he looked like Joe Piscopo? Fuck!
After I got done with that day’s rant about how much Mr. Wertzman totally sucked, Saxophone Lou eventually stopped laughing and got this look that was completely unfamiliar to me. It was this sort of drunken, sleepy-eyed look, like he had just woken from a dream. I was confused, and thought maybe he was having one of those motionless seizures that you hear about. You know, the kind where you just sort of freeze in-time? I tried to look around for things to shove into his mouth so he wouldn’t bite his tongue if he fell on the floor and started seizing uncontrollably. I had seen someone do it on an afterschool special or something. A chalkboard eraser, maybe? That seemed like it would work.
I’d never seen him make a face like that before. I’d never seen any boy make a face like that at me before. There was a moment of silence between us that felt like it lasted an eternity.
Then Saxophone Lou sighed, rested his chin on his hand like they do in Shakespeare plays and said the best thing I’d ever heard in my young life, “My god, Maggie. You are so funny. Will you be my girlfriend?”
So that was how I bought my first boyfriend. Of course, Saxophone Lou would be the same boy who later broke up with me because I was too afraid to French kiss him, but I kept that guy laughing for weeks before he dumped me. There is no way he walked away from our relationship thinking I wasn’t hilarious, so I chalked that up as a win. Granted, at the time when he dumped me, I was so devastated that I put on my purple Oakley sunglasses so nobody would see my cry-puffy eyes, crawled under the covers on my bed for a month and cried non-stop to Chicago’s “Look Away” on repeat (that I had taped off the radio), but I look back now on that relationship fondly.
Come to think of it, that’s the only past romantic relationship that I’ve ever looked back on fondly? Ever? I typically tend to flamethrow past relationships to the ground when they’re over and then throw the ashes into the dewd’s eyes, but that’s because I have a never-ending bloodthirst for vengeance and a penchant for holding grudges until the end of the universe.
And, I’ve gotta tell you, I know it’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to be proud of or anything, but I really do have a natural born talent for it.
I mean, I’ve never been one of those bad-ass bitches who burned anyone’s house down or anything, but if you’ve ever wronged me and then “coincidentally” found a gigantic wad of half-chewed Big League Chew jammed up under your car door handle and melting stickily into the crevices of your door in the hot Florida sun, that would be me who put it there. Good luck scraping that shit off your car, asshole! (I’ve done the research, and Big League Chew is the most effective for this purpose.)
Have you found a lot of junk mail in your mailbox lately and tons of unknown numbers blowing up your phone and email? I hope I didn’t put your name, address, phone number, and email into every “Win a Free Personal Training Session” box in town. Oh wait, I did. Petty? Sure. Immature? Yep! Pay me back all the money I spent on your stupid guitars and apologize for trying to bone all of my friends and I’ll consider a truce.
Also, no I won’t.
Hmm. Is it possible that the compliment of Saxophone Lou telling me I was funny actually superseded the insult of him dumping me, thereby leaving him squarely on my good side? Not that 14 year old boys are a tough audience or anything, but when you’ve heard your entire life that girls aren’t funny, when you’re able to make a boy laugh and he actually tells you, out loud, in front of people, that he thinks you’re funny, it feels like someone handing you a goddamned trophy.
You know what? Screw it. I changed my mind. No fake laughing.