The Laughter

The portrait of the artist as a giggling first grade maniac

I recently caught wind of a study purporting that personality may be cemented by the time a person starts the first grade.  According to this study, the degree to which an individual possesses certain qualities determines behavior patterns throughout life, which ultimately casts the proverbial die of personal destiny.  For instance: the impulsive child gives rise to the loudmouthed adult while her more cautious colleague blooms into the wallflower.  “We remain recognizably the same person,” states study author Christopher Nave.  Nave is a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Riverside.  I am a smartass with two degrees in English.  I think it’s kind of cute that scientists like Nave have finally gotten around to “proving” something that English majors like me has known for over 100 years:  “the child is the father of the man.”

 I don’t think any witness to his or her own life really needs Nave or Wordsworth to prove that we were all screwed before we even bought our first lunchbox.  But the perspective they propose softens the sting of mortification when we look back on our lives, and supports the comforting delusion that we were meant to be who we are for some reason that is still forthcoming.  Most people seek religion for this kind of comfort, so the irony that the same thing can be derived from ten minutes with Social Psychological and Personality Science and The Complete Poetical Works is something to be savored.  The first grade “father” of my particular lady-man happened to be a giggling maniac, and that makes total sense to me in a way that few things do make sense.

It did indeed begin in the first grade, The Laughter.  I remember it plainly:  the oversized red crayon in my right hand, its yellow counterpart in Shelly Boyd’s left, how those crayons protested with a gassy-sounding squeak when pushed hard on the paper.  “Mouse farts!”  The Laughter, at first a tiny tickle in the basement of my belly, grew exponentially with an alarming quickness and transformed into a monster claw that seized and shook me by my helpless ribcage high above the school.  Down below, I could see Shelly and me sitting side by side at our desks in our festive Garanimals, our mouse-farting crayons pushing out a seismographic reading of our shoulders’ spasmodic shaking.  And I could see our teacher regarding us with her cold, black, reptilian eyes.  There was death in those eyes.  The Laughter found our imminent punishment horrifying.  And unspeakably hilarious.   How I subsequently ended up in the corner is a mystery to me to this day. The Laughter not only had the power to eject me from my body, it could also toss my mind into the outer reaches of the horizon like a boomerang, returning it to my skull, a shell-shocked innocent bystander.

Looking back on it, I see The Laughter as the momentary madness of euphoria.  I suppose that if I were to undergo some sort of hormonal testing, it would probably be revealed that if properly contained and harnessed, my laughter-born endorphins would be powerful enough to blow a 10 foot hole through a mountain of mopey Dashboard Confessional CD’s.   But when I was young, I regarded The Laughter as a sort of invisible friend who lived in my stomach: a mysterious, powerful, and undeniably freaky force like “Tony” from “The Shining”, only more fun to be with and probably retarded.  The Laughter would accompany me from grade school to junior high.  There, it found others of its kind.  There, it would threaten to destroy us all.

It was 1982.  I was 13 years old.  I wore oversized glasses, and had short, feathered red hair.  I was stacked like a banjo neck.  I bore a distinct resemblance to a flaming owl perched atop a jittery fencepost.  I chewed grape Hubba Bubba, I loved the X-Men, and The Go-Go’s.  It was through these lofty pursuits that I found my comrades in The Laughter.  Together, we would be known as The Giggle Gang.  There was Brice, a gifted artist who drew drool-worthy pictures of Storm of The X-Men in study hall and had a screaming way of laughing.   I had heard its like in Margaret Hamilton’s portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West, and nowhere else since.   Thanks to The Laughter, this was Brice’s second go-round in 7th grade.  There was Mickie, who also resembled a flaming owl albeit one scrambling to remain upright atop a tree stump.  Mickie was a ball-breaker and a chop-buster.  She wielded the painfully hilarious truth in one hand a vicious, snarling snicker in the other.  Then was belly-laughing Lucy.  Lucy was, in essence, Mickie’s comedy bitch.  They had apparently grown up together, and Lucy had weathered years of Mickie’s abuse with eye-bulging exasperation and a propensity for lacerating displacement.  They were married in The Laughter as well as cell mates within its confines.  And then there was Terri.  Terri was The Laughter personified.  The Laughter looked out upon us all from Terri’s hazel eyes with all its delightful exuberance, liberating stupidity, and irresistible danger.  It bubbled out of her contstantly, and she was rarely seen without her hand over her mouth in a horrified attempt to stifle its disruptive fury.  Terri was not the leader of the Giggle Gang, but without her, there could be no Giggle Gang, so strong was The Laughter within her.

Portrait of the artist as a giggling seventh grade maniac sans full set of adult teeth.

Everything was funny when I ran with The Giggle Gang.  No, it was mind-fuckingly, pants-pissingly hysterical.  A chance glimpse of a classmate’s underwear over the waistband of his corduroys, the flickering, flustered way our science teacher would blink like a shaken baby doll when she lost her train of thought, a forlorn-looking fish stick tossed under the cafeteria table, all of these things were cause for peals of ungodly laughter.  We were in no position to make distinctions when The Laughter was in charge.  And it was, thanks to Terri’s continual giggle.  It supplied us with a soundtrack that recontextualized everything and everyone into a surreal joke that pummeled us with foundationless punch lines.  Even our inevitable (and probably deserving) victimization by bullies was cause for hysteria.  Rex Church called Brice a peckerhead fag, much to our shrieking delight.  A similar response awaited the handful of pea gravel dumped down the back of my collar by one of the Love Twins.  It made its way quite hilariously down through my tightly tucked-in shirt into my underwear, a phenomenon that I readily admit still makes me laugh to this day.  The Laughter was the precipitant of the abuse we suffered, true, but it also removed us from it, and gave us front row seats to the jolly good show.

But nothing and I mean nothing was as funny as our Health and Careers class.  What could be funnier to a group of 13 year olds than a class about “life goals” and genitals?  A life-goals-and-genitals course taught by a man by the name of Mr. Dick Gaye, that’s what.  I wish I could say I was sorry for laughing every time Lucy would say “Dick Gaye, the gayest dick in the disco.”  When I look back at 1982, I feel remorse for my idiocy, and how I visited that idiocy upon the faculty, whose only crimes were attempting to make a living in the thankless and low-paying field of education, and possibly even educate me and my fellow Giggle Gangsters out of the hillbilly hell into which we were born in the process.  Dick Gaye was not one of those teachers.  He was a complete and utter tool who handed out passive aggressive insults like aptitude tests. Granted, it’s very possible, bordering on probable that our making fun of his name wasn’t really helping matters, but as the teacher and the only adult in the room, he was obliged to be the bigger man.

Try as he might to convince us that we were “hillbilly hyenas” with no future, the fact remained that Mr. Dick Gaye was the gayest dick in the disco.  The Laughter saw to it that we never forgot this, and it magically rendered every word he spoke the utterances of a penis in a Village People costume.  The only thing funnier than a talking penis in a Village People costume is an angry talking penis in a Village People costume.   It was this revelation that spelled doom for the heart and soul of The Giggle Gang.

Amnesia has claimed my memory of exactly how I was transported from my chair to the corner in first grade, and the same can be said about exactly what brought Mr. Gaye’s ass into my face that September day in 1982, but there it was, in all its pine-green Hagar double-knit glory.  From my vantage point high above the classroom, I could see Mr. Gaye bent over at the waist with his back to me, his ass against the side of my face, and me barely keeping it together.  He was in Terri’s face, screaming “WHAT’S SO FUNNY?  WHAT’S SO FUNNY? YOU TELL ME RIGHT NOW WHAT’S SO FUNNY!”  The Laughter responded from behind Terri’s hand with a steady percolation of hysterical giggles.

“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” screamed the penis in the Village People costume.

The Laughter countered with a rapid-fire volley of dangerous giggles.


The Laughter had Terri in its clutches and it wasn’t about to release her, not even under the duress of Special Ed.  And that day, The Laughter hurled Terri right out of Dick Gaye’s gay dick disco and into the tiny Special Ed room by the stage in the gymnasium.  She never again ran with The Giggle Gang.  The remaining Gangsters were so shaken by her absence that we never spoke of the incident amongst ourselves.  Being the one who had been seated right next to Terri, I was fully aware that there but for the grace of Gaye’s ass went I.  Had it been turned in the opposite direction, it could have been me.  It could have been any of us. For a while afterwards, nothing was funny at all.  But then some kid in the 8th grade got hit by a dump truck while riding his bike the next week and we forgot all about what happened to Terri.  By the time Halloween rolled around, Brice was back to drawing dicks wearing construction helmets and Indian headdresses in his text books and Lucy resumed her customary disco dick Travolta point-dance before taking her seat in Health and Careers.

I have no idea what became of the rest of the Giggle Gang.  I do know that Terri transferred to a different school, where she was voted homecoming queen the next year.  As far as I know, that kid in the 8th grade is still dead.  I still tuck my shirts in even though I really do know better, and I’m still a giggling maniac.   The Laughter still resides in the pit of my stomach, where it continues to be a source of delight and disaster.  It’s gone on to help me fail an insufferable American poetry class in grad school and nearly got me arrested at O’Hare.  Its seductive allure has won me several new incarnations of Giggle Gangs since 1982.  It helps me write this blog, as a matter of fact.

So I’m a living testament to the astounding scientific breakthrough positing that a person is themselves their whole life through.    You can read all the self-help books your little heart desires, but know that little heart of yours, like most first graders, can’t read very well, if it can read at all.  I don’t mean to say self-improvement is a waste of time, but a little self-acceptance doesn’t hurt, either.  There’s just no way I’m going to accomplish a goal as grand and sweeping as “get my shit together and set corporate America on fire!”  Truth is, I’ll be doing good to just keep a straight face.

Portrait of the artist as a 41-year-old giggling maniac (with “Thinking Hat”)

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6 Responses to “The Laughter”

  1. Leslie Says:

    Thanks for sharing this bit of the Laughter. Baubo must have been watching over you when she saved you from Special Ed and Homecoming Hell.

  2. Rose Says:

    smugness bordering on arrogance, knobby knees, using statements that are “true enough”, and a desire to own a barn full of horses…huh, I guess not much has really changed. As per usual, big ups on the insight.

  3. Nancy Says:

    Thanks for naming The Laughter. My Smirk lives deep in my belly and has afflicted me from the time I realized my mom spoke with an Irish-Bronx accent. I became a high school teacher… with coworkers named Mr. Pease, Mrs. Bean, and Mrs. Rice, and kids who call the math teacher (Jack Sharp) ‘cheesehead.’ I love that the kids know what “LOL” means, and think I’ll have it etched on my tombstone…

    • hellraisin Says:

      I’ll bet if you Google the names of your colleagues, you’d end up with a recipie for a super-sweet summer salad.

  4. Kelly Says:

    Charles Foster Kane earnestly applauds this post:

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