May 16, 2012
My friend Carlos went to a “laughing yoga” class. He said it was hilarious.
Laughter is contagious, and once someone starts it tends to spread. Soon
the whole class, Carlos said, was in an uproar.
Remember how when you were a kid being told to “Stop laughing!” was
the funniest thing you ever heard? George Burns used to get a kick out of
cracking up Jack Benny. One night at a charity event, an entertainer got
up to sing at the piano. Burns whispered to Benny “Wouldn’t it be terrible
if someone started laughing as soon as she started singing...” Of course,
no sooner had she started, than Benny was on the floor. What is it about this
prohibition that cannot withstand the seeds, once planted, of insurrection?
I went to a Broadway show, I must have had comps, when I was a youth
living in New York many years ago. I don’t remember the name of the
play, some drama, that was in its first weeks on Broadway. Early in the first
act, the actress on stage was emoting to beat the band and some drunk in
the audience began to giggle. In response to her lines. A shock of titillating
scandal swept through the audience. It was the kind of mischievous, supple,
quietly intoxicated giggle that is all but irresistible. The actress heard it, and
now the drama she was trying to portray had an undercurrent of panic. She
said her next line and the drunk laughed again. Her pathos started turning to
camp. Others laughed. It was as if the drunk had seen through the sham, in
vino veritias, and we were all in on the joke. The actress grew shrill. She
turned red. You honestly couldn’t tell if she was about to crack up herself,
or cry. Remember the soapy screenplay in Franny and Zooey? “Oh Rick,
Rick, I’m scared. What’s happened to us? I can’t seem to find us anymore.
I reach out and reach out and we’re just not there. I’m frightened. I’m a
frightened child. (Looks out window) I hate this rain. Sometimes I see me
dead in it.” Like that. The more she over-acted, the more over the top the
melodrama looked and the funnier it became. What could she do? Playing it
for laughs wasn’t an option. So she tried to ramp up the drama. You know
the dynamic. You’re not supposed to laugh, you try to suppress it. But the
show must go on, and the actress’ earnestness now seemed the most inspired
of parodies. Laughter broke out all over the theater. Mercifully, the scene
ended and the actress exited the stage, in an attitude of wounded dignity, to
a round of applause. It was the most unforgettable performance (until I was
sprayed, while sitting in the front row Off-Broadway, by Al Pacino) I’d ever
seen. I hope she had a sense of humor.
May 13, 2012
One day in seventh grade I wore two different shoes to school. Sometimes teen sensitivity to appearance gets lost in an adolescent fog. They were, granted, the same color, brown, but two obviously different varieties of loafer. I didn’t realize it until I was sitting in my first class, looking down in disbelief, and gasping with silent horror. My feet immediately huddled together, for mutual protection, under my desk. What is more ridiculous than two different shoes? I might as well have dropped out of school and run away with the circus. I looked around. Nobody was pointing and laughing. I was swiftly punctual to every class that morning, quickly seated at my desk, and poring over a book. I was distant and socially unengaged. I was in a state of metaphysical teen dread. At lunch, I hurried home and changed. To my great relief, and somewhat to my chagrin, nobody seemed to have noticed.
May 2, 2012
I met up with my old friend Robert from Washington (DC) who was in town to visit his mother in Naples. Rob is a rather patrician fellow, in a young Noel Coward vein, with a passion for experience. I’m an earthy sensualist with a taste for dawdling and speculation. The ensuing conversations are fun. We met at the yacht club and talked for a couple of hours over a pitcher of beer. We’re both in business and business, we confessed, is not great. Oh well. It was a partly cloudy April day in a tropical setting, with dawdling and speculation to be experienced.
On to coffee at the mall and a browse at Saks. We sat under an umbrella in a courtyard cafe sipping lattes for a while. I took one of Rob’s Camels.
“I like a smoke once in a while,” I said, inhaling, feeling the old catch in my lungs and nicotine buzz.
“That ol’ devil nicotine...”
“It’s in a lot of things, by the way, being a nightshade. Eggplant is loaded.”
“Tobacco is a New World botanical.”
“The Indians smoked it.”
“And it wasn’t much of a problem. Being an old civilization, they'd learned the pleasure of moderation.”
“With us it’s either worship or demonization.”
“Usually both.” I made some tasting sounds. "The smoky aftertaste is a little nasty..."
Rob tapped out some Tic Tacs.
We hit the menswear department at Saks. I enjoy being out and about with Rob. He has an extraordinary knack for drawing deference from people. The sales staff was all over us. Lotta nice stuff for a small store. A cashmere pullover with a nice insert detail on the shoulder caught my eye. It was marked down from five hundred to three. Hmm. Rob got lost in the department while I drifted over to the fragrance counter. “I might have known,” he said, when he caught up with me. I was sniffing some Bond No 9 spritzes on paper cards. "Hamptons", reputed to be a rip-off of Creed's "Silver Mountain Water" smelled, to me, exactly how a Basenotes member once described it: a dirty plastic comb with some residual stale shampoo. Rob detected a note of model airplane glue. "Andy Warhol Success Is A Job In New York," on the other hand, was a sumptuous and intoxicating retro juice: bright florals and some edgy spices over a base of vanilla and woods. We left with a pocketful of Bond No. 9 and other samples that the lovely sales lady laid on us. Rob liked the Bulgari Aqua and its salty ozonic citrus and seaweed. I asked for a couple hits of New Haarlem, whose coffee and burnt sugar and tonka I’ve always enjoyed.
It was getting late. Rob’s mother expected him for dinner. We detoured through Brookstone, gawked at the gadgets, and said goodbye in the parking lot.
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