America is getting me down and I need a distraction. Perhaps you do, too.
To help us get through the week, instead of a pithy post about some socially relevant concept or [snicker] a staggering work of artistic prose, here’s a diversion.
My wife has a great laugh. It’s one of those infectious laughs that starts in her belly and builds, filling her up until it spills out, enlivening those around her.
These fits can come over her at the oddest times; something just strikes her funny and then bang! she dissolves into peals of laughter.
Such as on our first Thanksgiving here in Seattle. I began to prep the gravy and discovered that we were out of flour. She offered to get some. She bundled up and headed out into our deserted-for-the-holiday neighborhood, trudging through the snow, an empty whisky tumbler in hand, seeming for all the world like some Dickensian waif begging on the streets. I turned back to cooking until one of our guests looked out the window and asked, “Is she all right?” My wife was lying on her back in the snow, kicking her feet, convulsed in hilarity.
“Yah. She’s fine,” I said.
Perhaps the best example of her laugh’s viral nature occurred the evening we went to an animation film festival on the UW campus. The venue was rather dreary–grey concrete walls and tiered ranks of flip-down seats–but the mood was upbeat. I mean, cartoons, right?
The festival screened a dozen or so shorts, including the then-brand-new Pixar articulated lamp opus that became their signature. Aside from the Pixar piece, I don’t remember most of them now, but this has nothing to do with their quality. They were all good, but in my memory they are all overshadowed by the film that was third from the end.
It was Bill Plympton’s “Your Face,” a pencil-drawn animation set to a song by Maureen McElheron that’s been slowed down to one-third normal speed. In the film, a man sits in a chair, singing (in McElheron’s weirdly low and stretched-out voice) about the beauty of his lover’s face. As he sings, his own face undergoes a series of unexpected and thoroughly comic transfigurations.
While several of the other films were quite funny, it was Plympton’s work that set my wife off. She began small–a giggle, a snort–but as the face’s permutations became more and more bizarre, my wife’s exhalations built first to a laugh, then a guffaw, finally stretching and merging into one long scream of laughter that continued and intensified. The harder she tried to control it, the more out of control it became. Around us, others were laughing as well, but soon they were no longer laughing at the twisting images on the screen and were laughing simply because my wife was laughing.
Her laughter rippled outward from our upper tier seats. Down front, heads began to turn, laughing as well. Plympton’s “Your Face” ended, but the laughter continued through the next short, ebbing slightly until the final film (“Bambi Meets Godzilla”) reached its own unexpected climax, at which point any hope of my wife recovering her composure was utterly lost. As we left, she was still laughing–we all were–flying high on hyperventilation and adrenaline. It lasted all the way out into the parking structure.
Needless to say, if you’re setting up a game of Cards Against Humanity, you want my wife to play along. You won’t regret it.