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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

I Laugh at Stupid Things

I don’t know when I started laughing at everything. I used to be cool, I swear. There was just a moment, maybe shortly after I moved to Los Angeles, when I went from being stoic and smart — the kind of person who nodded at jokes rather than laughing at them, not because you didn’t like them but because you did, to show that you were thinking about this clever quip, really internalizing it, rather than just laughing at it and reacting to it and letting it roll away — and started being the cerebral equivalent of a tickle monster.

I watched Hotel Transylvania 2 yesterday. The ending montage was a collusion of monsters — ’50s-style Frankenstein’s monster and his beehive girlfriend boppin’, two mummies doing the Walk Like an Egyptian dance, the one human guy doing bad hip-hop dance moves in an imagistic echo of being the only white guy at a party, and then, of course, the werewolf couple, revealed by a camera zoom-out to be surrounded by a litter of 20 puppies, all of which they inexplicably brought to a dance club — I was cracking up the entire time. I was an embarrassment to my 7-year-old. I was an embarrassment to my three-year-old.

“Papa, I can’t hear the talking in the movie,” she scolded. There was no talking. She just wanted me to stop.

Have you seen it? It’s so delightfully stupid. I have come to appreciate delightfully stupid. I’m pretty sure, if there’s a Netflix specialized queue for delightful stupidity, I’ve wheeled through it more than once.

In San Francisco all my friends were writers, and in L.A. they were all actors. Everyone was an actor. The writers were actors, the producers were actors, and the actors were especially actors, acting all the time. Anything anyone said to you was like an audience suggestion during an improv comedy show. How are you? I just had the craziest day, let me tell you about buying a Snickers bar at the convenience store, it was the most traumatic thing ever. 

I used to be stoic, standing around with funny people, some of them had been on TV, some of them had followings, Twitter fans they didn’t know, all of them saying the funniest things ever, things that rolled out of their mouths once and never be repeated, and I’d just stand around, nod and not laugh. Maybe add a line of my own if I was feeling up to it, something not quite as funny and not quite as lasting, but usually not that — I loved those moments, their fleeting perfection, I wanted them to stay untouched.

I was perfect then. I used to think G-d was my girlfriend, sending me these unreal miraculous moments, sharing them with me in my perpetual aloneness. Because everyone I knew was already couples, I wasn’t because I was orthodox and, who was I kidding, because I was weird, who’d ever want to go out with me? But G-d did. We’d be shooting each other magic eyes across the room, enchanted as all hell by our conversational partners, but, of course, not laughing. That would be our shared night.

I chase these memories. Some nights I still go out, not with the same people but with the same conviction, the same desperate search to abandon my history and narrow all my complicated thoughts down to something pure and simple and easy. I have stopped drinking so much, and I’d like to say it’s because I’m more health-conscious and protective of my liver but it’s mostly because beer makes me tired, whisky makes me asleep.

The past is way more overwhelming than the present, and that, at least partially, is a relief. I don’t need much present. I used to be able to churn out stories, then pick them up a week later and they felt like things that had happened to me long ago, kindergarten friends you run into at the mall, do I know you from somewhere? Now it takes me a month to write a short story. I stop. I gaze off. I imagine all the possible ways it could go, all the possible things I could do to these characters, these kids, my babies. And then I think about it for a while, and then I choose one.

Maybe it’s me being more serious. Maybe it’s me being more sensitive. Maybe I’m still as clueless as ever, as I always have been. But maybe — and this is what I’m holding onto, this is where I’m putting my money down — maybe I’m better at being clueless than I used to be.

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