What's So Funny?
A few weeks ago, our next-door neighbour had guests staying at her B & B for the long weekend and for three days straight, they sat in her back yard and laughed; not a light titter or pleasant trill, but full-out cackles and guffaws. I sat on my patio, trying to figure out whether they were insane or just able to tap into some font of happiness otherwise unavailable to the likes of me. It’s not that I don’t find things amusing. I’ve been known on occasion to laugh, but not for three days straight. In the end, I concluded that their mirth must have been alcohol-induced and hid inside my house until they went on their merry way. As a general rule, I enjoy peace and quiet or the peace that comes from quiet, but as luck would have it, my husband and I have pretty much always lived beneath or beside very loud neighbours. According to the law of attraction, we must be doing something to bring these people to us, and one can only cast the blame on our complaining about the noise. We need to shift our thinking to something more positive, like how the vibration of loud music from one neighbour’s band rehearsals shook our walls so much it cracked the plaster around the mouldings. Just one more thing for our terrible landlords to fix once they evicted us. Yay. Or the two o’clock in the morning kitchen raids from the girls who lived above us in the beautiful apartment we thought was heaven-sent until it wasn’t. They had cupboards that, when slammed, reverberated like a rubber ball on the floor above our heads. We thought, perhaps if they heard what was keeping us up every night, they might be more considerate and invited them down for a listen.
“Oh yeah,” the one girl said, “that’s pretty irritating,” and then continued to wake us up every night with their bumping and lousy guitar playing. “Kumbaya my Lord, Kumbaya.”
Noise always has a way of finding me no matter where I go. I have a feeling if I built a hut in a remote forest somewhere off the grid, I’d soon discover that some ambitious entrepreneur had purchased the property right beside mine for one of those Wolf Lodges or a KOA campground. If I had a dollar for every house I’ve lived in with a neighbour who owns a table saw or bongos, I’d be well off. All I can make of it is that most people do not like to be left alone with their thoughts. Instead, they would rather fill the space with a cacophony of distractions, otherwise known as a celebration.
Nothing is quite so irritating as the sound of people enjoying themselves when you can’t. I don’t mean you won’t. It’s not a question of being obstinate or stubborn. I’m talking about being Job living next door to…say…Richard Branson. He seems like he’s always pretty happy. There’s Richard, throwing a great party to celebrate his recent launch into space, and there’s Job burying another member of his family and dealing with debilitating sores all over his body. I’m not exactly sure where the power of attraction lands on that story, but if one believes the Bible, God and Satan kind of got together on that one themselves.
Satan: That Job is always in a good mood.
God: True that.
Satan: But it’s only because of all you have given him. What’s he got to complain about?
God: What are you getting at?
Satan: He’s living the good life. Let’s see how he does with a bit of adversity.
God: What do you have in mind?
Satan: Let me at him for a month, and I can make him so miserable he’ll curse the fact that he ever believed in you at all.
God: I don’t believe it. Job’s a good guy. He’d never turn on me.
Satan: That sounds like a challenge.
God: Well…okay…but you can’t kill him.
Satan: Duh, what good would that do me?
To Job’s credit, he doesn’t curse God, but he did have a few things to say about his friends who suggested that perhaps he was only getting what he deserved. And there’s something to be said for that. Good friends and I have a few, will rally around you in times of trouble. So, going along with the positive thing, there’s nothing quite like a crisis to make it clear who’s got your back. On the negative side, where did everyone else disappear to?
This was never more evident to me than when I dated my wealthy ex-boyfriend. It seemed like our townhouse was always full of people. I think it’s the only time in my entire life that I can say I actually had a social life. My calendar was full of this dinner party or that brunch. People I didn’t even know often flooded our home looking to swim in the pool or use the family room for a meeting. Eventually, I aspired to do something more with my life than watch other people living theirs; once word got out that I was leaving him for a squalid little two-room apartment on the top of a house with a mouse and cockroach infestation…well, that was pretty much it. Naively, I thought my fascinating personality would still be a drawing card, but I found out pretty quickly that I’m no Oscar Wilde or Gertrude Stein. And let’s face it, even they knew the value of being able to provide an audience with wit, wisdom and expensive wine…if, in fact, that is what people really want? I’m inclined to believe that some friendships are stuck together with chewing gum. Which brings me back to my question: what were the neighbours laughing at? I’m guessing it wasn’t politics.
I admire those people (especially women) who seem to have collected friends over the years and are now like older versions of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
They go to Europe together, raise money for charities and BBQ while filling photo album after photo album with proof of how popular they are. True, it takes money to do those things, but, in the end, I’m still most inclined to swim laps, write and read books even if I could join a country club or go to the spa. On the occasion when I make an effort to cast my net and befriend people, the results haven’t always been successful.
I once invited a director friend I’d met in New York to my house for Christmas. She’d just come through a challenging year, and I didn’t want her to be alone over the holidays. Kevin and I picked her up at the airport in Toronto and drove the hour and a half back to our home, where we settled her comfortably into my office / spare room. During the ride there, she hadn’t said much, which I assumed was just fatigue. As I said, she’d been through a tough year, and I didn’t want to pry. Over the course of two weeks, we provided her with everything imaginable. Made her breakfast, drove her places, brought her with us to the family Christmas dinner at the expense of Kevin’s dad. I don’t recall her ever saying thank you. Quite frankly, I can’t recall her ever saying much of anything, and we certainly didn’t sit by the fire laughing endlessly about this or that. By the end of the second week, her shelf life was starting to expire. I suggested to Kevin that she could turn the coffee maker on herself just one morning, but she never did. Somehow, without even knowing it, our house became a Bed and Breakfast for a guest that might never leave. She never even made an effort to exchange her American money, which meant that we paid for everything the entire time she was with us. As an excuse, she either didn’t have it with her or when asked, “Would you like to exchange some money in this bank?” she’d simply reply, “Maybe later.”
As her departure day drew near, Kevin and I seriously feared she would come up with an excuse not to go. We practically threw her and her luggage into the car, and the relief we felt at dropping her off at Pearson was nothing short of prodigious. We celebrated. Seriously. We celebrated her leaving, which I know sounds awful, but another few days, and we wouldn’t have had enough for January’s rent.
A few years back, I was invited to a reunion by some friends I’d been close to in my early 20’s. We had written and performed a show throughout the parks in the Niagara region one summer and bonded over a mutual sense of importance. We thought we were changing the world with our artistic endeavours and probably secretly hoped someone would discover us. We called ourselves Rainbow Troupe (well before this might have actually had more meaning than it did). We wrote subversive songs about the history of our region, including one particular number about the prostitutes on Bridge Street. The citizens of Niagara Falls are somewhat sensitive to any aspersions about their fare city and, seeing as we were on a government grant, didn’t take kindly to anything negative we sang about, which only filled us with self-importance. So here we were, at a large table in a restaurant in Toronto, and everyone, except me at the time, was married with kids. I was about to do the Director’s Lab in New York, but that paled in comparison to little Erma’s tap recital. I don’t recall being happy at that reunion. If anything, I left feeling bad about myself. Why wasn’t I married? Where were my kids? They were laughing and happy, and yes, drinking a lot, still waiting for their third or fourth bottle to come to the table when I politely excused myself and headed home.
A week later, I was sitting in a room at the Viviane Beaumont listening to James Lapine and feeling so energized I could practically levitate. A group of fellow directors had gathered at a nearby bistro to talk, but I found a quiet bench under some trees and wrote. There was a breeze that rustled the leaves, and in the distance, I could hear Revson Fountain, which, if you listen, sounds very much like applause. No one was around. I wasn’t exchanging thoughts and ideas with friends - that would come later, but at the moment, I was alone and happy. I wasn’t laughing for days, but I was definitely happy to be doing what I loved.