When I was 11, my best friend, Rocky Wagner, came over one evening for a sleepover.
You really can’t get into too much trouble when you’re just 11. (That comes later.) But we did our best. We raided the kitchen. We got into my parents’ Cold Duck. (Not bad.) We snuck out the bedroom window.
Around 2 a.m., however, my mom startled me when she flicked on the hallway light just as we were creeping in the front door… and I spilled a huge bucket of tadpoles in the foyer.
Exactly why I was carrying a bucket of tadpoles around at 2 in the morning eludes me now. But I vividly recall more than a hundred of them wriggling around on the floor – and that my mother was not amused.
At least, she wasn’t then. Now, apparently, it is hilarious. She practically tears up every time she tells this story. And she remembers every detail. (“They were big pollywogs, not tadpoles.”)
Funny how time changes our perceptions.
My friend Rodney, for example, has a foot that is badly scarred. When he was walking to school in first grade, a woman driving by ran over it. Aware that she must have hit something, she backed up and ran over it again. Then she got out of the car, set Rodney on the side of the road and sped off.
You hear this story and want to be appalled. But you can’t. Because the way Rodney tells it – with his hangdog expression and deadpan delivery – you end up in stitches. (And you should hear how he lost his front teeth.)
If we only knew how we’d look back on our troubles someday, maybe we could laugh at them now.
Especially since science is proving that laughter really is the best medicine. A recent study done at the University of Maryland Medical Center shows a good laugh can lower your blood pressure, protect your heart, improve brain functioning, elevate your mood and reduce stress.
Laughter is a workout for your diaphragm, your lungs, even your facial muscles. It tones intestinal functioning and strengthens the muscles that hold the abdominal organs in place. (Hey, who couldn’t use that?)
Hearty laughter can even burn calories equivalent to several minutes on the rowing machine or exercise bike.
And the alternative? As Henry Ward Beecher said, “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs – jolted by every pebble in the road.”
Studies show that distressing emotions – anger, anxiety, stress, depression – are often related to heart disease. The quickest relief – cheap, effective and readily available – is a good laugh.
Laughter relaxes us, connects us to others and enhances our ability to fight disease.
So lighten up. Yes, the economy is weak. Sure, the presidential election offers us two dispiriting choices. You may have your fair share of personal problems, too.
If your household isn’t exactly filled with mirth right now, try renting an antic movie like Arthur, Airplane! or Young Frankenstein. (Sorry, my humor isn’t terribly highbrow.)
If you like a good read, I recommend The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris or Carry On, Jeeves by the master himself, P. G. Wodehouse – all guaranteed to elicit great gales of laughter.
Stand-up comics can also provide welcome relief when life starts feeling like one damned thing after another.
You can check out a local comedy club or catch a great comic on video. Some of my favorites are Rita Rudner (“My grandmother buried three husbands – and two of them were just napping.”), Steven Wright (“I spilled spot remover on my dog. Now he’s gone.”), Gary Shandling (“They say oysters improve your sex life, but it hasn’t worked for me. Maybe I’m putting them on too soon.”) and Jeff Foxworthy (“Changing a diaper is kinda like opening a birthday present from your grandmother. You never know what’s inside, but you’re pretty sure you’re not gonna like it.”).
And don’t forget electronic media. This week, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French tweeted that Donald Trump’s foreign policy answers in the last debate reminded him of a book report from a teenager who hadn’t read the book: “Oh, the grapes! They had so much wrath.”
That crack lit up Twitter with Trump-style oral book reports. I don’t care what your politics are; these are funny:
- “Juliet. Such a nasty woman. She made Romeo kill himself. And believe me, he could have done better. Look at her.”
- “Catcher in the Rye. There used to be other grains. Terrific grains. The best grains. Hillary ruined this nation’s farms.”
- “There were mice AND men, I mean, and everyone has been saying it: These were some bad hombres…. with mice.”
- “Charlotte’s Web …Spider dies at the end… no stamina. What a loser.”
- “Those poor heights. They were wuthering. Wuthering so bad. Bigly wuthering. I’ll make them great again.”
- “It was the best of times. Absolutely phenomenal. It was the worst of times. Total disaster.”
- “Nowhere does it say that anything actually happened between Lolita and Humbert. It was just boy talk.”
- “The bridges. Nobody builds a bridge like me. I’ll build one and make Madison County pay for it.”
Humor lowers stress, dissolves anger and unites families. More importantly, it reminds us that our troubles may not be as earthshaking as they appear.
Humor is powerful medicine. And overdoses are highly recommended.