There’s always a kid in the second row who reacts to the ordinary events in class by laughing hysterically. She engages the other kids in companion giggles and breaks up the rhythm the teacher has so carefully plotted. A lesson on carrying numbers from one column to the next, and the kid in the second row is laughing because the lines of numbers on the board wobble like a falling tower. A lesson on the construction of a sentence into parts that move, parts that enhance, and parts that command, and the kid in the second row is laughing because the teacher finds more life in those parts than in the kids listening to her.
The kid doesn’t mean to interrupt any more than the teacher means to forget it’s kids she is teaching and not rows of boxed crackers. It’s just that the kid takes in more than the teacher intends. The second row kid sees the irony of stringing words on a page to describe things that never happen. Tommy sits in a tall tree reading a book. But the Tommy the second row kid knows throws apples at Jimmy trying to climb the tree, and neither boy is supposed to be there anyway because it’s Mr. Hutchins’ tree, and he hates kids. What’s the point of parsing a sentence about paper kids doing bland things when very real kids are doing forbidden things? The second row kid finds it funny.
I know. I was the kid in the second row, laughing at things no one else found funny. Laughter has carried me through turmoil after turmoil as it has many of us. You know what they say. Keep ‘em laughing. Laughter is the best medicine. Laugh first then cry. All the frayed adages about how to get from 6:00 A.M. to 12:00 A.M. without collapsing from grief, anger, frustration. Ten-year-old kids aren’t supposed to feel such dense emotions, but they do, and I did, so I laughed. Hysterically. Bouts of exploding, pulsing, shrieking, breathless, unladylike laughter. All of it one hiccup from torrents of tears.
Four weeks ago I accepted an invitation to join the Today’s Author team. Three weeks ago my husband and I committed to bundling our communication systems. Our house is old, as in old, dangerously-eroded wiring, a TV the size and shape of a doghouse, a phone system so old it can’t identify friends from solicitors, an old computer patch-worked from still-older computer components. More than a decade into the new century and we finally decided to update and bundle. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? This bundling meant dumping our old multiple-provider communication systems and importing one company for better access to the world. One big cable slithering through our house and we’d have phone, TV, and computer all spooning like teenage lovers. The salesman was at our door, and we broke down against all our better senses not to purchase on impulse. We bought the whole system. I would submit my first work to Today’s Author on newly laid cables.
And then the trouble began. I wanted to move the computer to another room. Bob wanted to move our sorta new big screen TV into the cabinet where the doghouse still transmitted network shows. We wanted a new phone whose buttons didn’t stick. Impulse means you never plan as much as you should. In our case we didn’t plan anything, we just signed papers.
So when the new computer modem got plugged into the room where the computer isn’t yet located, the old modem refused to connect us to the information highway, and I was stuck on the road to nowhere – a writer with tools no more current than a stylus pouncing into clay tablets. No Internet, and of course no email, and it took forever to figure out why. (New cable company cut the cord to the old phone company and therefore the cord to the old Internet provider – oh, we said, that’s the problem! The computer problem will get fixed when our personal communications administrator, our son, comes this weekend to hook us up to the new modem.)
The landline phone didn’t work at all. No messages outgoing. Nothing incoming, not even, and for this I will be forever thankful, those damned uninvited solicitors. New cable company couldn’t figure out why and came to our house many times trying to correct the problem, after many, many complaining calls from our cell phones. Nearly a week without the landline or the solicitors, and the house phones finally worked. No one has called except the solicitors, though there are 15 unrecoverable messages. If you left a message, let us know.
We’d packed the stuff out of the two bookcases adjacent and connected to the cabinet where our doghouse used to sit in all its antique broadcast glory. Boxes and boxes of books, knickknacks, and framed photos are stacked on the floor and tables, so we could move the cabinet that awaited the sorta new big screen TV to take its place in the doghouse space. This required my resident handyman, my husband Bob, to craft a steel frame to support the big screen in a space too small to house it. Tedious to explain, just trust me that Bob designed an ingenious solution where most people would have dumped the old cabinets and purchased new.
Understand also that we’ve owned the big screen for two years and four months, but it has sat on a table near the doghouse. We only used it to watch rented movies a few hours each weekend, because it wasn’t installed in the new housing location, and we hadn’t yet signed up for new digital something-or-other for better reception. (Now you know why our personal administrator doesn’t let us fix our own computer.) We’ve perhaps used our sorta new big screen for 250 hours since purchasing it.
Finally set into its new frame, plugged in to the new cable system, bundled for efficiency and one slightly smaller bill, we watched our first show on the big screen. The brilliant colors, the crisp definition, the clear sounds all brought sighs of ecstasy. Bundling was fun.
And then the sorta new big screen failed. I turned it on the second day and it turned itself off. Click, just like that. It flashed its brand across the bottom and then flickered out. Nothing, no channel surfing, no network TV, no cable shows, no music, nada, nothing at all, baby. The thing wouldn’t do its job. Many more angry phone calls to the cable company and to the TV maker, and we found out that an unlikely confluence of black stars and skewed orbits had scourged our little plot of earthly connectivity. The sorta new big screen TV was broken. Its main circuit, its motherboard, four months past warranty, was beyond reasonable repair, unless you think that fixing the thing for about half its cost with only a three-month guarantee is a repairable commodity. We didn’t. We were unbundled as quick as that.
Still no Internet (or email), still no phones calls worth receiving (doesn’t anyone love us a little?), still no big screen TV. We’ve shopped around a bit but a bona fide brand new TV will cost more than we planned to leave to our sons. We’ll be researching for a while yet. Don’t send the door-to-door salesmen our way. We will not be tempted to any more impulse purchases.
Bob had one more brilliant idea. He hauled the broken big screen off its steel mount and banned it to the shadowy sidelines. He lifted the old dog house (wow, do those things weigh a lot) to its original space in the bookcase, hooked up the cable, and turned it on. “Look,” he said, “it works.” And it did. We got the weather channel. All stations, all weather, all the time. The old TV worked, at least it worked in the sense that it stayed on, but all we could see was snow. Bushels and bushels of snow.
A week of being without modern communication, the kind I’m told yak shepherds in Outer Mongolia can access via cell phones with more technology than the first rockets thrust into outer space in the 1950’s, and here we were in Southern California in 2013, bundled with our new all-purpose provider, unable to connect to the Internet, getting sporadic phone service, and watching snow on our old TV.
I am still the kid in the second row, and I did what that ten-year-old did: I laughed. Hysterically. A bout of exploding, pulsing, shrieking, breathless, unladylike laughter. All of it one hiccup from torrents of tears. For about three full minutes. I couldn’t stop. Bob clicked all the channel buttons, dozens of them, and got snow after snow, and I laughed.
In the coming months I’d like to make friends with you and tell you about my stories and my writing journey. I hope my writing will make you laugh till you cry and cry without shame. I want you to see the kid in the second row for what she is, and maybe you will tell me about yourself. We’ll talk, we’ll write, we’ll share, we’ll cry, and we’ll laugh lots. Be well, friend.