Some Loose Screws

I’m beginning to believe, at least in my case, that it might be insanity.

If I’m lucky or cursed enough, I may get to live for thirty more years or so. That would put me well into my eighties. Along the way, my skin and bones will wear and tear and I’ll drop an occasional screw or two. Teeth and eyesight will crumble and fade. Memory, desire and reasoning will exit the body. Eventually it will all collapse completely. Slowly, randomly, privately, I will fall apart. Like all things fallible, I will just stop.

That’s okay. Nothing lasts forever. But while I’m here, I’d like to pass the time in relative ‘togetherness’. I don’t want to end my life, a limp limbless vegetable in some aseptically clean setting. That’s week-old asparagus in Safeway’s produce aisle. No, I’ll be happy to keep my upper story in tack and my lower framework functioning for as long as I can.

The human form is a complicated entity. Some believe an “intelligent designer” created us. If that were true, our teeth would be made of titanium, we’d have Clark Kent eyes and the words, ‘hemorrhoid’ and ‘erectile dysfunction’ would not exist. Instead, we are left to deal with some bad design decisions. For one, our reproductive and waste disposal organs are inexplicitly intertwined. This is nonsensical. It’s like drinking water from the toilet. It probably won’t kill you but it’s really in bad taste. What kind of ‘intelligent designer’ dropped the ball there? Couldn’t come up with another spot on the ‘ol carcass for “DISPOSAL OF WASTES ONLY’? A “real” intelligent designer would have double-teamed with the mouth since it was already functioning as a regurgitation machine. Hell, what’s a little shit to spit out?

I’m not swallowing it, the intelligent designer thing. I believe in the theory that we are evolved beings with questionable parts, all different yet somewhat the same. For instance, I barely have enough hair on my face for a decent beard but there’s a haystack of it rising above my skull and plenty sprouting from my shoulders, upper arms and ears. This useless growth doesn’t do anything to enhance my jaw line. I’ve got friends who can grow full beards in minutes but they are completely bald on top. Questionable parts? Toenails. Why do we need nails anyway other than for scratching that partial beard? I find them uncuttable and recently, unreachable. Eyebrows, ear lobes, male nipples, the appendix; I could go on.

As for our minds, it’s a bit simpler. Thinking gradually slips away. I’ve noticed my memory faltering the last couple of years. It’s disconcerting. Yes, some of us will fare better than others. My neighbor is ninety-two and functions quite well living on his own. I’ve seen him struggle to recall a person’s name but after a week, he does eventually remember it. I’ve also seen him carry a bear of a microwave oven into his house. I can barely take out the garbage and I’m thirty years younger. He’s a leathery old man, impeccably clean and organized. His home smells floral; a pleasant fragrant smell of a popular air freshener. He’s always on the move, going either on long foreign trips or short self-driven excursions north of here to see family and friends. “I’ve got to do it now,” he once laughed. “It’s now or never.” For him, never is just around the corner.
It’s logical that a sense of humor can lead to long life. It signals to our consciousness, ‘a happy mood!’ which can be as simple as a light amusement to a cracked buffoonery.
What is laughter anyway?
I’m beginning to believe, at least in my case, that it might be insanity. It’s a fine line.

When our mother was dying, my siblings and I had the all-too-common occurrence of falling into fits of laugher. That may sound crazy and cruel but it was never on purpose. Laughter was frightfully spontaneous for us growing up, as my sister, two brothers and I would react to ‘any event’ that would suddenly start us all giggling. My dad was an easy participant too, fracturing into hysterics over some long lost recollection. He wouldn’t (or couldn’t) even finish the story. He’d sit for five minutes in his chair quivering, tears on his cheeks. Then he’d start all over again. My mother would giggle at the laughing hyenas shaking at the dinner table and tell us to stop, then, continue her quiet snicker. My grandfather was the happiest old person I knew.

We would laugh anywhere and at any time; in church, in an elevator, on the phone, at visiting relatives, at the delivery guy delivering pizza, and yes, even in our mother’s palliative care hospital ward. Why? I don’t know. I’d defend it as a crazy response to an awkward or stressful situation.
We most certainly didn’t want to laugh; it would just turn on like a tap and once started, wouldn’t stop. I would panic with the sweat-soaking realization that I might not be able to stop no matter what the consequence. I mean, what kind of person laughs hysterically while their mother lies dying a few feet away? It’s crazy to defend.
It may have had something to do with borrowing a chair next to the bed of our mother’s elderly sleeping roommate. We stood cramped at the foot of the bed while our mother lay quietly comatose. I slipped over and picked up the chair and in doing so, rang it loudly on the woman’s bedpost.

That’s all it took.
‘Earndt…earrrndt…earrrrnnnnnnnnnhhhhnnnn’, my sister, the sound of a cold engine turning over, her rumbling laugh erupting. Without looking, I could sense my brother Mark’s shoulders already shaking in the dimly lit room. My older brother, George who desperately tries to control his laugh by holding it in, started with a rhythmic chugging. When hysterical, I ‘m the sound of pinched air leaving a balloon. ‘hhhhhhhaaaaaaaaassssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssshyhyhy!’
There we were, a hissing cacophony of big air exploding out of the room. I dropped the chair and buried my face in my mother’s robe hanging on the wall. George, with a finger to his mouth, managed a shaking “shhhhhh” which did nothing to stop us. Mark and Simone stumbled into the hall. I tried to take a breath. In the distance, I could hear my brother’s snorts and my sister barking echoing down the corridor. I expected my mother to sit up and tell us to stop. That would have been sobering. Neither she, nor her roommate moved. I wondered what the staff might think if observing such a thing. “Are they laughing or crying? Or are they crazy?” They’d probably seen it all.
Five minutes later, after we had all composed ourselves, we’d quizzically wonder what had been so funny in the first place. Nothing really. It was always like that.

As kids, we used to tease our sister that the folks had adopted her from the local mental hospital on the hill and we’d all have a good laugh, well except for Simone. Now I wonder? Perhaps with my faltering memory, I’ve forgotten the real story. Maybe we all came from the hill; four tittering loose screws that the parents heard as they drove passed one day. “They sound like a happy bunch of imbeciles, don’t they? Up for a good laugh dear?”
Even now, when I call one of my siblings, there’s a ninety-nine point nine percent chance that the conversation will include at some point, hearing the phone drop on the other end, followed by the echo of a far-away airless howling.
I pray for relief that I will stop but while in the middle of it, there is no mercy. Not for anyone.


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