Church Giggles

Muttley…a.k.a. my trying-to-be-silent laugh.

Darlene, my oldest BFF in terms of our years together, will be the first to tell you I am prone to the church giggles. She would know. She attended church with me from the time we were five and six. We attended grade school and high school together, so she will also tell you that I have a penchant for the library giggles. Next on this hierarchy are my giggle attacks whenever I’m tasked with being reverential and silent. This is an unnatural state for yours truly.

For example, there was this yoga class. Marovich, my other BFF since 7th grade, went with me to be supportive of our mutual BFF, whom I’ll reference as “Anonymous” for reasons you will see in a moment. Anonymous was in breast cancer recovery, so we gladly did anything she asked of us. But yoga is not my thing. There’s WAY too much silence. Like picking folks up from Midway Airport–Midway’s call letters should be changed to BFE, IMHO–you know I really love you if I agree to attend a yoga class with you. So there we all were…laying flat on our backs in this yoga class. Marovich was laying to my left. Across from the tops of our heads, Anonymous and her daughter were also laying there. About halfway through the class, the instructor asked us to grab our knees and squeeze them to our chests. We were doing as we were told when Anonymous grabbed her knees to her chest, ripping the loudest-ever yoga class fart, “like a bullet being shot from a pistol,” as Marovich would later recount. Just sitting here writing this, I’m giggling all over again. We tried collecting ourselves–Marovich and I–but it was GAME OVER. Anonymous and her daughter were also dying, which helped not even a little. Tears of laughter were rolling down my temples as I laid there shaking and hugging my knees to my chest. Every time I’d finally stop giggling, Marovich would start up again. And vice versa. It was an endless cycle of re-giggling. Then the instructor scolded us, which only made us giggle even harder. It was HORRIBLE.

I’m sharing this back story to help you understand how truly vulnerable I am.

So along comes Mother’s Day. Jack, my mom and I all went to church together. (Dave stayed home to paint his new cover for comic book creator Timothy Lim.) My mom sat between Jack and me. I think this was strategic on her part. She knows the two of us sitting right next to each other can be…shall we say…combustible? As an added bonus, and completely unplanned, one of my newer and hilariously funny BFFs was sitting in the pew directly in front of me.

Eventually, after much singing — we are Lutheran after all, so if there’s a sixth verse to a hymn, it will get sung — we progressed to the prayer portion of this Mother’s Day 2018 service. The visiting pastor was reading aloud all of the people’s names on the list that the parishioners had submitted to be lifted up in prayer. All was going well, when suddenly he announced that we should pray for Jim McNugget. Jack whiplashed his head to the right, looking at me, while I whiplashed mine to the left, locking eyes with him. Instantaneously, we were both doubled over, silently laughing. This was church, after all. I somehow managed to reign in the 10-decibel version of my laugh. Instead, I exuded more of this Muttley-style laugh, half silent, half sounding like a COPD patient with a gurgling, pleurisy-riddled lung. There may have been a snort at some point.

Our entire pew was shaking from our laughter. This was no easy task, given its robust, solid wood construction. Mom sat between us, stoic, completely oblivious to our shenanigans. Then I looked up and saw my BFF’s shoulders shaking in front of me. That made me giggle even harder. She relayed to me later that she heard me laughing and managed to hold it together, but then she spied from the corner of her left eye Jack all doubled over, mouth open in silent laughter, all red-faced. The visual was her breaking point. Thank God for small miracles that she couldn’t see me!

After church, my BFF and I analyzed the situation. Was there really someone in this world named Jim McNugget? Or was the pastor just hungry? Since our church service  ends around noon, this wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Could this have been his fast food Freudian slip?

Well, today we got our answer. The same person from last week was on the prayer request list for today. This week, he had a last name similar to McNugget. But it was not McNugget. And this did get me forming a future shenanigan. I do so enjoy seeing my BFF’s giggle-shaking shoulders in church. I may have to submit someone to the prayer list who wishes to remain anonymous. And that someone may get assigned a pseudonym for their last name…like Doodlesack. Or McCheese.

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My Aunt Shirley

Today’s post is dedicated to my mom’s BFF, my Aunt Shirley, my inspiration, who taught me the value of keeping a mental repository of jokes, as well as the fine art of story telling. For her, it was sport. 

Me with my mischievous Aunt Shirley, who had just downloaded more jokes, and my Mom.

Me with my beloved, mischievous Aunt Shirley, who had just downloaded more raunchy jokes, and my Mom.

Early in my career, to supplement my meager income as a writer/producer for a motorsports TV series, I worked for a machine tool company. My eyes were opened to how witty and hilarious engineers can be, once they stepped away from their blueprints. For example, this engineering contractor from Ohio would walk past my desk and drop these bon mots that would double me over. As one sales rep from Indiana was earnestly boasting to me about his daughter, who was studying horticulture, Mr. Ohio walked past and with perfect timing, dryly dropped, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t lead a horticulture.” Mr. Indiana’s conversation ended abruptly. It’s the rare occasion that I ever get to repurpose that line, but it’s in my quiver belt. Mr. Ohio also would describe the weather in the most unusual of ways, such as, “It’s warmer than a syphilitic whore in a hot pepper patch!” That Mr. Ohio…he sure had a way with words.

So my machine tool experience was in the early ’90s, and it was wild times. Their big tradeshow of the year was IMTS in September, the largest, most boring show Chicago’s McCormick Place ever holds. The nightly after party was always at the EXCALIBUR Club in downtown Chicago. One of my employer’s most prominent resellers was this guy Bob from Wisconsin. However, Bob wasn’t prized so much for his top sales skills as he was for memorizing the largest catalog of off-color jokes of anyone in the machine tool industry. Anyone. But my boss was secretly betting on me. We had already worked together for several months, and he knew how funny I could be–thanks to my beloved Aunt Shirley–be it situational comedy, or joke telling. So my boss made sure I was physically placed at the bar that night to go toe-to-toe with Bob from Wisconsin.

I kicked it off by asking Bob if he spelled his name with one “O” or two, and his night of stardom just waned from there. True to form, Bob started rattling off his catalog of dirty jokes. For an entire hour, every single joke he told, I finished the punchline. Every. Single. Joke. It was the only time I saw my boss nearly wet himself. It was as if Aunt Shirley was ear prompting me, feeding me lines. These were all jokes she had told me before. The crowd surrounding us kept growing. Mouths dropped open in stunned awe. Bob was dumbfounded and frustrated. He kept trying to physically shake it off, like a dog with water in its ear. He finally gave up. But then he spent the rest of the evening trying to pursue and conquer me. He also failed in that endeavor. Several cocktails in, I was in a semi-vulnerable state, but my boss and his boss kept me safe.

It’s hard to imagine my mom and Aunt Shirley as BFFs. They were so opposite. Mom was the superintendent of a conservative Missouri-Synod Lutheran Sunday School for 30 years, while Aunt Shirley was a lapsed Catholic, an astrologer, and a medium. Mom was a Pisces, Aunt Shirley was an Aries. They were well suited.

I used to relish going to Aunt Shirley’s house in the city. She would make the world’s best lasagna–the smoked gouda cheese was her secret weapon–and she would often read my astrological chart. I think my mom’s curiosity overcame her Lutheran disdain for Aunt Shirley’s readings. In retrospect, Aunt Shirley was amazingly accurate. I am adopted, and she told me I had a sister who would be looking for me in my late thirties. This came to be true, and I reunited with my bio-family–the parents, two full-blood brothers and a sister–at age 39. She also told me my first husband would be unusual (he was), my second husband would be even more unusual (he is), and my third husband would be the best suited to me. While that has yet to unfold, it wouldn’t surprise me. She was right about a lot.

Aunt Shirley had a Near Death Experience in her 30s, and through that, she taught me not to fear death, and to trust in the promise of an after life. She often told me she wouldn’t live to see her 80th birthday. I had hoped against all hope that she was wrong about that one. She died three years ago, at 79, of ovarian cancer. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. I am thankful she had children, whom I grew up with as my “first cousins,” so I still feel the imprint of her energy in some way. This Labor Day weekend Mom and I will spend with two of her daughters.

Before she passed, Aunt Shirley took an autobiography writing class. I was blessed to get a copy of her book, which shared very personal, very human moments in her life. Stories she would never have told me in person. It made me love her even more deeply, if that were even possible. Her autobiography taught me the value of living one’s life on your own terms, as she did. I’m still working on it, but I’m getting there. Evolving. And every once in a while, I’ll feel Aunt Shirley give me the occasional assist, confirming her presence on the Other Side.