A friend told a story the other day that gave me a much-needed laugh. He'd attended a fancy dinner party, and the menu included something that tasted funny -- ground "beefalo," he later discovered, a cross between buffalo and cow. He could not even force himself to swallow, so he held a mouthful in his cheek like chewing tobacco while trying to tell the hostess how delicious it was.
Maybe I was just primed for a crackup, having felt overwhelmed by so much sadness and sorrow of late. To recap the television news that I woke up to: baby death in D.C. apartment fire under investigation; students grieve for a high school girl stabbed to death after a football game in Montgomery County; Wizards basketball player shot in the chest in Alexandria said to be "in good condition." By the time news of war and hurricanes had been thrown in, I was ready to pull the covers back over my head.
Monday is supposed to be the bluest day of the week, but a case can now be made that the others are just as bad and often worse.
A few deep breaths and a good long laugh are supposed to be antidotes to depression. So I hit the streets yesterday in search of therapy from anyone who might know something about keeping your wits in a world gone mad.
Bucky Bennett wasn't exactly smiling when I saw him pull up to a construction site in Fort Washington, but he wasn't frowning, either, which is saying something for a man who drives a truck carrying a 1,000-gallon sewage tank and a plastic portable outhouse.
I asked if he'd had any good laughs lately.
"Nothing to laugh about with vandals tipping these portable toilets over all the time," said Bennett, who works for J&J Portable Toilets. "That stuff gets all over the inside walls and ceiling, and I have to clean it up."
After letting off a little steam, Bennett confessed that he laughs a lot. "Sometimes when I get home from work, my two sons get on their four-wheelers [all-terrain vehicles] and put on a show for me," he said. "You know, wheelies and other stupid kid tricks. Those boys just tickle me to death."
Helen Jones and Tara Hammond were about to take up their positions as crossing guards at Fort Foote Elementary School in Oxon Hill. Just hearing the question made them laugh.
"I laugh all the time," Jones said. She recalled a big laugh she had last week when her fiance saw her run up the stairs to get her car keys.
"I used to be overweight and I could barely make it up the stairs, but I just lost 40 pounds on the South Beach Diet," she said. "When he saw me run up the stairs, he said, 'Baby, you keep doing that, and I don't know if I'll be able to keep up with you for long.' "
Then she burst out laughing again.
Hammond said that she lives with her disabled mother and that humor is an indispensable part of their daily routine. "I was helping her in the bathroom the other day, and I said, 'Oh, Mama, you got a lot of wrinkles back there.' And she said, 'At least I don't have 'em in my face.' "
Earlene Benitez, a housekeeper who lives in Clinton, told me that her grandchildren laugh when they hear her Jamaican accent and that their laughter makes her laugh. Imagine that: laughter, a cure that is contagious.
Laughter that was at once piercing, guttural and hysterical could be heard well before the people making it walked into view. Two groups of students from the same neighborhood converged at an intersection, en route to Oxon Hill Middle School.
What's so funny? I asked.
"People talking about other people," said Tyler Warner, 12. "You know, like, 'Yo mama so fat . . . ' "
"Somebody slipped and fell in the cafeteria," said Coree Moreno, 11.
The boys around him started guffawing all over again. At that age, anything that doesn't kill you is funny. And there may come a time when they laugh in the face of death -- if only to keep from crying.