I miss your laugh. I was thinking about it a lot toady. You loved to laugh almost as much as you loved to drink.
My roommate is an actress and comedian. We have been toiling away for a month now on her stand up routine. She writes the jokes and tests them on me nightly. We don’t have TV and don’t miss it because our evenings are filled cracking each other up. She likes to apologize for making me listen to the same jokes over and over again. She has no idea how much joy it brings me, because it takes me back to my favorite times spent with you.
Laughter was the one and only acceptable emotion in our house, if you recall. Crying, sobbing, pouting, moping and fit pitching where off-limits. Fear, hesitation, discontent, anxiety or doubt also not okay. Punishable offenses one and all. It was always okay to think something was funny. Laughing was not only permitted but strongly encouraged. Especially by you.
When it is the only emotional release available, you learn to make do. We laughed loud, hard and often. Not a single person in the Preston family does this politely. Not even mom. You, I must admit, were the king of all of us big laughers. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can come close to the sound you were capable of.
I learned how to let a laugh erupt out of my soul observing you so many times roaring with amusement. Red in the face with your head thrust back and mouth open wide, sound freely pouring out of you like a faucet, shaking your entire body with joy. It was so deep, rich and powerful that the house seemed to shake. Awesome and almost terrifying.
Mounty Python, Saturday Night Live, Married with Children. Faulty Towers, Bevis and Butt Head, The Simpsons and In Living Color; all a little inappropriate for a seven-year old, but I learned quickly to understand the adult humor so I could get lost in glee with you.
Mom disapproved. She thought all of your favorites were “stupid.” She hated The Simpsons and Married with Children the most. There was nothing funny to her about these remarkable woman being married to such losers, always drinking at the bar, resenting theirs families and loving Donuts or a good shit more than their responsibilities. I didn’t get it then. But now it is painfully clear to me why she couldn’t laugh at this satire in any good conscience.
We watched “America’s Funniest Home Video’s” religiously every Saturday after detailing your pick-up truck. We always bet a dollar on which video we thought would win. I always won. It delighted me how frustrated this made you.
“How did you know that one would win, Dev?”
“Duh, Dad. Guy getting hurt beats funny dog every time.”
You didn’t have to tell me why people falling down was funny. I still resist the urge to burst out in a cackle when I witness it on the street. You introduced me to classics like “The Three Stooges” and “Looney Tunes.” Mom hated these too. We would sit up late and watch “Nick at Night” together and giggle about a talking horse, among other silly things. Laughter was a language we spoke fluently. I loved sharing it with you.
The danger with someone dieing to laugh is that everything can be made into a joke. Nothing was sacred. Anything was fair game. Your humor got dark and biting at times, laced with meanness and unforgivable cruelty.
Like the time I was whining about not wanting to see Jordan, my childhood friend who was coming to visit, because she didn’t share. And you picked up the phone, dialed a number and had a whole conversation with Uncle Jim, her dad, detailing how I thought his daughter was selfish and to not bother coming at all.
“Daddy, stop. I didn’t mean it!” I screamed, I was crying, and jumping at the phone, begging you to take it back.
You started laughing. Hard. “I was just kiddin’, Dev. I didn’t really call ‘im.”
I was five.
Or changing the character names in my favorite children’s books to “Stupid” and “Butt-head” or “Dumb ass”. It drove me crazy.
“Heeey, That’s not what it says, Daddy. Read it right.” I would demand “Mom always reads it right.”
I’m still not sure why you thought this was so funny.
You also thought it was hilarious to threaten to “Take me back to the gypsies,” and laugh when I would freak out. Back to them. Implying that I was not your child. I hated that joke the most. This kind of humor is lost on children, for future reference Flynt.
Our only defense, devised by your lovely wife, was to flatly reply “Ha. ha. very funny dad.” That was her way of telling you your mean jokes were not appreciated. They weren’t appreciated because they were really just meannesses dressed up as jokes. Wolves in clown costumes.
All this primed me, however, for having a keen appreciation for all kinds of funny. Any occasion is an invitation for hilarity. Laugh when something is too dark and scary. Yuck it up when a situation gets uncomfortable. Giggle out your unease. You take away its ability to hurt you. Laugh first and address the problem later. Make light of the situation. This defense is one that I will never give up, because it always works and its never not fun to have a good side splitting fit about how ridiculous and unfair the world can be at times.
When you left, I stayed up late most nights watching stand-up on Comedy Central and the Late show with David Letterman. Reruns of SNL. Mad TV. Perfecting my ability to make people laugh while laughing myself to sleep. Because a good joke, I learned, was one thing that you would listen to. Making mom laugh was just as important in this time. Her taste in jokes was different, but cracking her up was also something I became quite skilled at.
You were wrong, she does have a sense of humor, she was just always too pissed at you think that you were cute or funny. But no one in the world will ever think I’m as funny as mom does.
This humor, is something that you shared with me, for which I am most grateful. I can’t watch a single sketch comedy show, stand-up routine, or stupid gross out movie and not think of you freely laughing next to me.
My laugh is a lot like yours, dad. They dubbed it “The cackle” in high school. It never goes unnoticed nor do I ever fight to control it. I’m who friends want to have in the audience if they are performing a comedy. But also who strangers want to disdainfully glare at when stuck in front of me at a funny movie. I frankly don’t give a fuck. I choose to be amused. To scream with joy, doubled over in pain, releasing all control in worship of the glorious absurdity.
“You think this is loud?” I want to say to them, “You should have heard my dad’s. Now that was a laugh.”
I miss it. And you.
Categories: Letters I Will Never Send