He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at

August 6, 2008
By Kayla McGeary, Allison Park, PA

“Tell me more about your grandmother in the mental institution,” My breath came out in short little spurts between mouthfuls of sesame chicken. He rolled his eyes, but a smile played on his lips. I leaned back in my chair, “C’mon, it'll cheer me out of my dapper state of mind.”
“I like it when you're dapper. It’s sexy.” His smile spread as he leaned in his chair, pretending to act suave.
“Oh, gawd.” I sighed. Sometimes this boy just tried way too hard. I pretended to get up from my chair: this triggered his story to begin.
“My mum was never the kind of person to accept things. It could be pouring down raining outside, and she would go out tanning. Well, okay, not really. But ya get the picture. Well, you know my mums an artist right? Well, she and grandma would always visit the galleries in town and take local painting classes together. I think they just liked to size up the naked male models. Ha. They were always really artsy fartsy, I never really got it. I mean, why waste your time looking at some paint slapped on a canvas? They always told me to ‘look for the meaning under the surface”, but whatever, I never saw it. Well, after my mum and uncle placed grandma in the mental institution, mum got real lonely. She sat cooped up in the garage, her makeshift art studio. She moseyed around the house like a zombie, with paint stains of her clothes. A sickly, deaf, blind, and mute zombie. With the reflexes of a dead cat. And she ate yogurt. A lot of yogurt. And when she got upset she threw it up and it smelled in the bathroom for days. Have you ever smelled coffee yogurt throw up before?”
He peered at me under his crimson spectacles. I scrunched my eyes at him. I loved his stories, but I could go without his not so humorous way of describing things. “Well, it smells gnarly. So, being the loving, honest, wonderful son that I am, I suggested that she go visit grandma. I mean, at least the old bag wasn't dead. Naturally, she insisted on me going with her. We drove in mums old station wagon from, like, the seventies cus dad took the Volvo to New York. The drive was long, miserable, and quite gassy. I let my farts fly, you know me. No shame. My mum wasn't thrilled. I told her, it was her idea that I go with her. The ride lasted two hours cus this stupid mental institution was way out in the middle of nowhere, hick town Pennsylvania. I guess even though my mum really missed grandma, she didn't want to deal with her the way she is now. She wants to remember the way she was before she went all loopy and insane.”

He shrugged, pretended like he didn't care that his only living grandmother was a mental case, and continued on with his jolly little tale. “When me and mum went into grandma’s room, she was nowhere to be found. Her roommate, Gerty, was sitting alone in a wingback chair by the window playing her key-tar. Then room grandma and Gerty shared was different than the other rooms. Most rooms were littered with flowers, picture frames, cards, stuffed animals, stupid little stuff to make the patients feel better about their current situation. Gerty and grandmas room, however, had a bunch of magazine pages and pictures printed off of the Internet pinned on every inch of wall space that they could reach. Grandma wrote to us once, and told us Gerty practiced witchcraft, but me and mum assumed it was just more of her senseless ranting. But seeing the walls with upside down crosses, occult symbols, and naked people dancing around fires, I realized I shoulda believed her. And, I know this sounds really stupid and weird, but I was kinda envious of the little old lady. Gerty was rockin that key-tar pretty good. She was perfectly content, and in her own little world. I usually feel sorry for old people cus, well….they're old. But I didn't feel sorry for Gerty at all. She told us grandma went to Alaska to see the northern lights. My Mum was silent as soon as she entered the room. I think she was having some sort of mental breakdown. Then she just snapped and went all crazy-person on me. ‘WHAT THE HELL KIND OF PLACE IS THIS? WHERE IS MY MOTHER? HOW CAN YOU JUST LET SOMEONE WANDER OFF AIMLESSLY?’ My mum whirled around and faced the nurse who had escorted us. Poor women didn't know who she was dealin’ with. Don't mess with an enraged artist. She stuttered and muttered apologies; we would find her strait away. The whole staff would be alerted. I looked at the various magazine pictures. I stared at this one really old naked women staring into a fire pit. It reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby. Mum said she was going to search for grandma and that I should stay in the room until they got back. I said fine. So, naturally, I went off to explore the insane asylum. I said farewell to Gerty and she did some sort of weird satanic salute as I exited the room. In movies the mental institutions and insane asylums are always really, super creepy and dark. There are like a billion dark corners with a lot of dust, and blood. Muhahaha.” He raised his arms in mock horror with his fingers wiggling. I stared at him. It was silent for a moment when he realized I was not amused. He cleared his throat and continued, “But, in actuality, they are really bright, clean, and sterile. I met quite a few interesting characters on my way to my destination: the kitchen. I was really hungry. Mum wouldn't stop at McDonalds and there were no fast food places in the hick town. It was right after lunch and everything was cleaned up. Dang, and I really wanted some premium quality old person cuisine. I checked my pockets, I had a dollar and thirty cents. Snicker bar, mmmmmmm.. I searched high and low for one stupid vending machine. That’s all I wanted. I was getting delirious, a growing boy needs his grub!! I asked the nurse at the service desk, and she gave me a snooty look and pursed her lips. I guess I looked more pubescent than I usually do cus she thought I was a rotten, no good teenager. She pointed behind a door that said ‘staff only’. ‘Down the hallway by the staff room there is a vending machine. Make is snappy.’ She uttered. Obviously, I was up to no good. I walked down the hallway and heard a faint knocking noise. At first I thought nothing of it. Probably a machine keeping an old person alive. Knock, knock, knock…Exactly five seconds, then there was another knock. Every five seconds. It was quite annoying and I was intrigued. I saw the vending machine, but I passed it up. There was nobody around and as I reached the end of the hall the knocking got louder and louder. It was more of a banging that a knocking. At the end of the hallway one of those emergency fire extinguishers had been broken into. Glass littered the floor and the extinguisher was missing. Wow. I felt like I should be carrying a microscope and sporting a Sherlock Holmes cap. I was a tad freaked out, but not enough to turn around. I reached the end of the hall where the banging noise was the loudest. It was coming from behind the door on the right. Are you gonna eat your fortune cookie?”

I blinked and sat back against the seat. I hadn't realized that I had leaned forward. He grabbed the cookie from in front of me. “ Well..?” I said, exasperated. “Well what?” He smiled smugly. I kicked him under the table. He grunted and opened the cookie. “He who laughs at himself never runs out of things to laugh at.” He smirked and stuck out his tongue. I always told him he never took anything seriously. I smacked the table and kicked him hard with my foot. “Aah. Okay, okay! Where was I? Oh, yeah, the banging. Well, I opened the door and it was a small utility closet. Crouched on the ground was a small, slight figure in a white dressing gown. The only clue to knowing if this person was a male or female was the dress, other than that I would've been stumped. She was wearing a brown paper bag on her head. There were two spots for eyes and a smile was drawn on with a magic marker. She was kneeling on the floor, and like I said, she waited five seconds and then proceeded to bag the fire extinguisher as hard as she could into the cement block wall. I watched for about a minute I guess. I mean, what would you do? It was quite the odd situation. I heard the click, click, click of heels coming down the hallway faintly, but I kept watching the women bang away with the extinguisher. The nurse from the service desk came up behind me. ‘What in the world is going o-oh!Oh! Maisy! MAISY! STOP THAT THIS INSTANT!’ The nurse exclaimed stomping her little high-heeled foot. She ordered me to wait there. ‘Hey gram gram.’ I said between the banging. She stopped mid-bang, and turned her brown bagged head around. ‘I'm bustin’ out of this joint. They're all off the rocker here. When I'm out I'm gonna get me some of them real nice shiny apples that nice man sells at the road side stand. I'll get u some strawberries. Wouldja like that sweet cheeks?” Her voice was raspy, but cheery none the less. ‘Not really. I'm not into strawberries.’ I said. ‘Nonsense. You'll love them. Grab a broom and give me some help cheeky.” She turned back to the wall. I peered over her shoulder, she had made quite a dent in the solid cement. I shrugged and picked up the broom and smashed it into the wall. Not hard enough to break it, but load enough that it would make a noise. Mum doesn't like it when I humor grandma with her little stories, but I think its hilarious. She'll be pushin’ up daises soon I figure. Why not give her a couple of hoorahs before she goes? Well, anyway, our grandmother-grandson moment ended when the nurse, two large men, and my mother came down the hallway. My mum screamed and yelled at me, but I didn't care. My grandma kept screaming ‘you'll never take me alive!’. It was really funny and mum was mad that I thought so. The two big guys took grandma back to her room and we visited her like a normal family would have. Grandma rambled off some imaginary tale about her walking along route 66 and making out with Johnny Depp. I'm surprised she even knew who he was. And that’s pretty much the end of that story.” He sighed and took out tic-tacs from his pocket and shoved two orange ones in his mouth.
“Feel better?” He said, comically raising an eyebrow. I smiled, he was growing on me. “Sorta. But just so you know, the orange tic -- tacs aren’t that minty. They’re more like candy.”

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