The place was London – spooky, thrilling, pompous, historic, charming, expensive, wonderful London with its razzle-dazzle intertwine of ancient and pop-cultural life.
Hubby and I walked trillions of miles through downpours, sprinkles and blazing sun to see the Royal Palace, Westminster Abbey, Piccadilly Square, remains of the infamous 19th-century prison Charles Dickens described in Great Expectations and, naturally, the original Hard Rock Café.
We were sooty, damp and delirious with wanderlust when we arrived back at the London train station to return to Rochester, our nesting place for the two weeks Mark was on a business assignment.
Wrestling through thick crowds inside the train, we couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted two empty seats facing one another inside a nice enclosure. We went inside, chatting happily as we nestled noisily among the seated passengers and arranged our numerous shopping bags.
A tomb-like silence soon settled inside our senses.
Taking a better look at our seatmates, we realized that all four men were wearing expensive three-piece suits, perfectly unscuffed shoes, buffed nails, and meticulously groomed hair. They were the English versions of the perfectly turned out GQ gentlemen.
Each man had an open newspaper in front of his face and appeared deeply engrossed in it.
No other signs of life were manifest in the “GQ gentlemen.”
Good grief! Mark and I conveyed to one another with saucer eyes, we’re in a PRIVATE gentleman’s car, and the men were too polite to tell us!
Our jeans and street-trollop appearance suddenly became unbearable. We’d been in rain and dirty city streets all day. Might we even be smelly?
I couldn’t bear it! I squirmed. With a man on each side of me, I was a giant toad trapped inside a tiny teacup. Everything I did seemed animated. Loud. Preposterous.
Mark and I were now agonizing and insufferably common;
wretched street characters from a Dickens novel;
a couple of low-lifes.
In desperation, I glanced at Mark sitting between the two men opposite me. Did he comfort me, quell my fears with a simple shoulder shrug or a nod of the head?
Not at all.
My dear husband committed THE UNPARDONABLE SIN.
He rolled his eyes in an animated arc and puffed out his cheeks. His expression screamed at me, Sheesh! What a bunch of stuffed shirts!
He knew better than to commit this act of treason.
All my life, which he is fully aware of, I have battled a private affliction of the most humiliating kind; that is, in terribly absurd situations, I am struck with fits of uncontrollable hilarity that cannot be checked.
My PROBLEM took over.
An outrageous guffaw escaped my mouth. Vulgar snorts emitted from my nose and throat. Soon, heaven forbid, the unthinkable happened. I started to wheeze at the end of my laughs. For me, that’s a common side effect of a fierce laugh attack. I continued to stifle loud shrieks, followed by those exasperating wheezes. Meanwhile, all around us . . .
no eyes moved from the newspapers—no faces reflected any emotion.
I couldn’t look at Mark. If I did, he made another face. I threw on my sunglasses. They immediately steamed up from the combination of damp air and my elevated body temperature. I grabbed my newly purchased Dickens paperback from my shopping bag and pretended to read, silently begging God to knock me out.
I’d like to say that I gained control on that train ride, but that wouldn’t be true. I calmed down to just the occasional giggle, though, which I managed to turn into a little dignified cough. It was comforting to know that I at least looked less stupid with my nose buried in a Charles Dickens novel.
Mark and I tumbled from the private booth and off the train as soon as rails and wheels allowed. Taking in gulps of air, I was relieved, and mad.
“Why Mark? Why did you do that to me?”
His eyes danced with orneriness. He shrugged. “Well, you know, next time, turn your book right side up. It’s a lot more effective.”
I died of mortification standing right there at the train station.
Indeed, looking back, I pray that anonymous group of Englishmen will think of me sometimes with benign humor as they puff their Cohiba Behike cigars or patiently turn at the tailor’s shop while being measured for their Gucci suits.
Perhaps one of the four gentlemen is a Shakespeare devotee who will charitably attach these words to his sanguinary memory of me:
I had rather a fool to make me merry than experience to make me sad.
Do I dare show my face in London again? I still feel embarrassed about it, but I cherish this experience as one of the funniest of my life. It was so completely ridiculous!
Have you ever been hit with a very inappropriate laugh attack? What did you do to come out of it or to save face? Or did you?
I value your thoughts.