Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Conference Call of Madness

The other day, a conference call I was attending revealed a psychological tick that I thought had been beaten out of me with rulers and yardsticks in Parochial school: the tendency to laugh, suddenly and uncontrollably, in the most inappropriate situations. Back in elementary school, bizarre thoughts would flood my mind when I was supposed to be “reflecting on my sins” or serving as an altar boy, thoughts such as “what if the priest started making funny noises into the microphone, with a long crescendo of maniacal laughter?” Or I’d imagine that our teacher would suddenly explode, without warning, and then be standing there, black and smoking like in a cartoon, before falling over. Such things, of course, would shake me to the core of my being with laughter that I desperately tried to stifle with the fake cough or the head shake. By junior high, I’d been tortured enough to learn that nothing was that funny, and the strange images no longer invaded my consciousness.

Jump ahead a few decades, and I find myself sitting in a conference room full of people with four more on a speaker phone. Also on the speaker phone is Van Morrison, although no one had invited him. He had a lot to say about marvelous nights and moon dancing and such, a bit off topic. Obviously, someone had put the conference call on hold. Various people made jokes about it (none of which, by the way, precipitated my psychological tick): “if it were my office, you’d hear circus music” or “I think our hold music is the theme to Psycho.” Ha ha! Ha ha!

The meeting started and the music continued unabated. It’s bad enough having Van Morrison serenade you from a speaker phone, but it’s even worse when he sings the same song, over and over and over again, and much, much worse when that song is “Moondance”. (I just looked up the lyrics, and my GOD, it’s worse than I thought!)

As the meeting progressed into discussions of “functionality” and “search capabilities”, no one seemed to notice the music. And then it began: what if, I thought (oh crap! Not again! Where’s Sister Angela with the ruler? Help me Sister Angela! Help me!), what if the music suddenly changed to Motley Crue’s “Girls Girls Girls” or Nine Inch Nails “Closer to God”, and for some reason it got really loud and then smoke started coming out of the speaker phone and then a rock star came crashing through the wall wielding a guitar and big hair and leather pants flicking his tongue around at random meeting attendees. Of course, none of this is funny. In fact, such things belie the onset of a psychotic episode demanding immediate medical attention and sedation. And at first I didn’t laugh. My invoking of Sister Angela seemed to have done the trick.

Then I took a sip of coffee and nearly spit it out across the table: instead of the image of some Slash-like character prancing about, I see my middle-aged, tubby, gray-haired boss stomping around on the table and screaching a-la-Steven Tyler. Somehow, I got the coffee down and shook it off. (Did you ever make hot coffee come out your nose? It’s burny.) But after that, each time I took a sip of coffee, the same or similar absurd images came to me and it was all I could do to keep from choking to death. I survived the meeting with only a few strange looks and no reprimands. But now, I can’t have a mouth full of any kind of liquid without experiencing the urge to burst into laughter. Water. Beer. Soup. Even wine. Wine! I’m at the end of my rope.

I’ll been in the loony bin soon. Thanks, Van Morrison, for destroying yet another life.

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