Issue of November 19, 2017

Panagbenga Flower Festival
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Laughing Matters
Apart from holiday traffic and celebrity worship, I am also allergic to dust. If you asked me to crawl underneath the bed with you in the hopes of escaping a deranged psycho killer, I would likely give ourselves away with my constant sniffling and sneezing. Had I been cast in those B-movie slasher flicks, I would have been the first victim every single time.

This allergen-induced affliction, coupled with childhood bouts of asthma, made me dread certain chores like sweeping, in fears of stirring up clouds of dust. As night fell, and the air cooled, I could expect myself doubled over, short of breath and wheezing like a creaky stairway. My folks would rush me to BGH where I would be handed a nebulizer and ordered to inhale the gray fog-like plume generated by the whirring machine; its chemical ingredients clearing my airways. As a child, I wondered if moving to Irisan would have helped cure my asthma because a nebulizer cloud hung in the air there perpetually.

One particular summer break, my family decided to spend a week at my grandparents’ home in Abatan, Buguias, where the chilly air and an ill-advised afternoon cleaning session combined to send me into another fit of sounding like an old cabinet hinge squeaking repeatedly. Despite downing horrid tasting shots of Ventolin (an asthma medication), I still ended up a wheezing wreck. With my heart racing and a panic tightening at my core, I tried my best to calm down, knowing that asthma attacks got worse only because the fear made it so. As I willed my mind away from the situation at hand, I grasped at a nearby shelf where a row of neatly stacked Reader’s Digest magazines lined up. The issue that rested underneath my fingertips was one from the 1960s.

I flipped through the pages, pacing my breath while attempting to catch it at the same time. I came upon a part of the magazine entitled, “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” a recurring section per issue where readers could submit their favorite jokes. Browsing through the entries, I found myself chuckling at certain gags, while entirely missing the point on others. As I finished one, I opened another, reading only this particular section and completely ignoring the rest of the periodical. I remember being fascinated by how decades-old quips felt different, yet strangely familiar. Although the references were dated, and some had punchlines that I couldn’t relate to, there were those that seemed to be funny in a manner I could only describe as timeless. My breath eased, and my senses calmed. I had found my cure. And although I still wheezed like crazy, my inner turmoil had been replaced by an enchantment from the now-50-year-old jokes.

Laughter was indeed the best medicine, even if it only soothed the nerves.

As I grew older, my asthma waned and eventually vanished. But in its place came the ups and downs of puberty and adolescence. Humor remained a remedy of sorts, especially for when things were not as light-hearted in school or at home. The Reader’s Digests gave way to TV shows and sitcoms; the 50-year-old jokes replaced by slapstick and stand-up comics. I was hooked on a show called “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” a comedy program where performers improvised on the spot. I would watch spellbound and amazed at how quickly these people came up with their ideas and how they rolled with the punches, barely skipping a beat. I followed nighttime talk shows, watching only the opening monologues and skits, before changing the channel to Dragon Ball Z when the celebrity interviewee appeared.

With age also came the blooming of social circles. Sitting by the TV took a backseat to sitting around friends and family whose humor spanned from inane puns, oft-repeated dad jokes, to surreal non-sequiturs too weird for television. One ankel, Conrad, could always find a way to lighten a room’s mood and get everyone giggling with his old-timey anecdotes and tall tales, regardless if the listener had heard it a million times before. A brader, Steve, had a lightning-quick wit which he used to bury friends under a wave of hilarious backhanded compliments, dripping with sarcasm that doubled folks over in fits of howling laughter. Each one had an individual style, a unique delivery, and a signature feel.

Now, with the Internet, everyone has access to a stage where they can share their takes. Writing your own material and sharing them may be great for confidence when they click, and great teachers of humility when they flop. Not everyone will get your humor, and you won’t get everybody else’s humor either. And that’s fine. What truly matters is that you go and say your piece because you never know who’s day you may be brightening. Heck, it might even be an eight-year-old kid in Buguias reading a joke you wrote 50 years ago, laughing away the anxiety of an asthma attack and dreaming that one day, he could do the same for someone else.

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