Humor theory

humor and memoir hameister notes

Good lord. Two Saturdays ago I took a workshop through Portland Center Stage, “Humorous Memoir with Courtenay Hameister,” which was fan-freaking-tastic in all ways. (If you don’t know who she is, you should defnitely look her up, and you should totally take a class from her.) I have been working on a larger piece about it for over a week now – who knew that the words “humor theory” would set me off in so many directions? Well, you probably did… 

Anyway, for today I am going to cut to the chase because I want to share the piece I wrote there with you, so I will boil it down to this: Humor Theory is the same as Trauma Theory, only jauntier.

What follows is a very raw second draft, as yet untitled, written in 30 minutes and read aloud in class for feedback (which was great, but maybe they were just an easy audience?), edited just slightly here for continuity. – Ed.


This happened the same week I’d looked out my window and noticed a man walking with a baby in one of those front carriers, and I thought to myself, “I bet that is an ugly baby.”

Now you have a sense of the mood I was in.

It was during my Year of Ursula, when I was busy figuring out how to quit putting up with bullshit, which is harder than it sounds (especially since I was not yet the Born Again (and Again) Taoist (<– get it?) I am today. I was still very “peopled-out,” with the exception of a close few, and had become extremely protective about who I would spend my time with. I had grown increasingly distrustful of The Public. I found myself devoting considerable energy to thinking about how I could become agoraphobic professionally.

I was meeting my writer friend, Chad, who I adore, at those food carts downtown that used to be across from Target. It was a sunny summer day, close to noon, so of course it was very busy. Crowds make me nervous, and food cart pods always make me feel like I am going to pick the wrong thing, but I trust Chad implicitly, and knew as soon as he got there I could make him take the lead and I would be totally fine. He was moving to New Orleans in a few weeks, so this was going to be one of our last visits before he left Portland. I was happy for him, and not at all concerned about losing our close friendship, but I was very aware that soon I would not have him to tell me if I wanted the shawarma or the bibimbap, or to have him to people watch in Director Park with.

I was uncharacteristically early, and was just standing there on our designated street corner, being middle-aged and grey-headed, which apparently I am good at. I am aware that no one is afraid of me, and while this is generally a good quality, it leaves me feeling like easy prey sometimes. Yes, I am a person strangers will ask for the time, and also a person who gets cut in front of in line.

Anyway, a group of maybe five or six teenagers crossed over to right where I was standing, and literally edged me out of the space I was occupying, as if I wasn’t even there. I took a couple of steps to the side, but I still wanted to be where Chad could see me, so I stayed as close to our designated spot as possible. The teenagers did not give me a second glance, and stood in a circle chatting animatedly about teenager things. The boy closest to me, holding onto his backpack straps, turned his head and spat right in my direction, and it landed just a few inches from my foot. Gross.

I looked at it and thought, you little entitled asshole. You spoiled brat. You disrespectful little creep. (I became a crabby old woman in an instant.)  I didn’t say anything, but I looked down at his spit on the ground, then looked up at him until he made eye contact with me, narrowed my eyes, and, yes you guessed it. I decided right then and there to do it back.

Only I am apparently a terrible spitter, because it took me a moment to work up enough saliva, and then when I tried to spit, it just kind of hung there from my bottom lip. Not really like drooling, but kind of. I did not trust my aim, so I wasn’t going to risk a “ptooey” that might accidentally get it on him, or me. I wanted it to land on the ground next to where his spit glob had landed, or better yet on top of his if possible, so I ended up leaning over slightly in order to aim, then slowly shaking my head back and forth to get it to swing loose. I was trembling inside, and it seemed to take forever, but by then I could not back out. Finally, it dropped to the ground. Then I looked back up at him, and didn’t say a word.

I kept thinking oh my god, what did I just do? I couldn’t believe myself, and felt a little embarrassed, a bit like a criminal, and like I had really crossed a line of some kind, but basically, I was elated. (What does that mean about me?)

He didn’t say a word, either, and by then all of his friends had fallen silent. The crosswalk light changed, and the whole group walked back across the street, not talking until they were safely on the opposite street corner. I wish I could have heard what they said.

I didn’t even mention it to Chad when he arrived shortly afterward. What was I going to say, “I just spit at teenagers?” “I’ve gone to the dark side?”

Let’s hope I don’t make this a habit, but just to be safe I should probably work on my spitting.