On being ... a laughing matter?

By Ingrid Sapona

It’s a given that children think their parents’ behaviour is sometimes odd. One of my father’s habits I always found particularly strange was that whenever he’d talk about something expensive that had broken, he would laugh. Indeed, the bigger the ticket item, the more sustained his laughter. I could just never understand it...

Another given is that children inherit more from their parents than just their looks. In my case, I’ve come to realize that I’ve inherited Dad’s big ticket item/laughter habit. I honestly don’t know when the transformation happened in me. I used to be very much the type who cried over spilled milk -- much less over the spilling or breaking of anything remotely valuable. But, recent bouts of laughter over a costly incident have proven to me that Dad’s habit lives on in yours truly.

The incident I’m referring to arose out of a fateful decision I made one Saturday. That morning, after a multivariate, mental, cost-benefit-time analysis, I decided to drive downtown instead of taking the subway. I parked in an office building that offers cheap rates on weekends. (Parking was only about 50¢ more than the cost of two subway tokens and the convenience of being able to leave packages in the trunk more than offset the cost of gas and wear-and-tear, not to mention the time I’d save.)

After efficiently completing my errands, I was feeling quite content as I exited the parking garage. Suddenly, however, I heard a loud whack/thud. For reasons not germane to this story, I was (painfully) aware of what that noise probably was. My guess: my (once) fixed-mount passenger side-view mirror had probably become, for lack of a better way of describing it, unmounted.

When I got out of the garage I pulled over to check my hypothesis. I was partly right. The mirror had, in fact, torn off. But what I didn’t anticipate was that the once black, convex panels on both passenger-side doors were now yellow-scuffed, concave panels. Yes, I had completely side-swiped the wall of the garage. Those of you used to parking garages will appreciate what it was that I had come in contact with: a guardrail built about two feet up from the ground and about two feet out from the wall. (Such structures are to prevent side-view mirrors on large delivery trucks from being whacked off if the driver misjudges the space between the truck and the wall. Handily, they are also often painted bright colours -- like school-bus yellow -- to make them even more obvious -- or that’s the theory, at least.) Unfortunately, my little Buick rides a bit lower than delivery trucks…

I’m sure you can imagine the thoughts going through my head on the way home: how could I have not seen it? What was I thinking? Was I distracted? How much will it cost to fix? And, the kicker thought: I clearly didn’t factor in quite enough things when I did my multivariate analysis. (Of course, embarrassment goes without saying.)

At first I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to friends and strangers who asked. But after awhile, the simple truth got rather tedious. That’s when I started finding the humour in it. The first laugh I had about it was when I described to my sister how liberating it is when you find you’re no longer worried about people carelessly denting your door in store parking lots. After that I found myself chuckling when I noticed people seeming to steer a wee bit wider of me. (Aye, she looks like a bit of a reckless one, she does.)

But the best laugh yet came the other day when I dropped my car off for a routine oil change. When Rocko, the service manager, asked how the car was, I had a split second to decide what to tell him. He picked up on my momentary hesitation and asked what was wrong. I told him the car was running fine, but there’s a bit of a cosmetic problem that he’d no-doubt see.

When I went to pick it up, Rocko asked what had happened. I couldn’t resist, so I responded: “what can I say Rocko? Cute guy; yellow Porsche.” “Yellow Porsche?” he asked. “Yes,” I said, quickly adding, “you must have seen the yellow paint”. A skeptical look came over his face but I didn’t flinch. Then, after a bit of a pause, he said, every so somberly and sadly, “Ohhhhh…. You hit a yellow Porsche… They’re expensive to fix… I can imagine you’re upset.”

Feigning insult, I said, “Now Rocko, how come you think I hit him? I didn’t say that…”. The assistant service manager (who had been standing there listening to our exchange), then jumped in with, “True enough, Rocko!” As I waited for the credit card authorization to go through they both stood there shaking their head and silently wondering, no doubt, what the Porsche must look like, given the state of my car. When the transaction was complete I simply took my keys and headed out the door, hearing “yellow Porsche” muttered in hushed tones.

I tell you, I laughed all the way home…

I know -- laugh fool, laugh -- it’s still going to cost me a pretty penny to get the car fixed. But you know what? I think I finally understand why Dad always ended up laughing at the big ticket items. Laughing doesn’t pay the bill, but it sure makes you feel better.

© 2006 Ingrid Sapona


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