Thoughts have been speeding into and spewing out of my head; I wouldn’t be surprised if aura readers and the like can see sparks. This increase emerges as a result of true moments of awe. Reading Steven Millhauser’s “Dangerous Laughter” marks one of these moments. I was inspired to new thought upon reading the title.
Instantly, I thought of the moment in the hotel room when I was scolded for laughing too loudly because “it was early”. We were at the ocean, $@8!#! I suppose this memory is so intense because the ocean is a place where one’s sense of freedom is even greater, but mostly because at thirty-five, I was reprimanded for laughing too loudly, in the wrong pitch, at a place that served a continental breakfast.
Early childhood memories came with as much intensity: memories of matches, gasoline, and curiosity. I was aware that change would be significant from Millhauser’s decision to open with the sentence, “FEW OF US now recall that perilous summer.” My reflections were somehow confirmed. I saw milk and a whole Cheeto shooting out of my little cousin’s nose.
“We wanted to live—to die–to burst into flame—to be transformed into angels or explosions.” Yes! Yes! I was fully Millhauser’s half way into the opening paragraph. I was right on target with my matchbook memories. I was now thinking of humanity in whole, transferring desires for everyone to feel in such magnitude. I was trying to squelch out the negative thoughts creeping in, “Not enough laughter is what’s wrong with this world…” I barely underlined “or explosions” because my mind did not want to wait for my hand to keep up with it. Yes, the mundane is offensive! I am not alone in that secret fear of my destiny; so secret, it was not until reading those words strung together that I let myself in on it. This was one step closer, in the present, than “Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die.”
My pen remained tightly gripped in my hand. I was no longer marking, as horizontal lines soon became vertical. For me, every word carried a certain momentum and I read importance into every single syllable. I began to feel as though I had entered into a coming of age story. I was reading a sexual charge in word and rhythm: “fanatics of laughter, devotees of eruption,” “the art of invading and withdrawing”. Elements of the desire for the forbidden became intertwined with that of need for change. I was seduced. I opened myself up to laughter in audible form. I wanted to achieve greater depths of happiness in physical manifestation.
I began to long for the moments when I am able to allow my imagination to be fully “seized”. I thought of the area where pain and pleasure merge, separate, and merge again. What was so captivating in the perceiving of laughter as dangerous? I wanted to know more, I was lured, and yet I wanted to remain in the state Millhauser referred to as “conjuring new possibilities”. I wanted to linger in the pleasure, in its ripest state. I wanted to catch hold of such a “fever of obsession”. Or maybe it was that I became reawakened to the escape found in secret distractions; I wanted to touch the lace of curtains in Clara’s house and see the frill of the bedspread. I wanted to go to that place where laughter fringes on indecent. I wanted these things because Millhauser lit this fire for me, early in the story, with “our eyelids grew heavy with obscure desires.”