Chris Smith

Food and Other Expenses

Chris Smith

The weekend I walked into a crime scene I also discovered I was a failure at laughter yoga. Friday, two hours before five o’clock, we were required to attend a mandatory professional development meeting for all employees.

We piled into the meeting room, which had been emptied except for one skinny, plastic tree in the corner.

We were asked to sit on the floor cross-legged in a circle. Facing us was a man who wore black biking shorts, a pair of green Birkenstocks, and a loose, stained tank top. Every time someone entered the room he greeted them with a long, stretched cackle, his dark eyes wide, his mouth a rictus. My boss stood next to the door nodding her head in approval.

I sat between two people I had never met before in front of the window overlooking the office-building courtyard. I noticed other professionals walking by, glancing casually, then staring with horrified expressions when their eyes landed on the laughing man.

Once everyone had filled the meeting room, my boss shut the door and leaned against it. She had her arms folded over her chest, her peacock-shaped hair moving with every shake of her head. For a few minutes the laughing man just cackled while people looked around the room for answers. Finally, he stopped laughing, which was followed with the deepest silence I’ve heard—deeper than when I walked out of Alien Resurrection on opening night. My boss stepped away from the door and began clapping. All heads in the room immediately turned and looked up at her, faces drained and hungry for some explanation.

“Everyone,” she began. “Everyone, this is . . . Ya- uh, Ya-”

“Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut.” The laughing man stretched his smile wider and panned his head around the room.

More silence followed by a shakily whispered “Jesus” behind me. Everyone leaned forward, their faces longer and some seeming to look for other potential exits.

“Yes,” sang my boss. “Everyone, I want you to pay attention because this man is here to bring us a side of life we may never have had before.”

She stood quietly for a moment, looked at the laughing man, and seemed to expect direction from him as to what to do next, then continued talking, her attention on the windows behind us.

“I know you have been very stressed lately as the month is closing,” she swept her arm through the space above our heads. “Yan Sut Sut, uh, he’s here to introduce to us a new phenomenon. Laughter yoga.”

Some gentle sighs of relief followed this. Others chuckled and sat up straighter. Faces appeared with renewed expressions of excitement. I felt clenched between two different thighs on either side of me, both stretching poly-blend cotton to unimaginable extremes. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut seemed to notice my discomfort and stared into me, his eyes like two lidless white eggs trying to produce light. I felt a sharp need to cry, which passed as soon as it hit, but he would not look away. He had locked onto me, his mouth opening to allow subtle chuckles. I wanted to ask why he was doing this to me, but my boss was building into a shapely crescendo about the benefits of laughter and our decomposing team morale. The thighs on either side of me felt hot. The air had grown dense with the warmth of our bodies, our collective colognes and perfumes, latent after-lunch farts that trickled out unheard.

“Bring us to peace, Yahoonie,” said my boss with a strategically reverential tone, her arm sweeping back in the direction of the laughing man. He didn’t show any offense at her having called him by the wrong name. He jumped up from the floor, bounced on one foot, balanced himself, and bowed. He belched out a giant laugh, put his hands together like a sideways book, and shouted at us to stand and to look at our bills, to look at our debts, to look at our obligations in our hands. He shook his palms at us indicating we should do the same as he. I put my hands into this shape, watching as others hesitantly did the same. The laughing man moved around the room, moved through us, laughing directly into our faces while glancing at the space in his hands that was supposed to signify bills and obligations.

“Walk, my friends,” he shouted. “Move with each other, laugh at the bills and debts in your hands, show how fearless you are in the face of your suffering.

“The only rule: You cannot stop laughing.”

Everyone began to shuffle in a congested circle. Forced chuckles spilled out of some, others genuinely shook with laughter. Many breathed heavily, gasping air between exhausted laughs. I watched as people faced others they hated and gossiped about and churned out laughter while showing them the empty space between their hands. Sometimes the laughter was so hard and choppy faces turned red, veins pulsing in the center of foreheads. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut gestured with his hands as if he were orchestrating a group of children with anger management issues.

He simply smiled, beatifically, his head nodding in approval. After we finished the exercise we were asked to repeat it again and again, only each time it was a different mode of suffering: constipation, ex-wives, ex-husbands, dead relatives.

“Laugh,” he said. “Laugh. Give birth to your laughter.”

He told us to let go of everything unfinished in our lives. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut reminded us that if it wasn’t solved now, it would always remain so; that the trick was to accept its natural condition as unsolved, unfinished.

When my boss concluded the professional development meeting, everyone quietly departed the room. Clean air pushed in from the hallway outside the open door depleting the humid stench of baby powder and AXE body spray. Everyone sighed, already settling back into their former selves, the people they were before Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut forced them to be someone else.

I was one of the last to leave the room. The laughing man stepped into my path, his smile gone. In its place was a simple flat line.

“You never laughed once,” he said.

I stood speechless.

“You are a failure—”

“Excuse me?”

“The only failure at laughter yoga I have ever met in my long, long life.”

A sound issued from my mouth that attempted to become a response, but I could only stare at his stoic face. He burst into laughter once more before moving out of my path. Silent, I walked down the hallway to my cubicle. I fell into my chair. My body felt empty and brittle. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut had called me a failure. His confidence in my failure at laughter yoga struck deeper cords, places I had forgotten existed. It drifted through me like a bullet on Xanex, slow and hard.