The following is a true story. In order to maintain their anonymity, I’ve changed the names and identifying details of everyone in this story except for my own. Everything else is told exactly as it occurred.
I was nineteen when I first used humor as a weapon.
Four of my close friends and I left a small reunion to go hotbox a car. We needed a quiet place in Cancun to do this at, and nobody spoke up, so I searched my mind for quiet places and came up with the worst possible one: a lot my dad owned across the street from the home I grew up in, a home he no longer owned. I say this was the worst possible place because a couple years prior to that night, I’d been handcuffed in the same spot, and though I’d gotten away with it that time, I knew the possibilities of it happening again were likely.
The gates to the lot were locked, but I figured as long as we parked right outside of it, away from the street, it would be considered private property.
“I know just the place,” I told my friends.
Jon drove us to the lot and parked in a way that left our backs facing the street. Alex ground the weed and rolled the joint while the rest of us waited impatiently. Soon enough the first joint was being passed around and the second one was being rolled. The car was low on gas, so Jon turned the engine off.
Everyone had hit the first joint at least twice when Fran, my closest friend in the group, said, “Holy shit! Someone’s here!”
“God dammit! Cops?” I said, as I turned to see two flashlights being waved at the car.
“Maybe worse,” Fran said. Thankfully, though maybe not so much, it was just the cops.
I was riding shotgun next to Jon, with Alex, Fran, and the very quiet George planted firmly in the back seats. Alex reacted nervously and dropped the joint he was halfway done rolling, spilling its contents all over the place.
“Where the fuck is the container?” Alex yelled, just as one of the cops tapped my window with his flashlight.
Chaos seemed to erupt around me, but I calmly rolled down my window and hoped for the best.
The best turned out to be a cloud of marijuana smoke that hit the cop straight in the face.
To his partner: “They’ve been smoking.” Then to us: “Come on, I want you all out of the car right now!”
Both cops searched the car and found the small weed container inside. They questioned us, asked to search us (but never did), threatened us, and finally, not so coyly, asked for a bribe.
“We’ve just come from the beach,” Fran lied, “otherwise we’d give you everything. You just really caught us at a bad time. That’s all the money we have.”
“Then it’s not enough,” said the taller cop. “We’ll have to take you guys in to the station and let them handle the rest.”
“And you know what they do to young boys at the station right?” continued his partner. “They’ll eat you guys up in holding.”
At this point, I knew several things for certain. The first was that our futures were at risk. The second was that it was up to me and Fran to do the talking because Jon was losing his composure, and Alex and George were in shock. The third and slightly more important than the last two was the possibility that these cops might hurt or traumatize us somehow. It was Mexico, after all. And finally, I knew we had to do whatever it took to avoid landing in jail.
There was so much at stake.
And yet, I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation. In my head, though.
Earlier that month I made the decision to drop out of college. Of the five of us, I was the one with the least at stake, and it wasn’t so much a laugh-out-loud kind of funny, it was more a self-deprecating (I think), I-should-be-worried-right-now-but-don’t-really-have-any-reason-to-be kind of funny. Besides, I never planned on building a life in Mexico, so even if it went on my record, it still meant scratch.
Once this train of thought started picking up speed, I felt more and more relaxed as the night went on—even though things only got worse. An ethereal wave of dreamlike sensations had taken over me, as if to convince me that tonight would not end in a worst-case scenario.
“Fine!” Jon finally burst out with. “I have like two thousand in my bank account that I can go pull out of the ATM. Would that be enough?”
That caught their attention.
“You three go with him,” the taller cop said to Alex, Fran, and George. Then pointing to me: “But your friend stays with us. You know, just in case you try any funny business.”
Man, I’m taking it from all angles, I thought. Fuck it, I’m fast, what’s the worst that could happen?
“No, no, I’ll stay with him. This way it’s two of you and two of us,” said Fran.
I knew just from the way Fran was, and also the way he’d said it, that him saying this meant he had a terrible misconception about me. I was just a skinny, white boy, whose closest thing to a fistfight had ended with him on the ground, fuming like a loose cannon. Fran, though, for some reason thought that the two of us could take the cops if it came down to that. Or maybe he just knew there was no way I could take either one of them on my own, so he stayed back to protect me. Either way, I snorted with laughter for a split second, and then reined myself back in so as to avoid a fist to the kidneys.
Fran and I found a spot near a grassy area to sit down. Instead of asking him how he was doing, and thus reminding him of the gravity of the situation, I decided to fuck with him.
“Dude, what would you do if I just picked up and ran as fast as I could right now?”
“Fuck, man, I don’t know. I’d like to think I would do the same thing, but in the moment, I feel like I probably wouldn’t.”
“What about this, what about this. What if while I was running away, they both capped me in the back ten times?” Both cops were by their truck, far away enough that I was speaking with my normal voice. I even chuckled as I set up these “What if?” scenarios for Fran.
We kept shooting the shit in all kinds of ways, and by doing so, managed to not only distance ourselves from what was at stake, but got on the same page in terms of how we were feeling, without even uttering a word about feelings.
Then, Jon and the two shocked boys drove back from the ATM, bringing four fresh, five hundred peso bills back with them.
Thing is, a second patrol truck drove by while they were gone, dropping off a Sgt. Torres and then driving away. He’d been briefed on what exactly was going on by the two other cops, but decided to play dumb when our three friends showed up.
Now the funny came from the absurdity of what was happening. There’s an element of improv comedy called “The Game.” In a scene, once the improvisers figure out “The Game,” they are supposed to make it escalate more and more each time. For example, if the scene is a job interview, and “The Game” is the fact that the interviewer keeps messing with the interviewee, they have to keep finding ways to make this bigger and bigger each time. Only in comedy do situations like this keep getting bigger and bigger, because in real life, someone either uses their common sense and walks away, or the situation just finds a natural end. In our case this would’ve meant Jon coming back with two grand, us bribing the cops, and then going home with a crazy story to tell. The fact that the night kept finding ways to screw us over time and time again was what I couldn’t stop laughing at.
Knowing Fran was in on the joke with me only made it harder to hold the laughter in, kind of like two students who’ve been warned that one more laugh will get them kicked out of class.
I’ve hammered the point. Finding the funny in real life situations, good or bad, is a tool to get out of your head. You’ve heard people talk about the monkeys in your head that never stop going back and forth. This is a way to laugh at what life is throwing at you, and at what the monkeys are saying about it too.
I know there are times when shit gets too dark to laugh at (unless you’re me), but the best part about this tool is that you don’t need to let anybody know you use it if you don’t want to be judged for making light of such situations. Don’t purposefully try to get yourself into a similar situation just so you can see if this actually works, but the next time a situation like this pops up in your life, step back for a second, and try long and hard to find “The Game.”
You can stop reading now.
I’m not going to tell you how the story ended.
Just close the window and find something else to do.
Why are you still here?
Jon had to take another twenty-five hundred pesos out, and we had to take a picture by the car with Alex holding the weed for evidence. But we went home after that.
Jeez, you just had to stick around, didn’t you?