When is a laugh not really a laugh? When tt crashes down on you through the ceiling and it's a desperate thing. The physical exertion involved, the almost operatic level of projection—you can picture the spine drawing up into a grotesque arch, the air being siphoned from the room, the beat of hesitation, and finally a blast of hideous guffawing reports that paints the walls and makes the little hairs on your cochlea shudder at 90 paces. You can picture all of this, this explosive dance, because it would be impossible for a human to achieve such volume without it. The volume; my god, the volume. She's belting it out to the last row, the concession stands, and the waiting cabs lined up in front of the house, and it has no relation to what must have been JUST SO FUNNY I CAN'T EVEN. She needs more than anything for you to know that this is the most fun place you could ever be and she's on your side and we're all in this together, violently thrusting our heads back to propel ourselves through the workweeks like these merry spasmodic outbursts are the jet fuel for our tanks.
But not us, of course. We're downstairs, typing quietly. We grimace upward and curse these obnoxious heaving raptures that invade our space every day, as if trying to suggest that the party is just out of reach. Of course, there's no party, and we're not reaching. Could she simply "keep it down?" No, that would be contrary to the fundamental nature of her entire deranged being. The truth is that it's not that funny. Nothing has ever been that funny (especially, often, dozens of times in a single day). The laugh is a plea for acceptance that will never be answered, because it's been delivered in the wrong language. A hearty HAHAHAHAHA bellows out, and what responds? From our vantage, nothing. Maybe a sympathetic coworker smiles a smile of tolerance, even lets a consolatory sigh escape, but we certainly don't hear any of that. You can't blame them for not responding in kind, because that amount of noise would be crazy. So what can they do up there? When someone has a laughing fit—even a disturbing and mechanically ecstatic one—would you reassure them? Do you say "You are known, and you are loved, and I acknowledge your unique presence in the world?" That would make no sense! You play along like the whole thing was normal behavior, ultimately ignoring the yearning it both cries out to convey and belies with its grandiosity. This voice of sheer panic that screams out has no counterpart. It is a lone flare, a solo performance, one hand flailing to affect a clapping sound. The maniac upstairs doesn't just annoy me while I'm trying to work. She haunts me daily with bombastic reminders of what it means to be truly alone.