Lust and Laughter

A little bit 'bout Vaudville
Vaudeville was a genre of a variety entertainment prevalent on the stage in the United States and Canada from the early 1880s until the early 1930s. It developed from many sources, including the concert saloon, minstrelsy, freak shows, dime museums, and literary burlesque. Vaudeville became one of the most popular types of entertainment in North America, defining an entertainment era. Each evening's bill of performance was made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts. Types of acts included musicians, dancers, comedians, trained animals, magicians, female and male impersonators, acrobats, one-act plays or scenes from plays, athletes, lecturing celebrities, minstrels, and short movies.






      Though this tattoo has a slightly erotic tone to it, its intention is really not all that sexy.  And actually the story behind it could very well make you recoil in a bit of embarrassment when you realize where your mind possibly went after you read it.  I was working at the Union Square Barnes & Noble in NYC at the time, and during my smoke breaks, I’d often join another coworker named Anne, or rather “Gift” Anne, a nickname that was given to her because of the part of the store she managed. “Gift” Anne and I would often meet together at the alley doorway of the store and spend a good fifteen minutes daily catching up on the day's activities or the latest store gossip. She was an older lady, probably in her late sixties, with her years in retail having kept her still very sharp and active.     

        My exchanges with "Gift” Anne were always very pleasant and usually an invited time during the work hours.  She would mainly talk about her late husband, Charlie (I believe was his name).  She had really fond memories of Charlie and sometimes she’d share how he’d always make her laugh even during the damnedest of times.  You could gather that when they were together, they probably really looked like a couple in love.  I’d often watch her light up whenever she mentioned his name, which was good to see. I’d had my own doubts about romantic relationships at the time, but unbeknownst to Anne, our conversations would offer me a little bit of hope at the possibility of that kind of love still existing.  I don't recall how Charlie died, but during our talks, she’d also on occasion insert the reality of his passing, which would then sprinkle our conversations with a just pinch of tender sadness. That reality only made me appreciate her precious stories even more, and even though these exchanges between us were completely fleeting, much like the smoke from our cigarettes, they still managed to impress upon me a very distinct vision of love.

        One day and I don’t remember how we got on the topic, Anne began to reminisce about the good ole days of vaudeville.  She recalled the actual decade as being a very gloomy and difficult period for everyone due to the Great Depression, but on the contrary, the art and culture during that time was actually an exceptional period full of life and excitement.  She told me about this saying she remembered from those days “Lust and laughter, one makes life possible, the other bearable.”   When she shared the quote with me between puffs, I was instantly moved by the profundity of the sentiment. In it held such humanity that I knew at that moment I had to get it tattooed on me at once.  It’s true, that lust, with all things considered, does make life possible, and laughter, surely, is what makes life completely bearable.  To put things bluntly, who doesn't like having sex or laughing?  Though, at the same time, could vie for an embarrassing situation that has—or for that matter hasn't—come up.  But kidding aside, this seemingly benign statement actually puts forth a very real and promising concept of human survival—that even through it all, the hardships and the trials, we still can overcome, and we might even have a laugh while at it.  I've tried to research the statement, to see where it may have originated from, but to no avail, I haven't found anything just yet.  After I got the tattoo, I remember I showed Anne the next day and with her cigarette held steadily between her lips, she just giggled and shook her head slightly muttering, “You’re a crazy girl….”

        It’s been about two years since I last saw Anne.  I was visiting New York having had moved away a couple of years before. I had decided to stop in the old bookstore to say hello to whoever was still working there.  I was happy to hear that Anne was still managing the gift section.  When I did finally see her and much to my dismay, I noticed she looked awfully fragile and frail.  It took her a minute to recognize me too, but slowly she did recall; however, I noticed her senility still kept her from truly reacting surprised from the familiarity of me, who now seemed more like a greeting stranger.  I was a little saddened by it all.  But it was good to see her nonetheless.  We chatted only a few minutes and she mumbled about how she hadn’t been feeling very well lately.  I commiserated a bit, but I slowly realized our conversations wouldn’t be like the “good ole days.”  She had aged considerably, and I knew the connection we’d had was a distant past for her.  Though Anne and I weren't intimate friends, our casual smoke breaks together really meant something to me and I won't ever forget her soft, clipped laugh, her sweet smile, or how she always positioned her cigarette just inches from her lips as she retold her tender stories about her crazy Charlie.  It’s funny that "Gift" Anne would give me so much more than she'd ever fully realize, and I suppose that's why I chose to honor her acquaintance with this tattoo, my own little quiet gift to her.