Centipede speed bumps
A couple of days ago, Gerald was munching on some candy from a bag that he’d been given as a party favor. He (and I) liked the pastel-colored, tangy-flavored tablets that came in a roll, but neither of us was particularly thrilled by the small, spherical hard-candy lollipops. Without thinking, I made the comment, “You took all the Smartees and left the Dum-Dums.”
After a half-second, we both cracked up laughing. And we laughed. And we kept laughing. And we continued to laugh, gasping for breath, wiping tears from our eyes. And just when we thought we’d gotten over it and caught our breath, another wave of hysteria would wash over us, and we’d be at it again.
And why? What was it about that one not-intended-as-a-joke remark that had us both helplessly wrapped up, alternating between giggles and guffaws? On the face of it, there was nothing particularly outstanding about the humor of that comment, nothing especially punny or anything like that. Maybe it was a comment about Gerald’s prospects for a career in Human Resources?
I have invented a term for these moments of inexplicable hilarity: centipede speed bumps.
Many years ago, before Gerald was born, I was involved in church mission work. The church that I belonged to at the time sent groups of people to Agua Prieta, Mexico, to work on construction projects. The first time that I went, we worked on housing repairs for poor people, and we also laid the foundation for a church building.
The second time that I went, we had a corporate sponsor. A major concrete-products manufacturer had a new product that seemed perfectly suited for Agua Prieta, where wood is extremely scarce. The company hired an architect to design easily-constructed homes using the new product – homes that would be substandard by U.S. standards, but which were much better than what most Agua Prieta residents lived in – and the company donated all of the materials to build these homes. Our group was in on the beginning of the project, starting the construction of seven of these homes.
This time, we stayed in the church whose foundation we had laid the year before. It could not, by most standards, be considered beautiful, being built of bare concrete blocks with almost no ornamentation. But really, it was beautiful, with thick masonry walls to soften the blistering desert heat outside, a large sanctuary, a nice kitchen, bathrooms, Sunday school classrooms, and, most beautiful of all, a medical clinic.
However, in the Sonoran desert, even in the most solidly constructed of buildings, the desert critters get in. In particular, we found ourselves sharing space with a variety of arthropods – spiders, scorpions, and centipedes. It’s not too big a problem: The spiders, especially the ugly ones, are non-venomous or have venom that is only a minor irritation; likewise for the centipedes. The scorpions are a worry, especially the little ones, but the main thing is to stay out of their way.
So a few of us were sitting in metal folding chairs in the sanctuary, roughly in a half-circle, at the end of a long day of pouring concrete and otherwise dealing with concrete blocks and concrete-related material. And we were discussing our various encounters with the local arthropods, with much laughter about the incidents, and some comment about how fast those centipedes were going.
Then somebody noticed the ripples in the floor. When the concrete was poured for the sanctuary floor, it wasn’t done in one smooth flow of many trucks coming from a concrete plant somewhere; it was done with a mixer that could make only a few yards at a time. So at the boundary between batches from the mixer, there was a very slight ridge. Somebody other than the somebody who had noticed the ridges made the comment, “Oh, those are centipede speed bumps.”
After a slight pause, the entire group erupted in laughter, and that laughter went on for a good ten minutes or more, with somebody occasionally repeating the punch line “centipede speed bumps” – or at least trying to repeat it but cracking up before completing the phrase.
So now, whenever I experience an occasion when a random comment arouses much hysterical, uncontrollable laughter, I call it a centipede speed bump.