The Laughing Man

tissueMen don’t cry like women. I’ve always thought that most of the ways in which people say that men and women are different was bullshit. We’re not from Venus, they’re not from Mars, and all that gender stuff? That layer’s not as thick as everyone wants to believe it is. Maybe it’s just that I’m not all that womanly, but other than the dangling genitalia, I think we’re pretty similar. Not when it comes to crying, though.

The first time I saw a man cry I was thirteen. It was my aged, alcoholic godfather. A friend of my father’s and a writer of some repute, he was sitting on the linoleum floor in our kitchen, with his head tilted back against the wall, looking up at the ceiling. He didn’t make any noise. The tears streamed down the sides of his haggard face as if his eyes were organs whose only purpose was to produce tears. The shoulders of his dusty black suit jacket rose and fell in uneven jerky shrugs. I thought at the time that I should have at least been able to hear the breaths he was taking as his chest moved, but his body was utterly silent. The woman he’d been paying for sex, week in and week out for twenty-seven years had died.

Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of men cry. It’s what I do for a living – a profession that I just sort of fell into. In a way, I’m a lot like the woman my godfather wept over. Men pay me to watch them cry. Some want me to hold them. Some sit rigid in the worn, comfortable couch that sits under the window in my office and prefer me to keep my distance. Some talk and some say nothing. I’m not a shrink; I don’t give them any advice. I just watch them cry.

It usually takes a while. Sometimes hours. But I’ve always charged a flat fee; that way, they don’t feel rushed. It would be indiscrete to mention a figure, but let’s just say it’s sufficient. And it’s a curious thing: it costs most men a lot to cry. If I didn’t charge something that felt vaguely like the monetary equivalent of their resistance to the act, they just wouldn’t feel they’d had their money’s worth. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but this isn’t about sense.

Of course, the flexible session length can make scheduling a little difficult, but they all seem to understand that it takes however long it takes. And god knows, men know how to hold it. If I need to postpone an appointment, it’s not usually too much of a problem.

Men come to me to cry for all sorts of reasons. Bereavement – that’s an obvious one. Failed relationships – more common that most women think. Professional meltdowns are another big one. But you’d be surprised at the variety. And sometimes they cry just to cry. Just for the sheer pleasure of being able to cry in front of a stranger who won’t judge them for it.

Very few of my clients want to acknowledge why they’ve come to me. It’s like they need to pretend that they’re there for some other reason. They want to believe I’m the accountant of their feelings, or the tax consultant of their heart, or if they’re semi-honest, they’ll treat me like a therapist. But that’s not what my card says. They know that’s not what I am. They just need to pretend. I’ve got one client who tells his secretary that I’m his mistress. As if that’s somehow more acceptable than what he’s really doing with me.

I remember the first time a client asked me to slap his face, just to get him started. That was hard for me, but it was a good lesson. Some men need something to jolt them out of their everyday way of being. I’m torn over whether it’s the pain or the shock that makes the trick work. And I know what you’re thinking, maybe I have a client who’s just a masochist that can’t admit it to himself. Hey, maybe. But he’s a good crier, and a good client. I’ve been seeing him once a month for a few years now.

Watching men cry, I’ve come to understand how hard it is to be a man. Sure, I know. You’re going to say that men don’t have it half as hard as women. And historically, they’ve had it a lot worse. But this isn’t really about whose had the hardest time. I just know now – it’s hard for men to be men. You think they’d just grow up knowing how to do it, but it’s not true.

My favourite client – I’ll call him John – is an interesting guy. I’d guess he’s about forty-five, maybe a little older. He’s one of my oldest criers. I have to factor in extra time for his appointments because he needs to work himself up into something close to a blind rage before he can open the floodgates. Not that he’s uncivilized, or abusive or anything. When he first came to me, he’d try to build up steam in my office, but that didn’t work for him. He said I was just too nice. So, with a bit of trial and error, we figured it out. He needs to walk up and down the street in front of my building for about thirty minutes, working himself up into something close to a mute fury. When he’s ready, he comes upstairs, takes a seat on the couch and I ask him what’s wrong.

Then John starts to laugh. At first like a guy watching football on TV. Big, bright guffaws. Then it turns to belly laughs, as if he’s at a comedy club. But in a while, the laughing curdles. It gets glassy and thin and the tendons on his neck get tight, until the laugh has died down to nothing but a long rumbling chuckle. That’s when he begins to sob and, once he gets going, he’s a phenomenal crier. Loud and long, full-body howls. He lets it all out and there must be a lot in there to let out because it takes him a while to get through it.

I make a rule never to ask my clients what they’re crying about. Often they want to tell me, but sometimes they don’t. I leave it up to them to share if they want to.

But my laughing man? Never says a word. I’ve got a real sweet spot for him and, I’ll admit it, my desire to know what’s causing him his pain is almost too much for me to bear. But I know he’ll never tell me. He’s just not the type. It’s bad though. I know that much.

Sometimes, after he leaves, I need to take a break and have a good hard cry myself, on his behalf.

  11 comments for “The Laughing Man

  1. June 27, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Oh what a wonderfully interesting and mysterious occupation. So much fodder for writing. So much fodder for consideration. I can see where someone could make good money doing something like this.

  2. April
    July 3, 2015 at 4:02 am

    Intriguing concept, kind of like those professional snugglers, except not.

    That last line, it got me.

  3. connie
    July 16, 2015 at 1:38 am

    Great story. It caught my eye because I’ve been thinking about men a lot lately. Even at my age they’re still a fascinating mystery. Sometimes I think this is so because growing up without brothers and with a father who, although affectionate, was a stern “head of household” (the center of the universe really), I never got to know how the other sex worked, in a natural setting I mean. Boys, and then men, seemed so distant and unknowable, as if they all held some secret about life that I wasn’t privy to. Like they were another species and we were on their home planet. I wasn’t angry or upset or resentful as a young person… just lost and confused. It was a man’s world, really, and I didn’t know what made them tick. I only knew they were in control of everything.

    I came of age just as feminism was taking hold and was caught up in it viscerally. It spoke to me like nothing else ever had. It was all so TRUE: “Oh my God! YES, that’s exactly how I feel! what I see! how it works!” God, what a lifesaver that was. I read everything I could. Anyway, then there was the whole nature/nurture thing and the subsequent belief, at least among the forward thinking, that there were few fundamental differences between the sexes — just differing cultural influences. In recent decades that view has flattened out some — we now acknowledge the powerful effects male and female hormones have, for example, and the primal care/comfort instincts apparent in (most) females and protect/defend instincts apparent in (most) males — along with the not insignificant acknowledgment that it’s all rather a continuum than a dichotomy. These were hot points of debate in my day.

    In any case, getting back to “The Laughing Man,” I was truly affected by the poignancy of this little story, which I think you summed up about two-thirds through:

    “But this isn’t really about [who’s] had the hardest time. I just know now – it’s hard for men to be men. You think they’d just grow up knowing how to do it, but it’s not true.”

    I’d just been thinking about that. Only the other day at the gym, huffing away on the treadmill I watched the manager work with a couple of high school boys who were eagerly working the weights, asking him questions, checking out their arms in the mirror, strutting back and forth to the water cooler… I felt such a pang of compassion and hope for them as I imagined what they would face in their futures as men. They were beautiful and energetic, like young colts kicking and prancing. But their vulnerabilities were visible too — baggy shirts and pants hanging off gangling limbs, the darting eyes, the slightly hunched gait and rounded shoulders conveying an insecurity about who knows what — all normal teenage stuff of course. But I wondered if anyone ever talked to them about something so simple yet important as bearing. I hoped their parents did, but if not, then who? I imagined myself privately asking the trainer to do them a favor and tell them to stand up straight, shoulders back, head up — to be proud and comfortable with who they are and who they’re becoming.

    I didn’t though. He was busy with the boys and a few other men, all laughing and hanging out together. And maybe that’s enough to get the job done anyway.

    Yes. But I wouldn’t have said anything to the manager even if he’d been alone, I’m sure. The fact is (turning back to myself), when it comes to men, I’m still unsure of what value, if any, my presence or my input might have. Even at my age and with my life experience, I’m still a little ‘in awe’ of the male of the species. And I find that to be just incredible.

    • Jane Anne
      October 25, 2015 at 8:06 pm

      Your thoughts are tender, shared, insightful. And years make is more compassionate as well as passionate it seems. Thanks for letting that shared inner voice escape.

  4. Invicta
    July 16, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    This is so beautiful. Honestly, it makes me want to read it at an open mic night. Or maybe have a friend of mine read it. She has a better voice and could do it justice.

  5. Rick
    November 8, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for this story.

  6. Fridayschild
    February 3, 2016 at 2:23 pm

    My first thought was, where can i get a job like this, I mean how does one fall into such a role. who advertises such openings, is it word of mouth? but if men don’t talk about their emotions all that much, who are they going to tell that they went to someone, who made them feel it was safe enough to cry?

    On second thoughts, I would not want this job at all. It would be too emotionally debilitating. I would want to ask them questions that they may not want to answer, may judge them if they do answer or worse become emotionally detached.

    Strangely almost all the men I’ve had relationships with have been able to cry in front of me. Sometimes cuddles were helpful for them to feel better afterwards. My husband used to cry a lot, sad movies with the wife dying would bring forth a crying jag. sometimes, just because he wanted to let out emotions which were chocking him. I remember a time after a serious argument, he cried so much that I had to place cotton pads soaked in ice water to reduce the swelling in his eye lids.
    Strangely He has not cried so much over the past few years, perhaps it’s because I have not been in a mood to console him after an argument anymore, when I am still angry myself. Perhaps, I have judged him as weak for crying….i don’t know. But I want to make it better….

    This was beautiful and made me think a lot. Thank you for your words remittance girl.

  7. Lee
    February 10, 2017 at 6:16 am

    “Cry, then, for the Listener
    For the one filled with other’s tears
    Cry, then, for the ones filling her
    For a world where we’re not supposed to do this
    Cry, then, for the missing pieces
    And, gentle reader, for me too
    But above all, be allowed to cry for yourself
    And take our love to fill the hollow space it leaves.”

  8. Playtime
    June 20, 2017 at 4:29 am

    I cry a lot. And yet I come from a part of society which is expected to have a stiff upper lip. I cry at a joke I tell about a footballer’s mother. II cry at a dreadful incident involving a dear man, an art teacher, who lost his wife and children in the Balkans War in the most horrific way. I cry when I talk of the courage of my fellow workers who cope with death and tragedy every day. I am not ashamed I cry. It clears my conscience or I could not live with some of the things we have to face.

  9. Thomas Mendip
    September 1, 2017 at 8:15 am

    An amazing story. The psychological insight is almost profound.
    Thank you for this.
    I think you restored my faith in women.

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