As Funny as a Brain Tumor! Part 3

I’m back with Part 3.  At this point in the story, things start to get REALLY interesting…….  Before I delve into the rest of the story,  I need to give you some history about myself.  First of all, up until this point in my life,  I was hardly ever sick.  I never broke a bone.  I never had to stay in a hospital.  I went to the gym regularly.  I didn’t even have health insurance up until this point in the story.  I didn’t see any need for it.  I was healthy and feeling fine (except for all the laughing……)

Like I wrote earlier, I took a job during the day to make some extra money at a convenient store.  I had worked for this chain of stores back when I was in college at Berklee so I could pay my rent and eat at the finest Boston food establishments………..McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Riley’s Roast Beef, etc……….  I ended up quitting a few years after college because I had a gun stuck in my face a few too many times while I was being robbed and decided I would rather just go back to being a full-time musician (those stories are for another time).

I was a full-time musician for a couple years but as I was thinking about getting married, I thought it would be a good idea to go back to work for this chain of stores as a store manager.  A little bit later, they asked me if I wanted health insurance……..I said sure.  I didn’t really feel I needed it because I never got sick but…………why not?   Better safe than sorry.  I signed up for health insurance.  Looking back later, I realized this would prove to be one of the wisest decisions of my life.

Back to the story………, I remember playing basketball with some friends of mine.  We were playing hard and I was sweating and really thirsty so I went into the house to get a glass of water.  I went to drink the water and it went half way down my throat and just stopped.  If you’re a guy, you know the feeling of swallowing and your adam’s apple moves up and down.  It happens automatically.  (If you put your hand on it now and swallow you can feel it move.)  In this one instance, it felt like the water got to that point in my throat and then my adam’s apple wouldn’t move.  I remember just standing there next to the sink with water stuck in my throat and trying to will myself to finish swallowing.  The water was stuck half way down my throat!  As a few seconds went by, and I started to panic,  something clicked and I was able to swallow.  I thought,  “That was weird” and went back outside to continue playing  basketball with my friends.  This swallowing thing occurred sporadically after this first incident but every time it happened I would think “That’s weird” and then just go on with what I was doing.

1995 Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park

The next memorable moment in the story that I remember is going to a Boston Redsox game at Fenway Park.  I was in the stands watching the game and I had to go to the bathroom very badly! (Yes, I had a number of beers).  So I ran down to the men’s bathroom and stood in line behind a ton of guys feeling the same way I did (I could tell because we were all bouncing back and forth from foot to foot in line).  I finally get inside the restroom to the urinals and they were the kind made for mass urinaling (I know, that isn’t a word).  The urinal was long and looked like one of those things at the farm that a hundred cows walk up to to eat their grain.

These are the type of urinals that are hard to use while laughing hysterically….

At this point, my laughing starts kicking in.  All these Red Sox guys who have had way too many beers are all standing in a row in front of this huge urinal doing their business and I start cracking up laughing.  I remember a bunch of them looking over at me wondering what the heck I was laughing at. It was slightly awkward.  Ok scratch that……very awkward!

Looking back, I can imagine that a number of them might have thought I was laughing at something of theirs that was exposed at the moment………Yes, I know…….very very awkward!  Anyways, I try going to the  bathroom because I really have to go and………..nothing happens!  I’m just standing there waiting.  I really have to go and my brain is telling my body to go but nothing what-so-ever is happening.  I’m just standing there laughing so hard that I’m shaking and wondering what’s going on.

By this point, I needed to reassess my situation.  I do some quick calculations in my head……….1.) I’m standing next to all these rather large sports guys who have had way too much to drink.  2.) I’m laughing uncontrollably so my whole body is shaking really badly.  3.) I’m holding a specific part of my body while not doing what I am suppose to be doing with it.  4.) These rather large drunk guys are starting to look over at me like maybe a solution to my problems would be a good punch in the face.   After adding these factors together I decide on another course of action.  I decide I need to make a retreat and head for a private stall.

I get in the stall, lock the door and then let all my laughter come out.    In front of the urinal, I was really trying to hold it in.  I wasn’t doing a good job but I was trying.  In the stall, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.  I just burst out laughing loudly.  One can only imagine what all the Red Sox guys were thinking outside the stall.

Finally, after a couple of minutes, I settle down and try to go to the bathroom again.  I still have to go really really bad.  This time it is similar to the swallowing episode.  I try to go but nothing happens.  After about 10 seconds or so something clicks and the flood gates are opened!   I was so relieved! (physically and mentally).   I go back out to my seat and enjoy the rest of the game without mentioning a word to my friends.  It wasn’t really a story I wanted to share at that time.

Now you would think that after these two experiences, a normal person would go see a doctor.  Well, I didn’t.  I hadn’t been to the doctor since I was a teenager living at home.  To be honest, the thought didn’t even cross my mind.  I remember thinking   “I need to drink less coffee!’  “I need to eat more vegetables!”  “I need to exercise more!”  “I’m too stressed out!”    At no point do I remember thinking  “I should go to the doctor”.

After the Redsox game,   I had problems going to the bathroom for the next few months.  It wasn’t all the time but sporadically like the swallowing thing.  I never had the problem at home at first but  always in public restrooms.  If anyone else was in the restroom then I couldn’t go.  Even if I was in a stall and about to go,  if someone walked in to the bathroom then I couldn’t go.  I would have to wait until they left and then finish my business.  I remember talking to some people about this back then and learning that this can be related to a social anxiety disorder.  “Great” I thought “that’s all I need……”

Later on, I remember having issues at home also.  I would get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom.  I would stumble sleepily down the hall to the bathroom and on arriving at the toilet,  I would just stand there for 10 to 15 seconds waiting.  It would eventually happen but only after I stood there for awhile.

I had heard that not being able to go to the bathroom in public was something some people go through and that it could be a psychological thing so I brought it up to my psychologist who I was seeing for the laughing problem.  I can’t remember what he said but this problem being tied to the fact that my Dad never cried seemed far fetched to me.  I was beginning to wonder if something else was going on here.

Around this time, I remember being  fired from the music gig I had.  I wasn’t specifically fired but I remember the band leader telling me that if I wanted to take some of the gigs off  (I think he meant most of the gigs or all of the gigs) then he had another player that could do them for me.  I’m pretty sure he was getting pretty sick of me not finishing my solos and laughing continuously on the gigs.  Not to mention the times he would count off a tune and I wouldn’t play the melody because I started laughing.   There are probably even wedding photos out there with the bride and groom or best man giving a speech with me behind them cracking up.   Anyways, the gigs pretty much dried up at that point.  Luckily, I was managing the convenient store full-time so I had an income and health insurance at this time.  Losing the gig was rough but I would get another gig……………(IF I COULD EVER STOP LAUGHING!)

I’ll continue later in Part 4.  See you next time………….I have to go to the bathroom!  : )

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Wow, i really enjoyed part 3, i had been looking out for it (is that English?), thanks! This certainly is a gripping story. Can’t wait to read the next part!

  2. I agree with Kirth. I keep an eye out for your installments on this as well. Captivating stuff indeed. Looking forward to the next one.

  3. The nature of the brain is similar body muscles in many ways. If it is stimulated and made to work, it gets stronger and if it is not used it gets weaker. However care should be taken to not over stimulate it. Just as over training a muscle leads to injuries, stimulating the brain beyond its capacity might impair its strength.

  4. So glad you made it out of the convenience store and ballpark bathroom alive!! Us struggling sax players need you.


  1. […] me.  I’ll go into the details and stories about those in the next installment…….Part 3.  See you next time. […]

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