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by Eric Miller

Mirth Mulligan's primary goal in life is to be entertained. As anyone who knows him will tell you, whenever he walks into a room, he skips the usual and customary salutations and just says "Entertain me."

He always wonders whether people are laughing with him or at him. It is a natural thing for him to do, because he is always trying to get a laugh by humorously playing off what he hears, or purposely setting someone up for some hopefully amusing follow-up repartee.

People who don't know him, don't get him. People who do know him, get him, have heard it all before, and have had enough of him. This leaves Mirth a bit defensive, until someone laughs at something he's said. Others will then jump in immediately with alarm at the sound of laughter, and admonish the person who has laughed to cease and desist because it only encourages him. And this is why Mirth is never sure if the sound of laughter is with him or at him. But that's okay, because he knows who he is and why he does what he does. Down deep, he really does know who laughs with him and who laughs at him, but it doesn't matter, because Mirth just needs to laugh, even if it's by himself, at himself.

His wife is always giving him her signature gaze when he gets rolling, and when they're alone later, she'll give him a mouthful of criticism about how he pushes the envelope "much too far, much too far."

"Exhausting" seems to be the answer most people give to describe Mirth's persona. He calls himself  "a social provocateur, or the devil's advocate, who breaks the silent, insipid, and vapid ice jams of social interaction." But then again, "horse's ass" is not an unheard alternative assessment that has been offered.

In any case, Mirth tries to get beyond whether the laughter is pro or con. He tries to tell himself that it doesn't matter, because he considers himself self-deprecating, although the accusations of being irritating do have merit. But for Mirth, a world without repartee about sex, sports, politics, and religion is beyond boring. "Nice day, isn't it?" doesn't get the juices flowing for him. And conversations about automotive accessories don't start his engine, because he doesn't care what color or brand or model car he drives. To him, it's just a box with four wheels, and hopefully reliable.

Sometimes, when his wife is really piling it on about his nonsense, he will go to a party and repeat, all night, Eliza Doolittle's famous lines from "Pygmalion": "How nice of you to have me come; The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain; and Hurricanes hardly happen in Hartford, Hereford, and Hampshire." This, of course, engenders a critical barrage from his wife about his being disengaged, rude, not himself, boring, and socially unacceptable.

So, if you ever cross paths with Mirth, don't worry if you don't laugh at his nonsense. He'll laugh for you.