Laughing at the wrong moments and then trying desperately to suppress this laughter can be, as we all know, excruciating. But why do I remember the most intense laughter-killing episodes of my life with such fondness? I smile every time I think of them. It all comes back.

Before I started trying to make it as a journalist I worked as a tree surgeon. Ropes, chain saws, pole saws, leather saddles, metal spikes, etc. In L.A. I worked for an eccentric guy who had a temper. He usually had a steady crew of two or three, and we all got barked at a lot. He never got violent but there was always that threat. I remember his face turning pink with rage.

One time he was spiked into a half-removed tulip tree, about 25 feet up. Myself and a guy named Gary Swafford were assisting from the ground, and at one point we were filling up a king-sized chain saw with gas. Except Swofford didn’t screw the gas cap on properly. The pissed-off boss hauled the chain saw up with a rope, turned it on and then raised it above his head to make a cut. And right away the cap popped off and at least a quart of gas spilled out onto his neck and chest and stomach.

And the boss lost it. Not by yelling but by crying. Except his weeping was a little too dramatic. He was bellowing like a wounded animal. And Swofford and I — God help us — were quaking with laughter, our chests aching with efforts to hide the truth. It was obviously the worst possible reaction we could’ve had, and there was no stopping it for the longest time.

Others have surely experienced such moments.