Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gloves, Cans and Farts

Avery and I walked to work yesterday, her work that is. It's only a few miles but along the way we always see lots of gloves on the ground so I generally bring my camera with me to take their pictures. I'd forgotten my camera so no new glove photos although I've got some great pictures of them in my mind's eye. That's the thing about photographs. If I take the picture I can usually put the image aside, secure in the knowledge that it's locked away in the camera. If I fail to take a picture of interest it hovers about in my brain. I see a red work glove, and a black biking glove and a green gardening glove and . . . So no gloves, but I was fortunate to find two lovely cans to add to my collection. I've been known to frame rusty cans. I promised to give Avery the shiny one for Christmas.

Avery has a cough, a bad cough that's lingered for a while and apparently when walking, the act of coughing causes her to spontaneously fart. There. I said it. Fart. Farting is not something I was raised to talk about. It just wasn't done. I suspect Avery would be happier if I outed her as a lesbian than a farter. My friends and I never intentionally farted in front of one another when I was a kid, and although the boys were rumored to have tried to set their farts on fire with matches, we were not quite sure if there was any truth to it.

If anyone ever farted when all five of us kids were packed in the station wagon with my parents my mother would say, Josh!, as if he was the only one of us who could have done something so offensive. We all caught on to the trick after a while. Fart. Josh!

My boyfriend when I was 19 told me he didn't fart. You never fart? Nope. I believed him. I made sure I never farted around him either. Is it any wonder the relationship was doomed? I mean, we weren’t the most committed couple you’ll ever meet - our relatively crummy relationship probably lasted less than a year. I don’t know for sure. What I do know for certain is, we never, not once, farted in front of one another, at least not perceptively. Not living together near Washington Square Park. Not living on 89th Street between West End and Riverside. Not traveling across the country in our old van with Indian-print curtains and retreads that were always itching to explode, and an engine that could only be started by opening the big metal cover and connecting some wire to the solenoid by hand.

You might wonder (I certainly do) why I'd write about such a sophomoric, adolescent subject as gas, against the better judgement of even my otherwise often known-for-bad-judgement kids. I blame it on The New Yorker, David Sedaris and Steven Levitt, co-author of the widely popular Freakonomics.

The New Yorker showed up in the mail a few months ago (December 17, 2007, Reflections, Journey Into Night, to be exact) and, as usual, I read the comics and looked to see if David Sedaris had written anything. Aha. He had and, as would be expected, his article was laugh-out-loud hysterical. David Sedaris often writes about his family life as a kid. In this particular article there's the dinner table scene. It may not pack the wallop that it does in context but, here's an excerpt:

I don’t know why it was, exactly, but nothing irritated my father quite like the sound of his children’s happiness. Group crying he could stand, but group laughter was asking for it, especially at the dinner table.

The problem was that there was so much to laugh at, particularly during the years that our Greek grandmother lived with us. Had we been older, it might have been different. “The poor thing has gas,” we might have said. For children, though, nothing beats a flatulent old lady. What made it all the crazier was that she wasn’t embarrassed by it—no more than our collie, Dutchess, was. Here it sounded like she was testing out a chainsaw, yet her face remained inexpressive and unchanging.
“Something funny?” our father would ask us, as if he hadn’t heard, as if his chair, too, had not vibrated in the aftershock. “You think something’s funny, do you?”
If keeping a straight face was difficult, saying “No” was so exacting that it caused pain.
“So you were laughing at nothing?”
“Yes,” we would say. “At nothing.”
Then would come another mighty rip, and what was once difficult would now be impossible. My father kept a heavy serving spoon next to his plate, and I can’t remember how many times he brought it down on my head.
“You still think there’s something to laugh about?”
Strange that being walloped with a heavy spoon made everything seem funnier, but there you have it. My sisters and I would be helpless, doubled over, milk spraying out of our mouths and noses, the force all the stronger for having been bottled up. There were nights when the spoon got blood on it—nights when hairs would stick to the blood—but still our grandmother farted, and still we laughed until the walls shook."
And then there's Freakonomics, that fabulous book that dazzled me with seemingly unrelated facts and amazing and improbable notions, most of them so heady that I forgot them by the next day. But for the study of gas, Freakonomics might never have been written. You see, the father of Steven Levitt is one Dr. Levitt, national expert on flatulence. Dr. Levitt contends that it is gas that is partly responsible for putting his three children through study at some very expensive universities.

Steven Levitt, in the NY Times, January 02, 2008, quotes his father, "I know a lot about gas" and links to the December 28, 2007 article in The Canadian Press "Flatulence expert defines 'normal' output rate."
Levitt is a veritable gas guru, a leading expert on the under appreciated field of flatus -- intestinal gas that escapes via the southern route. He admits his unusual expertise has put his three kids (one of whom is economist and "Freakonomics" co-author Steven Levitt) through expensive universities.

Levitt has gone to extraordinary lengths to plumb the mysteries of flatulence. He's captured farts in specially made Mylar pantaloons, measured the cocktail of gases they contain, even conducted a study devised to get to the bottom of what may be the most contentious question in the field: Which gender emits the smelliest farts?

So what have he and others learned about the fine art of flatulating?

It's a pretty common occurrence. Studies in which volunteers tracked their gas passage suggest people fart 10 to 20 times a day, with some hitting the 30, 40, even 50 mark, says Levitt, who is with the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minn.
Kids today fart like crazy. With abandon. They laugh and fart and laugh and fart again. When Julia was a theater student she told me that the fart is the universal chuckle-getter. It transcends language and culture, she said, and is always good for a laugh.

Kristara throws herself across my bed and farts on purpose. I laugh and she reminds me how humorless I was when she first moved in with us and she'd fart, with attitude, in front of me. I do have some memory of that old me but I’m liberated now. I not only can fart and laugh out loud (At my age what choice do I have?), I can write about farting for anyone to read. But the truth is, with every click of the keys, when I type the "f-word", I cringe just a little bit. I’m not gonna lie.

3 comments:

Mage And George said...

Oh Loverly. Living with G liberated me, and "farts R Us" in comfort here. LOL

Leon said...

%~D Thank you Judith!! You have brightened my day! Ooops! Excuse me; I just "cut the cheese" as my kids would say!!! ROF LOL

Alice said...

Love you for having the guts to write this! LOL I think most people get too hung up on "refinement." When I was a kid we used to call it "nice nastiness." I don't know that it fits but it felt right. btw, farts are the subject of the month maybe. Garrison Keillor covered the subject this weekend on Prairie Home Companion. Whatelse produces hearty laughs is good for the heart`-- as are beans I hear!