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Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Sunday Dinner With My Aunt Bessie and Her Flatulence Machine

By Frank M. Calabria

Our home was a frequent meeting place, particularly on Sunday afternoons where we would sit at the dinner table for hours at a time.

During one Sunday dinner, as we went from one special course to the next, my aunt Bessie, in the middle of the meal, audibly farted. Her facial expression suggested that she was in discomfort so we attributed this gastric outburst to a stomach upset.

After her apology, we continued with the meal. But soon, there was another report, louder than the one before. Knowing her to be the clown aunt of the family, we all began to suspect that she was up to one of her tricks – and she was. At the second firing, my father could not stop himself from laughing and he joined in with a report of his own.

No longer able to keep a straight face, this aunt uncovered her flatulence machine and demonstrated how it worked. At that point everyone, young and old, wanted to give the gadget a try. With each new demonstration, there were fresh gales of laughter to the point of tears.

The decorum of the dinner table was shattered and had there been any boundaries between social class, economic status, as well as age, they would have dissolved. I am certain that had Emily Post heard of this episode, our family might have been put in print as an example of uncivilized behavior. By the way, the Italian word for fart, “scorreggia,” even sounds like what it stands for if you put the emphasis on the double R.

Now to some technical details about this ingenious contraption. The flatulence machine can be assembled by one without a degree in mechanical engineering.

You take a wire coat hanger, bend it into a U shape, small enough to settle under one buttock. Between the two poles of the U shaped coat hanger, you attach a medium sized metal washer to the end of two thick rubber bands strung to either pole. A technical manual, should one exist, would instruct you to twist the washer counterclockwise before placing the primed mechanism under the buttock of your choice. By tilting one cheek to the side, you release the mechanism.

The manual should add that you allow a few minutes after the first release, to rewind the mechanism, unobserved, under the edge of the table cloth. The interval during which you prepare for a second blast will give dinner guests time to muse about how little control we have over our nature and our bodily functions.

Out of curiosity, I wondered if the subject of flatulence had received serious treatment in the scientific literature.

I mused that many individuals would wish to be enlightened about how to enhance their ability to predict and control this form of interpersonal communication. I am happy to report that I did find one reference in the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity with the title “Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Chronic Flatulence.”

The article was the report of a ten-session training program run by an experienced flatulence therapist, whom the subjects named, “Windbreaker.” Episodes when subjects flatulated, were rated by three judges on the following dimension: (l) duration; (2) loudness; (3) pitch; (4) tonal quality; (5) fragrance.

Though the results of this investigation were inconclusive, one subject, known as “Boomer,” reported: “I believe this is a very important and long neglected area of research.”

Many years after the charade with her flatulence machine, I met this aunt at a funeral. I blurted out without thinking, “Are you still around?”

Picking up on my cue, as if I were the straight man in a comedy routine, she turned her head slowly, now looking over her right shoulder, then over her left, to verify that I was indeed addressing her and not someone else. Then she looked me straight in the eye and replied in a tone of feigned innocence, “Where else should I be?”

I don’t know to this day, what prompted my greeting her in this manner, but I do know that she never let me forget my gaffe. She took additional delight in telling others this story pointing out that I was a psychologist who, presumably, was knowledgeable about communicating with other human beings. I never lived down that story even after the dear aunt went to the beyond.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Thanks Frank! I can think of several other examples of interpersonal communication that you could define and explore for our enjoyment.

Very funny, Frank. I would have liked your Aunt.

The Europeans can't understand why we apologize when we belch and laugh when we fart.

Enjoyed your article and sent it to a friend who makes weird things. I don't know what to expect the next time we get together for a meal.

Good story, Frank.

I'm sure Aunt Bessie is using her machine to amuse all the diners in the great Ruth Chris Steak House In the Sky...

Frank - This was funny! I have an aunt just like Bessie. She's now 100 and still up to similar antics.

However, I I'm afraid I must be a tad critical of your engineering technical writing skills. I took a coat hanger, bent it as instructed, wired it with 2 elastic bands and a washer, positioned it where you told me to, wound it up, rose slightly, and voila! Nothing! Just a sore fanny. I think I'll stick to 'poo poo' cushions, which only need to be inflated and sat upon! - Sandy

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