originally published November 8, 2013
Oh but for the crack of a wicked breeze, to damn the olfactory to the fleeting abyss of that which was wrought through the machinations of yesterday’s cabbagey broth. I fail to suppress this rumbling squeak and for that my fellow rail patrons afford me a banquet of scowls and derision.
Yet I question their condemnation. For this? Is this a trespass so egregious, so horrifically in opposition to our modernized civility that it warrants ostracization? Must I quell my internal commotion with flatus-flaying charcoal or bismuth? Does not my active participation in the betterment of our culture, our collective totemic documentation of societal touchstones allow me the leniency to unleash only the most irrepressible and urgent flutterings of gaseous… oh wait. Never mind. That one was just awful – wow, I’m sorry everyone. Anyone carrying any air freshener? Lysol? Whew! Crack that window!
However high we may perceive our own brow, the unavoidable fact is that everybody farts.
Fermentation is a wonky matter. In a vat burgeoning with yeast, malt, hops, water, and the hopelessly magical interminglings of these ingredients, fermentation produces the holiest of nectars: beer. In the shadowy alleyways of the colon, that process spits out comedy, crudeness or embarrassment, depending on the situation. Over 99% of our aft output consists of gases which are harmless to one’s olfactory nerve, innocuous clouds of nitrogen, oxygen, CO2, methane and hydrogen. To force a topical western societal parallel, it’s the 1% that run the show. And it’s the 1% that mess everything up.
Indole, which is found in the natural jasmine oil of your most prized perfume, is one culprit. Skatole, which seduces the receptors of male orchid bees, is another. Ammonia, sulfur and short chain fatty acids make up the remainder of this recipe for unholy stink. Not everyone possesses the tragic skill of clearing a room with their fetid fumes, however the consensus across the animal kingdom is that we carnivorous souls who have forsaken the vegetarian life choice are more often the worst offenders.
If your mid-southern innards take on a painful bulbous bulge or a sub-stomach throb due to gas, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the throes of overproduction. That persistent bloated ache may simply be the result of gaseous misplacement. Your internal ushers might not be showing your flatus the door, leaving it to loiter in your intestinal foyer, and allowing you the sensation not unlike that of a Macy’s parade float.
Perhaps your concern is quantity, not anatomical position. If you feel your back door spends too much time swinging open and shut by a foul wind, you may be on the precipice of incontinence – a most unfortunate diagnosis. You might also be burdened with aerophagia, which pins that foul wind on an excess of air scooting in the front door. It’s hard to gauge how much oxygen scoots past the epiglottal barricade between trachea and esophagus, but for some it’s a medical concern.
Still others fear their relatively average volume of vaporous rectal GDP is accompanied by a most unjust excess of smell. Well, sometimes that happens.
Apart from a surplus of protein, other foodstuffs may inspire an abundance of rear-quadrant expulsion. Cumin, coriander, turmeric and caraway are among the spices that might prompt your lower tympani to rumble. Potatoes, corn, and – as Mel Brooks schooled us in Blazing Saddles – most of the legume population can also kick up the jams. Lactic acid can put the bubbles into reverse, which explains why symptom #1 of lactose intolerance is a surging bloat, as though one’s transverse colon was inflating an air mattress for a mid-day nap.
Ingestion of probiotics may quell the intestinal storm (as Jamie Lee Curtis will no doubt attest), however the oft-prescribed consumption of charcoal is a fruitless cure. Bismuth subgallate (known to the masses as Devrom) is another possible means for tempering the thunder. However, one of the more ingenious concoctions of humankind might be the Under-Ease, a reusable undergarment designed by Chester “Buck” Weimer of Pueblo, Colorado, as a means of tempering his wife’s explosive anal utterances. The briefs contain a replaceable charcoal filter which won’t quiet the roar, but should effectively subdue the venomous odor.
If one saving grace can hope to absolve our brraaps and squeakers, it’s that they will not bring about environmental devastation, at least not in their present form. Green fingers have been pointed at our global bovine population, asserting that the methane produced by cows is among the greatest greenhouse gas threats to our ozone layer. The truth beneath the doomsday rant here is that 90-95% of bovine methane is produced through cows burping or breathing.
On the extreme contrary, cow-incepted methane may someday save us. Some swift minds in Fresno, California are looking to squeeze a by-product from methane and convert it into an earth-friendly bio-gas. While it seems unfeasible that we will sever our petroleum addiction through the miracle of cow farts, this could be a tiny ingredient to our salvation. I should note that this wondrous fuel source is not being harvested via snazzy tubes smushed against a cow’s hindquarters, but rather from the fermentation of cattle waste in an enclosed (and no doubt putrescent) lagoon.
Fortunately, our collective depravity has allowed us to transfigure the unpleasantness of flatulence into a conduit of comedy and mirth. The methane and hydrogen allows for potential ignition of the gas with a Bic lighter, though I’ve always believed the scrotal risks do not outweigh the humorous rewards of this act. French performer Joseph Pujol rode a lengthy career as a professional flatulist, displaying before paying audiences his adept sphincter control under the name Le Pétomane.
Le Pétomane’s skill actually depended upon his curious ability to draw air inward through his “instrument”, then to ease it back out at the velocity and intensity of his choosing. He could mimic animals, instruments, thunder and cannon-fire. He headlined the Moulin Rouge in the 1880’s, performing for the likes of Edward, Prince of Wales and Sigmund Freud. His legacy includes a touching tribute and my second Blazing Saddles reference in this kilograph, which is Mel Brooks’ character in that film, Governor William J. Le Petomane.
While fartistry may never merit a resurgence into the western zeitgeist, it serves as a reminder that there is no shame in issuing forth some downstairs applause, even when it’s accompanied by a paint-peeling stench. It’s natural, often unavoidable, and ultimately healthy. Besides, we don’t all want to end up wearing charcoal-lined underwear that looks like this: