Wednesday, April 30, 2008
WHO IS THAT GUY?
As I was going upstairs this afternoon I released one of the Olympian belches in which I take understandable pride, the reverberatory qualities of the staircase giving the emission a power that surprised even me, and plunging me back in time to the life-changing moment during my college days - the Spring of ’65, I think it was – when I first encountered a fellow student I came to greatly admire, the guy who inspired me to take on the lifelong challenge that is The Way of the Belch.
I never spoke to him directly, since my ears were always ringing when I saw him, but like anyone else who ever spent any time in his vicinity I must have asked someone Who is that guy, because I seem to recall that his first name might have been Paul; in any case, his skill far outshone whatever mere human appellation it was that failed to capture the reality. I’m sure many others from those university days remember the fellow; his presence, when he imposed it, was impossible to ignore.
My first and unforgettable experience of his vicinity was in the jam-packed Washington Tavern late on a Friday afternoon, when the uproar of intense student conversation was suddenly rendered churchlike by a sound that resembled an F-14 taking off with afterburners, just a short distance away. Whoever had emitted it must be writhing on the floor with internal injuries.
Ears ringing, I turned in reflex toward the source of the awesomeness, and beheld an unassuming guy standing there with a bland look on his face and a just-emptied glass of draft beer in his hand. He was a tall, slim, pale, unassuming type of fellow, light brown hair cut short, plain half-sleeved shirt and chinos, geeky glasses, probably a business major, I wouldn’t even recognize him in the yearbook today; his skill was so overwhelming it seemed to erase physical particulars, or at least way minimize their importance.
On several occasions over the next few years I would be at a raucous party when, from somewhere in the deafening crowd came a deep, wide and rumbling, earsplitting eructation that brought the whole place to a standstill, jaws dropping in awe at what their owners had just heard, the ensuing silence slowly filling with Who is that guys. As time will have it, one day I graduated, and I have never heard the like since.
Deeply inspired by those thunderous experiences, over the years I have sought to approach that sonic summit. I haven’t done too badly at it, if I do say so myself; indeed, in the occasional delusion that time affords I’ve often even dared surmise that I might have equaled the master himself on one or two occasions. But if the truth be known, despite valiant effort I have never brought even a small noisy room to a standstill, let alone the entire Washington Tavern on a Friday afternoon during school year or its equivalent. That accolade still belongs for all eternity to Paul, if that’s his name, wherever he is and whatever he’s doing for a living now, with whichever distant secondary skill he’s fallen back on. I can’t imagine he ever stayed silent, though, given the magnitude of his mastery; he’s likely brought quite a few board meetings to a standstill.
Funny, the memories that can roar out of the silence on a Spring afternoon almost half a century later.