Wednesday, April 30, 2008


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.


Winston said...

Yes, funny how the memories get triggered... Your story brought to mind a guy named Ray from my high school class who was to flatulence what Paul was to belching. Further expansion on Ray's talent would not be acceptable for a family oriented blog, though I will say that the funniest story about him had to do with a dare (double-dog, as I recall), a Zippo lighter, and the smell of singed hair...

Kay Dennison said...

LOL!!! I never cease to be amazed at the pride of males in such accomplishments. We gals were intimidated, berated or beaten into "acting like a lady" and such things discouraged.

One of my best memories is of the day I, age 10, walked into my school and Sister Mary Steel Ruler
asked in horror at the huge black eye adorning my face:

"What happened to you?"
"Stick in the face, Sister."
"You're no lady!"
"Yes, sister."

Hockey is more fun than ballet. I still believe that.