A Certain Glow
By R. D. Flavin

I’m crazy.  Go ahead and tell anyone you want; I don’t care.  Over the last several months I’ve been described in the media as a charlatan and a phoney, my friends and family think I’m a con-man and a crook, and most people who recognize me on the street either spit in my face or do worse.  No one believes me.  Why should they?  Psychics, tarot readers, and other crackpots face incredulity on a regular basis, and it follows no one should be expected to believe that I can predict when another person is going to break wind.  I’m crazy; that’s the easiest explanation for all that’s happened.

For many, the horrible events of Sept. 11, 2001, the planes crashing and the towers falling, are permanently embedded in their memories, but I have different ones.  The day before those tragedies occurred, I was in Boston at The Suffolk County Court House trying to plea a stay of eviction from my apartment.  As I was waiting to pass through the metal-detector, I noticed the face of a court-officer begin to glow yellow, turn bright red, then heard a loud fart.  Others around me heard the fart as well, coughed, and gave the court-officer a wide berth as they quickly walked by.

My stay of eviction wasn’t successful, but maybe I had something to do with that.  As I was awaiting my case to be called, I noticed others in the courtroom begin to glow like the court-officer who had farted.  Though I couldn’t actually hear the others pass gas, and fortunately didn’t smell anything at the time, I was confident I was witnessing some natural human precursor to flatulence which no one had ever noticed before.  The judge had farted a few moments before and when he called my name I was studying the faint facial glow of the young and attractive  assistant district attorney, who was apparently squeezing out one tiny fart after another.  My name was called several times, I finally heard and stood up, and was given forty-eight hours to vacate.  I said “Thank you,” and all but ran from the courtroom.  I was beginning to smell some of the flatulence.

The Green Line subway ride back to my apartment didn’t work out.  Normally, I didn’t much mind being packed like a sardine along with the yuppies and college students.  Sometimes those experiences are most pleasurable, but that day I had to abandon the subway after a single stop, as the faces all around me were glowing brightly and if I’d stayed any longer I would have thrown up.  I took a taxi back to my apartment.

After a shower, several beers, and watching my face in a mirror for nearly an hour to see if I could see a glow, I called my girlfriend and told her about my new ability.  She said my call was timely, as she was just about to pick up the telephone and break up with me.  There was something said about a lack of stability.  Maybe she’d heard about my eviction.  I never found out, as I never spoke with her again.

One of my closest friends was also my supervisor at work.  He knew about my eviction problems and had given me the day off from work so I could go to court.  I called him and explained how I was able to tell when a person was going to fart by different color changes in their face.  He seemed genuinely excited and happy for me.  He said he was placing me on “indefinite leave” so I could get help.  It hadn’t occurred to me until his suggestion that maybe professionals might be familiar with what was happening to me.

Massachusetts General Hospital is one of the finest hospitals in the country.  When John Wayne developed cancer he went straight to Mass General for treatment.  Well, that might not be a good example, as The Duke later died in a great deal of pain.  I waited in the emergency room from eight-thirty until nearly midnight to talk with a doctor.  I’ve never let anyone swear at me like that before.  Usually I walk away or fight the individual.  I was shocked a medical doctor would use such extreme and foul language with a patient.  The doctor said, along with many unnecessary comparisons to body-parts and animals, that I was a liar and wasting his time.  I’m not a liar and I’ve always had the utmost respect for animals.

I left the hospital confused.  Things weren’t going well.  Walking toward Government Center to catch a subway home (taking another taxi was out of the question, as I didn’t have a job and would soon be evicted), I had a mild panic attack and decided I didn’t want to be alone, even though I was seeing people’s faces change color before they broke wind.  Now, Boston has skyscrapers like other big cities, but it’s not a twenty-four hour town.  Public transportation shuts down around one in the morning, bars close shortly thereafter, and the only place I could think of that stayed open all night was Logan International Airport.  From Government Center I caught the last Blue Line subway to Logan, where I walked around all night.

The color changes I see before someone farts always involve yellow and red, or a brief burst of orange, and sometimes a flash of brown if the imminent flatulence is going to be particularly disgusting.  However, before Logan, I’d only studied the faces of Caucasians.  At the airport I was able to see African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and many others glow the same colors before letting go.  I left the airport when it started to get really crowded in the morning and, as I’ve said elsewhere, the Arabs I saw as I was leaving went through the same yellow and red changes as everyone else.  I couldn’t have done anything to prevent what they were about to do.  Sure, I might have told one of them to go to the bathroom and wash himself, but that wouldn’t have altered much.

For some reason I still didn’t want to go back to my apartment, so I took the subway downtown and hung around the Boston Common for several hours.  It was there that I learned of the tragic events in New York City, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.  Some of the faces I saw that day, tears on cheeks and jaws tightened to near-breaking, glowed in ways which disturbed me.  That people could fart while grieving shouldn’t have been a surprise to me, yet I was dealing with a new paradigm of perception and not dealing with it well.  I know, I was being selfish.  The world changed on Sept. 11, 2001 and my personal hill of beans was just so much wind under the sheets.  But, the world is always changing and it changed for me in the Boston Common that day.  I met Greg.

“Some girls actually look better when they’re crying,” a guy sitting next to me on a park bench observed out loud.

“I’m fascinated that Nature allows us to laugh through the pain and fart while grieving,” I returned.

“You think these people walking by are sobbing and farting at the same time?” the guy asked.

A businessman who had just passed gas shoved me hard when I asked him to confirm his recent flatulence.  Two others swore at me, and then a fourth man admitted he had in fact just broken wind and invited me to do something which I believe is illegal in most states.  The guy on the bench next to me introduced himself as Greg and gave me his card.  He told me he did stand-up comedy and in a couple of weeks, after people stopped crying and were ready to laugh again, he’d give me a hundred dollars to do a fifteen minute opening act for him.  I asked for an advance, he chuckled, and suggested I work on my routine.

At the time, I believed the next two weeks of my life were the hardest they could possibly be.  I had no savings, was unemployed, and had entered into an intimate relationship with the entire population of Boston.  I wasn’t prepared and made some questionable decisions.  Choosing dark sunglasses to decrease the amount I see of a certain glow on people’s faces, or wearing a surgical mask soaked in rum and vanilla so as to avoid the poor digestive management of others, are choices made and done.  It’s not like anyone can actually advise you during crisis periods.  Usually it’s they don’t know, you don’t know, and the before-mentioned questionable decisions get made.  I sold my books, prints, cd’s, the little furniture I owned, and even my black leather jacket.  With the nine hundred dollars I collected from a variety of petty creatures and pawnbrokers, I paid two months rent for a cockroach infested kitchenette in the worn-out beach town of Revere, just north of Boston, and accessible by the Blue Line subway.   I used the other seventy-five bucks to keep me alive until I could make a hundred bucks with Greg.  The right of independent choice doesn’t necessarily guarantee a correct one.  We do what we do.

Revere hasn’t had a serious roller coaster since the mid-sixties when many East Coast amusement parks went under.  Sure, there’s the touring carnivals and fairs, with their scaled down versions of what a roller coaster is all about, which merely provide an occasional tease toward the real up and down and sideways.  I’d left my apparently undervalued former life behind and took a ride on a roller coaster of mephitical madness.  I became “The Fart Guy.”  Viable reports from three different states have so far been received which indicate several of my immediate family and ancestry are, indeed, rolling over in their graves.  The ride wasn’t as long as it might have been, but wasn’t lacking in its ups, downs, and sideways.  Okay, it was about the money.

Living on pre-sweetened iced tea and three-for-a-buck macaroni and cheese (with the occasional inexpensive cut of steak and cheap six-pack of beer) in a beach side kitchenette, with cockroaches capable of moving my shoes in the night, smoking buy-one-get-one-free cigarettes, and watching a black and white television which only got CBS, was a study in how to disappear.  After I became “The Fart Guy,” made a few bucks, bought a new, black leather jacket, and often passed out drunk with one or more women who were easy to smile and easier to bed, I realized poor decisions are made regardless of how much money a person earns, though making poor decisions with money is always preferable.  I’d like to say that the roller coaster ride was fun while it lasted, only it wasn’t.  It was fun for maybe the first couple of weeks.  It was after I started doing the radio talk-shows to promote my comedy club appearances that the ride got ugly.

Radio is ruthless, the call-in audiences and the hosts being equally rude, yet word of my ability spread and Greg’s comedy act began to sell-out every show.  Offers began to come in for “The Fart Guy” to appear at shopping malls, weddings, and bar mitzvahs.  Greg helped me develop a spirited entrance with a single yellow spotlight changing to red, followed by the sound of a loud fart, and a puff of smoke, with me walking through the smoke coughing.  Removing my sunglasses and surgical mask became a striptease to a soundbite of Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra.”  Sometimes I was a hit, occasionally I got hit, but the money seemed to come in faster with every performance.  And was spent just as fast, of course.

Halloween was a benchmark of humility (or the lack thereof) as I shared stages with Alice Cooper and Elvira.  Television turned its attention to me at this time, slowly at first with interviews on the various local news programs, then came the syndicated day-time talk-shows, the late-night shows eventually booked me, and I was soon in a position to turn down an appearance on CBS’s Survivor.  Life seemed good, though I had to change the rum and vanilla scent on my surgical mask to the more potent aroma of a single-malt scotch, and there was even discussion of a film project.  Things took a definite turn for the worse after I passed out during the half-time show of a Celtics and Toronto Raptors' game right before Thanksgiving.  I’d met my match with a Fleet Center filled with beer-guzzling and brat-eating men.  My passing out became part of the routine.  I'd become a paid, professional performer.  McFarlane Toys even put out a limited edition molded action figure.  “The Fart Guy” was about to be overcome by clean air.

During a talk-radio show, one of the callers was from the Skeptical Inquirers of New England, a branch of CSICOP in Boston.  I was challenged to have my ability tested in a scientific setting.  I would have accepted even without the mention of my especially close relationship with my late mother.  It was time to understand my gift.  Later, gossip columnists reported that CSICOP had tricked me by promising that Gillian Anderson would be present at the testing dressed up like her “Agent Scully” character from The X-Files, but those are just vicious lies with no basis in fact.  Gillian and I know the real truth and it’s no one’s business, but ours.

While I still have the highest regard for the general efforts of CSICOP in exposing the charlatans and New Age gurus who threaten to brainwash and deceive our entire current generation of too-lazy to watch M-TV kids, I think they rigged my testing so I’d fail no matter what the real results.  It wasn’t a jury of my peers, so much as one of those extreme confrontations when people tell you you’re the lowest of life forms and express some indecisiveness at those rumors involving animals.  I’ll never forget what my “peers” told me.

“Sonny, I’ll box your ears if you dare suggest anything about my private functions,” a blue-haired grandmother told me.

“God is not amused,” a priest said.

“First, we break the legs of all your friends and family’s pets.  Then, we do really terrible things to their front lawns, or front doors, if they’re apartment dwellers,” began someone with a thick neck.

“Why farts?  Burping, sneezing, or a certain glow on a woman’s face before she achieves her eureka of pleasure, all seem far less revolting than matters of the butt,” a dark suited fellow whispered after shaking my hand in a most odd manner.

“Your ability will be very popular when you’re behind bars,” a high-booted state trooper informed me.

Two dozen average Americans, as presented to the public, said my claimed ability of flatulence precognition was a random hit-or-miss approach and I had failed to measure a significant number of correct scores beyond lucky numerical guesswork.  They said I was a fake.  The roller coaster stopped, then.  All weddings, office parties, and mall gigs disappeared.  Almost overnight I went from successful opportunist to working suburban Holiday Inns for chump-change with Greg.  It wasn’t so much a William Blake moment, as Robert Crumb.  My life was an underground comic strip.  And, if I hadn’t achieved insanity by then, surely afterwards I had a measurably skewed approach to life.  I became crazy.  At least, in my opinion.

I attended Ramadan services, joined a Unitarian choir to sing non-denominational Christmas songs, and went to synagogue regularly.  Out of biotic sympathies, I ceased eating certain raw meats and made sure that from then on they were cooked well and all trace of life had left the cooked slabs of flesh.  And, I stopped dating really easy women.  I continued to occasionally meet with easy women, naturally, but really easy women were a thing of the past, for me, afterwards.

The arrests increased after New Year’s.  Being handcuffed and hauled out of Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s on a regular basis, was embarrassing and inconvenient, to be sure, but having the MBTA arrange for the passage of a new state law requiring me to ride the subways and buses without my sunglasses and surgical mask, which they argue constitute a mask, which inherently threatens fellow passengers, was the anticipated aria with the fat broad singing.  I’m the consummate pariah, a monster who warns, a guy who lives in a kitchenette in Revere and who barely makes enough money to pay the rent.  I predict farts for a living.  Several women I’ve met recently say I’m crazy.  There comes a time to stop arguing. 

Greg and I are double-dating these Italian girls from Malden.  They’re both divorced, with kids, but they’ve kept themselves trim and tight, and their kids don’t bruise easily.  I don’t think it’s going to work out.  People shouldn’t make fun of my sunglasses and surgical mask.

I never asked for this ability.  In truth, matters of the butt and I have never gotten along.  It’s not that I personally don't break wind, but I’ve never farted in public in my life.  If I was faced with certain gaseous outbursts, I would Clark Kent my way out of any situation, run a couple of blocks, and let go in private.  The thousand dollar bets I’ve made with people all of my life about catching me farting in public just once, were expressions of decency and my wish to avoid certain indecencies of others.  It’s not like I ever had a thousand dollars to lose on a bet, it was more a matter of principle.

So, I see people’s faces glow before they fart.  It would be one thing if I claimed to be speaking to the dead or channeling the presence of an alien, but I’m simply sharing recognition of the end-product of certain repasts.  I’m thinking about getting a dog.  I must be crazy.

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