(Copyright © 2000 Al Aronowitz)


Advice about flatulence also could be offered to those who listen to their personal stereos while they work out at gyms and health clubs. The invention and distribution of the personal stereo with earphones has created a unique problem for farters. Those who have used this device know the earphones mask our hearing.  What seems to be a modest singing along with the music often ends up being a loud nuisance for our neighbors.

Imagine what this means, when listening to our personal stereo,  for the decision to pass a fart in the gym while jogging or using an exercise bike. We must ask ourselves, even it we don’t hear its thunder, whether or not our fart will be an intrusion on our neighbor using the next treadmill or stair climber.  After all, they might not be listening to their stereo full blast and resent being interrupted by our sputterings.

As anyone knows who has used a diabolical exercise machine, working out on them does have a tendency to massage our lower tract and loosen what otherwise might stay in place until we are in a more private location.

Realizing these difficulties, a friend of mine who works out regularly at the gym has developed a simple procedure that avoids much embarrassment.

When he notices the pressure building, he removes one of his earphones in a discreet manner and does what he calls a “test release.”  If he hears nothing behind him, the earphone goes back on, the volume is cranked up, the jogging continues and he lets them rip. And rip they will, as we have through the pages of this little tract.  Now that I am approaching the end of my essay, I regret that a few questions still remain unanswered. The attentive reader realizes I only considered the question of farts among mammals.  Other questions could now be entertained. For example, do plants fart, and what about birds or fish, do they also fart?

If we apply St. Thomas Aquinas’ three-part analogy to the issue of farts among plants, animals and mankind, we can come to a startling conclusion. Aquinas argued plants have their mouths, that is to say their roots, in the earth.  This is how they suck up nourishment.  At the other end, the leaves of a plant, their anus, are waving in the wind.  This is how they dispose of waste.

The by-products of photosynthesis are oxygen and water.  The expulsion of oxygen by the leaves of a plant could be considered a plant fart, for it is gas escaping into the atmosphere.  There are no muscles to control this expulsion, however, and for this reason the emission of gas is gradual.  I know of no plant that expels gas in such a manner as to wake the sleeping with an explosive roar, as human farts are known to do.

The good saint also noted that mammals and fish have their mouths and anus on the same leave, that is, one could draw a horizontal line from mouth to anus. It is only in human beings that the mouth is above the anus.  This is a complete reversal of the plant’s mouth-anus relationship.  Such a reversal points to a hierarchy in creation that demonstrates the significance of language in human beings and their naturally authority and superiority over plants and animals.

How do fish fart---if they do?
How birds fart is a question
doomed to remain up in the air

As to the question of fish farts, I have to admit there is not enough evidence to decide the question one way or another. As the note at the end of this essay demonstrates, I am still actively researching an answer to the question of fish farts.  For various and complex reasons involving diet and anatomy, and the necessity of a swim bladder filled with gas in some species of fish, it remains difficult to say whether or not all fish dispose of intestinal gas in a farting manner.  The same can be said in regard to the question of bird farts.  We know so very little through observation that an answer to the question of bird farts remains up in the air.

So far our conclusion must be that only land animals fart.  The human fart unites us with a select species of animals.   Add to that union the cultural and social creations surrounding the fart in human societies, and it is evident mankind is separated even farther from the animal and plant kingdoms.  The human fart remains a unique phenomenon worthy of many an essay.

The ancient Greeks knew all too well the truth about farts.  Once again, the old wisdom reminds us how little we have changed over the centuries. The ancients knew the terrible implications of a philosophy that denies our human nature.  They also knew how to take learning lightly and poke fun at a wisdom that pretends to be serious.  Aristophanes does this well in The Clouds.  There he chides both students and teachers. He does so by employing the simple fart. One of Socrates’ students, so impressed with his master's knowledge, a knowledge that includes insight on how a gnat hums, inadvertently displays the triviality of much science when he argues, “The entrails of the gnat is small: and through this narrow pipe the wind rushes with violence straight toward the tail; there, close against the pipe, the hollow rump receives the wind, and whistles to the blast.”

Socrates is likewise the butt of a joke when he discusses the origins of thunder.  Aristophanes has him say, “Shalt thou then a sound so loud and profound from thy belly diminutive send, and shall not the high and infinite Sky go thundering on without end?  For both, you will find, on an impulse of wind and similar causes depend.”  Happy those who know themselves. The fart spoke about human truths for the ancient Greeks.  Their example motivates me to consider dashing off a short correction to an otherwise sound advice column read by many in our local newspaper.  But now I have second thoughts. If I send this essay as a letter, will the editor think I am too windy, or will my humble efforts be heard above the din and clamor of the belching crowd?

For too long, farts and farters have been discriminated against.  Maybe my verse will help blow away some of that prejudice.  I would like to break new wind on the subject, so to speak.  If I can't add sweetness, maybe I can add another aroma.  And if neither, I can at least offer my humble couplets, couplets  which  may  be  better appreciated the next time we consider the consequences of a plate of sauerkraut, beans, or for some, even cantaloupe and cucumbers.

From my own experience, I know one of the best ways to end discrimination against farters is to bring up our children with an appreciation and knowledge of farts. To this end, Kane/Miller Book Publishers deserves much credit. They now publish a children’s book called, The Gas We Pass: The Story of Farts.  This charmingly illustrated book by Shinta Cho was first published in Japan under the title Onara(A Story of Farts). The English version is translated by Amanda Mayer Stinchecum and is printed in Singapore by Tien Wah Press Pte. Ltd.

This colorful book begins with the fact, “When an elephant farts, the farts are really big.  Baaroomm.”  Then the author goes on to say, “People fart too.”  The illustration shows a boy standing in a bath followed by, “Bubbles rise. . .plip, plip, plip.”  This is an utterly delightful story even adults will enjoy.  The more people that read and share this little book, the fewer people there will be to discriminate against those of us  who are free with the gas we pass.

When all is said and done, the fart and its aftermath seems to have a hold on our memory.  What author would not like to share in this hold and have his work remembered through the ages?  Perhaps the fart offers all story tellers such an opportunity.  A fellow writer, Pete Cholewinski, reminded me how long our memories are when it comes to farts.  It is fitting, in the end, that we recall one of the stories from the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, aptly called, The Historic Fart.  In this story a rich merchant decides to marry.  At the marriage feast, he has a great deal to eat and drink. When he was summoned to the bridal chamber, he rose to his feet and “let go a long and resounding fart.”  People pretended nothing happened, but he was so embarrassed he left town and lived in India for ten years.

One day, homesick for his friends, he decided to disguise himself and return.  Hoping time would erase the memory of his wedding night, he went around the outskirts of town.  As he sat down to rest at the door of a hut, he heard the voice of a young girl within, saying: “Please, mother what day was I born on?  One of my friends wants to tell my fortune.”

“My daughter," replied the women solemnly, “you were born on the very night of Abu Hasan's fart.”  To his dismay, Abu Hasan realized his fart would be remembered till the end of time. We do not know what happened to Abu Hasan after that fateful encounter.  It is comforting to think this episode taught him something of our common humanity, and he went on with his life.  When we look the fart squarely in its brown eye, we see ourselves looking back. We should not become afraid or revolted at this discovery, for as President Harry Truman once said, "Things work out for the best in the end."  ##



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