My dad was a mild-tempered man. He made Jimmy Carter look like a rowdy spitfire.
In fact, I only remember my father snapping or lashing out on the rarest of occasions during my childhood. I remember him getting upset one time when his three monkey children were blowing really big, loud bubbles in their glasses of milk at a Howard Johnson’s. I remember him—we all froze--slapping my brother when he had been breathtakingly disrespectful to my mom. I remember Dad trying not to clonk my brother and sister’s heads together during their constant bickering (*typed the angel child who docily observed from the corner*).
And I remember him pulling the car over to the side of the road one time when his three monkey children started a game of yelling “FART FART FART” as loudly as they could, escalating the game as only a herd of “Holy Chachi, but has anyone in the history of the world ever been as funny as we are?” pre-adolescents could.
With the car idling on the side of the highway, the message we were given was, “We. Do. Not. Use. That. Word. In. This. Family.”
Because Dad’s displays of ire were so rare, they carried force. To this day, not only do I refrain from blowing bubbles in my drinks; I don’t go to Howard Johnson’s or drink milk.
And, for sure: I don’t use that word I’m not allowed to use, even though my dad’s been dead for 6 ½ years (like, what’s he going to do if I mutter the offending word—reconstitute his ashes into bodily form so he can then pull his gravestone over to the side of the cemetery and give me a lecture by a shepherd’s hook holding a basket of plastic geraniums?).
Fortunately, my husband was raised in a home with similar standards of manner. This commonality is largely responsible for the success of our marriage. We chip away at the crossword puzzle, hug each other when Ruth Reichl releases a new memoir, sigh contentedly when we put garlic scapes and kale in our eggs, and are generally, mutually, quietly couth.
When we’re not busy licking each other’s necks.
Truly, though, we don’t use the verboten term (“der fartein”) at our house…to the point that our kids first heard it from a neighbor boy (who also regards Garfield as the epitome of fine humor). Rather, after much casting about for a suitable synonym—it’s not that we want to ignore the realities of the body; we just don’t want to get grounded or lose our telephone privileges—we landed upon the word “toot,” which, frankly, gets waaaaaaaaay too precious waaaaaaay too fast. But in the absence of a better choice, it’s what we use.
All of this is preamble to the household crisis that reared up last night, as Groom and I carried out our nightly ablutions (that’s how the couthies roll; we ablute).
I stood at the sink, scrubbing my teeth, when Groom stepped up next to me, ready to spit. As his presence neared, so did a certain--how you say it in your country?--stank.
“Hey, uh, so did you just toot? Because if you didn’t, then you need a shower,” I noted, sniffing delicately, adjusting my bustle.
Sometimes when you’re brushing your teeth and sniffing delicately and adjusting your bustle all at the same time, you get a little toothpaste up the nostril, which set me to honking and snorting so loudly that I nearly missed Groom’s response of, “I did toot. I don’t need a shower. Oh, and, by the way? It’s time for a new line. You use that one every time. It’s officially old. If you’re going to call me on my reek, you need a new line.”
Not only was I struggling to get toothpaste out of my clogged nostril, now I was struggling to get this latest piece of information into my hollow skull. Whaaa? One of my tried-and-true, patented humor lines (carefully calibrated to a point of understatedness wherein the humor reaches shore gently, almost unheeded) was old? Was this how all the classic Vaudevillians felt when the moving pictures came to town? Suddenly needing to up their game and add a little soft shoe to their seltzer bottle gags?
Reeling, I realized with great rapidity that I lack the “better line” that my audience now demands. Without that hackneyed line in my repertoire, I have no way to convey to my beloved life’s partner—with freshness and originality—that he stinks, and if it’s not a gaseous emission, then he has larger problems.
I've been mulling on it, but all I’ve got so far is,
“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then you might need to write a letter to the folks at Right Guard about the fallibility of their product.”
“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then you might want to check your knee pits for skunk nuggets.”
“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then it’s time for us to get a pitch fork and turn over the compost heap inside your pants.”
“Did you toot? Because if you didn’t, then I think your torso might be caked in dried fecal matter.”
Clearly, I’m hurtin’ here.
Whoops. Sorry, Dad. What I mean is:
(if you don't, you're a big fart-head)