Second semester of junior year in college for me was the spring of 1983. The Reagan revolution was just starting to rev up the economy, but summer jobs were still very tight for chemical engineering majors, especially given the downturn in the oil industry. So, you can imagine my euphoria when I got a call in March of that year from a manager at the DuPont Company, one of the most respected names in the chemical industry, offering me a summer job in the Corporate Research Group. Whoa – not only a summer job, but in the Corporate Research Group. The only other guy in my class with a legit (got that word from my son, who got it from the cool college baseball players who roomed with us this summer, so pretty sure it’s cool to say) summer job in my class was my buddy Paul. Paul’s job was working in a Proctor & Gamble plant for the summer. So, Paul, with his nifty 4.0 GPA was going to be turning the dials on the Pepto Bismol reactor and yours truly was headed to the friggin’ Corporate Research Group at E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company! That is LEGIT! But, it’s not the point of the story.
OK, so I show up for my first day on the job and I meet my new boss, a nerdy little French Canadian chemist in his mid-50s named Ernie. Ernie and I sit down on my first day and he describes the work I’ll be doing for the summer. Ernie heads up the group that is researching how stains get absorbed by carpet fibers and my role will be to put little carpet fibers in some machine all day and measure……my mind was wandering. It wandered back to that exciting March phone call offering me the job in the Corporate Research Group. Corporate Research Group. Corporate……wait a minute…..is it possible the guy offered me a job in the Carpet Research Group, not the Corporate Research Group? Oh shit! So, I spent the entire summer putting carpet fibers in some little machine and writing down a number the machine read out. Next time you get drunk and spill red wine on your beige carpet and it beads up so you can wipe it up with a paper towel, please thank me (and Ernie). This still ain’t the point of the story, but I have to say, it was a bit deflating when I figured out the corporate-carpet homonym confusion.
The real story took place about halfway through the summer. I quickly learned that guys who had been working in big companies for 25 years spent a fair bit of time chit chatting and socializing. A technician named Al, with the worst comb-over I’ve ever seen (though I confess to having a greater appreciation for the concept of the comb-over now than I did back then), used to pop into Ernie’s office about every 20 minutes to chat. One day, I was sitting in Ernie’s office, no doubt discussing the relevance of the numbers I had written down that day from the carpet fibers I had put in the little machine. Al walked in and, much to my surprise, cut an incredibly long and loud fart. Neither of my parents was particularly formal, but it was literally the first time in my life I had heard an adult fart. OK, maybe my dad had accidentally let out an occasional audible one-cheek sneak that was intended to be silent. But, it would always quickly be followed by “excuse me,” and a look of embarrassment. So, I assumed, farts were only funny until one graduated from college and entered adulthood. Then, they became a serious matter.
I expected Ernie to look at Al with disdain, chastise him for his rudeness, and ask him to leave. I expected Al to turn beet red with embarrassment, ask to be excused and slink out of Ernie’s office. None of this happened. Instead, Al and Ernie burst out into uncontrolled laughter. Two dudes in their 50s rolling on the floor laughing their asses off because of a fart. After a moment of disbelief, I joined them in laughter. This was a watershed event for me as a young man. It was all-at-once shocking, enlightening, but most of all a great relief (as I’m sure it was for Al). It was that moment in time that I realized that farts were still funny to adults. I was raised to believe that maybe it was OK for a couple of 12 year old boys to chuckle about a fart, but grown ups had to rise above that. Bullshit! Al and Ernie dispelled that notion with one quick, loud, stinky fart. The implications of this were far-reaching. Until that moment, at the age of 20, I was quite certain I had reached the end of the “farts are funny” stage of life and was moving into my “farts are inappropriate” stage of life. This was a depressing notion indeed. But, it simply was not true.
Let’s face it, farts are funny! I have no clue why. They just are. Despite being a totally natural part of the human (and canine, God knows) digestive process, they are just goddam hilarious. You can make the same sound with your mouth or, if you’re talented, your armpit. But it isn’t the same. Farts are funny! And, with all due respect to my mother and late father, most adults (OK, adult men….gals (yes, Jules, gals) – please tell me stories about women farting around each other) think farts are funny. Just last week, I played golf with 3 other dudes in their 40s and there were numerous farts and ensuing laughter. Today at the office, I felt one coming on just as one of my colleagues walked into my office. I motioned him into the office and asked him to close the door. He thought I was about to impart some highly confidential information to him when I lifted up a cheek and busted one out. We both laughed (he groaned), then he turned to walk out, stopped, farted, then left (if he can fart on demand I’m jealous, but I think it was just lucky timing). My kids and I fart in the car all the time (rule #1 – open your window first please).
Folks, the world is full of sadness and bad stuff. I don’t even watch the TV news anymore; it’s too depressing. A good laugh is worth its weight in gold. Thank God for farts. Oh, and thanks Ernie and Al.