Warning: I spent a good part of my young adulthood working at the Swanson River oil field, so it should be no surprise that I am writing about natural gas. However, please note that even though propane figured prominently in my work as a roustabout, I will be writing about another variety of natural gas: methane, and not the type of methane that cows produce from digesting hay. I’m going to be writing about flatulence, a normal body function that many people feel uncomfortable discussing so I am giving fair warning: If you don’t think fart jokes can be funny then you may want to give this post a pass.
I was seventeen before I started to date on a regular basis. It wasn’t that I was shy or didn’t like girls – on the contrary I found it easy to fall in love daily with a different young lady but it was hard maintaining an active social life with all the rules I had to follow. Mom saddled us with a complex set of restrictions on dating that would have taken a Talmudic council years to decipher. For example, every solo date had to be followed by at least three double dates, we weren’t supposed to date any one person more than two times in a row and we were supposed to bring our dates to our house and introduce them before the event.
…which all worked about as well as you think it would when all five siblings devised ways to get around the restrictions. My favorite tactic was not passing on all the information regarding an evening’s activities; for example I’d tell my folks that I was going to a wrestling match but would conveniently forget to tell them that I was also taking my girlfriend Debbie with me. I discovered early on in life that I was a most inept liar and didn’t get as nervous if what I was telling Mom was technically true.
This lack of social experience meant that as a senior in high school a date could still generate a fair level of anxiety, especially if my date was someone I didn’t know very well or conversely someone I really, really liked. Fortunately despite that inner turmoil I was always able to somehow project a calm exterior even as my stomach was constantly churning, the proverbial butterflies acting more like dive bombers – what PeptoBismol TV commercials would innocently refer to as “Distress in the lower tract”.
This “distress” had me rivaling the local production fields in terms of the volume of natural gas I would be create – and while it was socially acceptable1 to vent in the company of your buddies any sort of sound was a sure ticket to Singlesville when out on the town with a young lady, so I would try to just hold it all in as best I could, a challenging task depending on what I ate for supper. On days that my dad made his signature Navy bean soup I would end up feeling like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon in danger of over inflation. I would often wonder what would happen if I fell asleep at the movies while my insides were churning thusly – would they find me floating just below the theater ceiling, gently bobbing and bouncing along in the warm air stream from the heating system?
Consequently I got very clever at finding times to “balance my production system”. For instance, in those days it was common for girls to get in the car on the driver’s side, and then scoot across to the passenger side, the scooting distance being proportional to how much they liked the driver. I would thrill my dates with what they took as old-fashioned manners by opening, holding, and closing their door, then walking around the back of the car to my own seat. What I was really doing was using that time to adjust pressure…a tactic which could backfire (in more than one way) if for some reason the car windows were rolled down.
Dances were no problem; music was provided by live bands of differing expertise but they’d all play as loud as possible so you could stay safely vented during something loud and raucous like “Whole Lotta Love” or “Born to be Wild” as long as you took care to keep moving in large enough circles. Theaters were a bit trickier but could be managed if I wore enough Brut and waited for on-screen explosions or gunfights. It was only when activities were quiet and the setting intimate that the aforementioned “distress in the lower tract” became distress in general.
…which was exactly what happened to me in early December of 1970 while on a double date with my football buddy Walt. The original plan was to catch a double feature at the Kambe theater then get a burger and fries at the local kid hang-out2 While Walt was driving all over the peninsula picking up me, my date and his date a chinook3 blew in leaving the roads covered with puddles of warm water standing on alternating patches of pavement and ice. Legitimate safety concerns forced a change in plans from going to the show to hanging around at Walt’s date’s house while “listening to records”.
…which was much less passionate than the football team had wished for but kind of nice nonetheless. I hadn’t had many opportunities to kiss a young lady more than two times in a row and the evening’s activities had me feeling quite smug ….until I started to feel the first tell-tale bubbles of that dreaded “distress in the lower track” at which point date-terror took hold me of me. I was trapped: There were just the four of us in a 20”X 40” rec room and there was no dog to blame. The loudest background noise was the record player which unfortunately was playing the Crosby, Stills and Young, music made up of soft tunes driven by vocal harmony possessing absolutely no ability to mask unfortunate noises. It wasn’t going to be an easy night and I couldn’t help but look at Walt with envy as he sat across the room with his young lady, all cuddled up and looking the very picture of cool-osity. He was a year younger than I was but much more successful as a lady’s man. Nothing seemed to faze that guy.
I bought some time by feigning an upset stomach from wolfing down a bad hotdog earlier in the day but that dodge had limited range at best. I had to limit myself to just two faux bathroom breaks lest my date become overcome with maternal instinct and trade-out kissing for tending to my ills. It also didn’t help that my first visit to that basement comfort station induced more fear than relief when I bumped my head walking in. I thought that my floating methane balloon nightmare had finally come true when in fact the bathroom door had been trimmed shorter than usual in order to fit the space under the staircase.
After my second bathroom visit I found that if I just flexed all the muscles between my navel and my knees the pressure would kind of “poof’ back up into my stomach – but then that would bring on sharp gas pains that brought on tears which my date could not help but notice. With the luck of a falling cat landing on its paws, I gained points with my date when I explained away the tears as an emotional reaction to Stephen Stills’ inspired lead vocal on “You Don’t Have To Cry”.
The night finally came to an end – well, actually it was the father of the house that brought it to an end when he stomped down the stairs and told us that A) the roads were now in much better shape and B) our parents would be worried so we needed to get home, though as we subsequently slipped and slid all over the highway I was pretty sure that there had been another choice: C) “I want you two to get the hell out of my house!”. The remaining three of us were all quiet on the drive home and not a word was said until we dropped off my date. At that point Walt turned to me and said “What were you doing in there? I damn near blasted my britches that last time you were in the bathroom! “
The shock startled a garbled “Wha-?” out of me as he continued “Yeah – the nervous farts. I get them every time I take anyone out. Anyone. They start while I’m driving to pick ’em up and don’t let up until I’m on the way home”, punctuating his statement with a long drawn-out bbrrrraaappppp that should have ripped his undershorts. As we drove the rest of the way home he shared several other examples of date-terror that were all too familiar to me.
I was back in town for the summer working out at Swanson River, trying to save money to go back to school after a two year break for my bicycle penance. It was a Friday night and I was participating in a progressive dinner organized by our YSA (Young Single Adult) organization. Progressive dinners are such that appetizer’s are served at one home, salads at another, the entrée at a third place and desert at a fourth. It was a nice way to end a work week but I had put in a lot of overtime and was very tired. By the time we got to the third home and the main dish I was not too sure where we were.
As the hosts led us to the dinner table set up in their rec room I started thinking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and all the balloons for some reason – and then I stopped and took a closer look all around. While he room had been painted and had different furniture, it was the same infamous basement rec room from December of 1970. The house had changed owners a couple of years after that event – hence the redecoration – and for a split-second I thought about sharing (part) of my story with the new owners , but thought better of it and tucked into my dinner.
…but on the way out I did take a couple of minutes to look at that shorter-than-normal basement bathroom door.
1Not only was it OK to let one rip around the guys, the situation often gave way to a competitive situation where each guy tried to best the others when letting one rip….and don’t even get me started on the topic of matches….
3Native term for a sudden thaw/subsequent ice storm