The Fart Chronicles

The twist is wise.

Was the cheese in that meatball sub that did it.

I thought I might be in the clear after I blew that one in the Snacks aisle. Figured I’d gotten out in time. I’d fled around the corner, down the Cereal aisle, and come back around to my stocking cart from the other direction, wearing a serious, self-absorbed expression, a look of utter innocence, though a lingering effluvium obtained about my cart, or in any case was with me as I got back.

An older woman who had pushed her shopping buggy into the area now squatted down on her old tentative knees, right by my cart. Her nose visibly wrinkled as, finding nothing she needed, she rose creakily up, glaring at me. She knew; she’d seen me dart out.

You can forget about a bright, cheerful Walmart greeting, “Can I help you find something?”

I was blown.

And this damn day was getting complicated.

Answers don’t come easy, but I’m in the answer business. This town’s full of questions, and I aim to solve them best I can. That’s why they pay me.

Had to lay low for a while. But I was thinking all the time.

What happened on Snacks stayed with me. I weighed the evidence as I unloaded Planters peanut jars, and got out of there to work the Candy aisle.

I was obsessed with a conundrum.

When you pass gas and swiftly dart from the scene of the crime, are you in fact free and clear? Or are you dragging evidence of your foulness along with you in your jockey shorts and jeans?

That wrinkled nose added up to a clue I didn’t want to find. But ain’t life like that?

My afternoon break came not a moment too soon.

I took a swift belt in my car from the bottle I keep in the glove box. Needed the soothing balm of a shot of Jim Beam.

“Look, it coulda been worse,” I told myself. “What if you’d got found out by some pretty young babe in short shorts?” The kind you see in Produce. Everywhere else in the joint you’re in danger of getting run over by old, fat people in motorized carts, though most of them can walk. “It was just some old lady. Relax.”

But that constituted slim solace. Not much encouraging feedback from the young gals these days anyway. At 66, my swagger around the young, nubile specimen had attenuated with a sobering realization. My ogling was inverse to her own reaction, something along the lines of, “Eew. This old guy’s checking me out.”

I’ve lived and fought and loved and farted all across this great land of ours.

You learn your truths the hard way.

Lived in New York for a spell. Wotta town.

With my fedora and a Camel unfiltered hanging from my lips, I give people the impression of being some kinda tough guy. True, true. I can massage a stooge’s gums with my knuckles or with the .38 I carry if I really wanna make an impression.

But that’s not me. I got more class than that.

I took to going to museums in the Big Apple. That’s where some of these intellectual broads hang out.

I tell you, there’re some hot dames in that town.

And I’ll tell you something else, there are some hot dogs that’ll give you indigestion. I do a lot of eating on the run working cases, so GI issues are a hazard of the trade. Shouldna had that second Sabrett.

I’m strolling from canvas to canvas in the French Impressionist display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when the flatus expanded within my bowels, causing discomfort and pressure, and a mounting sense of urgency.

I thought the coast was clear, even with this leggy, elegant twist, high heels clacking, moving along not fifteen feet away, eyeing a Manet or Monet. One of those nays.

I anticipated an emission of little olfactory threat; my sole concern was that it might be audible.

So I thought I’d pull a fast one. An old trick I liked to use. Takes a little coordination between mouth and the other relevant orifice, but I prided myself on being a pretty slick operator. Or I did, until that day.

Mr. Slick was not on his game. His control was off, his delivery unsynchronized. The “Ahem!” – clearing my throat – was supposed to happen at the same time as the fart. Only it didn’t. Maybe because I’d been holding it in, it got trapped and took a while coming out. So I cleared my throat and then, a split second later, farted.

The twist broke into a helpless grin. She couldn’t stop laughing, kept trying not to.

I try not to take myself too seriously, but I didn’t want to wait around long enough for her to make of my ludicrousness a friendly joke. Like “Good try.” Man’s got his pride.

Hell, maybe that’s the problem.

I knew a guy in junior high who barfed all over the girl in front of him in class. It became known schoolwide that they became boyfriend and girlfriend after that.

Go figure dames.

MOMA had Nefertiti in another exhibit. I tore myself away from a Cezanne (nothing but a buncha swells lounging around on the grass in half-ass swimsuits with umbrellas all around) and headed over to Egypt.

Try to crawl into a sarcophagus with the mummy.

Step Right Up

Martin Balsam as erudite scoundrel Alardyce T. Merriweather in the 1970 film Little Big Man (photo blithely appropriated from


I sit on a reclining chair with a comfy headrest, feet on a footstool, eyes closed. I’m sinking into meditation. Or maybe it’s sleep.

It don’t make no never-mind to the folks who run this joint. If they could see me they’d figure they succeeded. I looked peaceful and content, glad about the deal that brought me here.

Little do they know what goes on behind the serene exterior. I am beset by doubt, even something akin to scorn.

Intending to run alternative therapies like this is a way to get a bank loan, isn’t it? Only unlike the usual ploy — say, a coffee shop or barber shop — this one comes with a special kind of pitch, one that harks back to the Old West.

I can’t help but feel some hippie carnival barker got me into the tent.

What’s the difference between this and some medicine show hustle? I think of Alardyce T. Merriweather, the miracle-cure salesman in Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man. Along with sidekick Jack Crabb, he gets what he deserves.

But he’ll never learn. Dustin Hoffman’s Crabb calls to his tarred and feathered mentor, during their mutual comeuppance, “You don’t know when you’re beat!”

Martin Balsam’s incorrigible philosopher chortles back, “I’m not beat, Jack. Just tarred and feathered, that’s all.” And laughs.

The hustles will never stop.

You sit in a room in your stockinged or bare feet. Barb suggested I rub my bare feet into the salt.

“They said it’s good for fungus.”

I’ve been at Walmart all day and am self-conscious about hot smelly feet pulled from sweatsocks, but Barb insists. Hoping to cure my athlete’s foot, I negotiate my toes through the pink crystals lining the floor.

As of this writing, my feet still itch like a bastard.

The floor of the place, a little room squared off with two sets of facing chairs and a footstool in the middle, is covered with “pink Himalayan salt,” which I figure is mined by Morton and food-colored. Some kind of atmosphere high in salt content is pumped in as ambient air. It has occurred to me that you could get the same effect standing on the prow of a Gloucester fishing boat. (Note to myself: send a letter to the fishermen’s trade association suggesting a way for those guys to make a buck in the off-season.)

A placard outside the salt room promises many benefits, including the one that secured my interest, or I should say the success of my wife in talking me into coming here: a remedy for allergies. I didn’t object when Barb bought a month’s couples pass: a hundred fifty bucks for as many 45-minute sessions as you want.

I’ve been coming here a week and I’m filling up wastebaskets bad as ever.

A lot of people believe in Ayurvedic rather than traditional approaches to diet and health. I get that. I even went into a “Chinese” herb store once (with Barb). A bottle of something that would cure my male pattern baldness caught my eye. I bought it; it didn’t work.

I guess I still believe in verifiable western science, carry around old-fashioned ideas about cures. I was raised in the fifties and sixties, the era of the “good doctor” with his medical bag, who made house visits. Like the guy who fixed Jem Finch’s broken arm in To Kill a Mockingbird. I miss that time.

Things are different now. People are uncertain about healing. We’re trapped in the system. Physicians knee-jerk order tests and prescribe pills. People cast about for nontraditional answers. And become suckers.

My wife talks to some guy on the phone to get “psychoanalysis.” I have no indication he even has a social work  degree. He sees her psyche over the phone lines, don’t you know.

She subscribes to acupuncture, which I suppose does have some time-proven benefit – this my sole qualification.

A high proportion of her friends practice some form of New Age hustle. One’s a psychic. I’d rather trust a Chinese fortune cookie.

Some of her friends are “reiki healers.” They’re not Jesus but they lay on hands. Barb has gone to reiki healers. They touch you and you feel their aura while they’re feeling into your pocket for money instead of getting an honest job.

We found out about the salt therapy place a few weeks ago. Barb knows a gal who knew about it.

At its year anniversary, it had a big virtual opening, an official ribbon cutting. Chamber of commerce PR people in pressed white shirts (this itself a sign of uppity falseness in this cowboy town) taking pictures for web sites, promos, whatever. Smiling guys coming over to shake the hand of some cynical shmo stuck there with his wife, the Believer. The main guy, a co-owner, buttonholes me about the benefits. It’s an effort to smile back.

But hey. Helps with allergies, huh?

After a week of going almost every day, I’m no better.

Not that it’s so painful. The 45 minutes in the room fly by. New age piano music piped in … it’s really quite relaxing.

I’ve mumbled to the people who run the joint I’m here to fix my runny nose and sneezing.

To their credit, they smile, ask whether the allergies have subsided.

I reply, “I guess it’s a real bad allergy season.” And lie. “But in general, I think I am better.”

Just to show you what a phony I am.