It is one of my singular misfortunes that belching is considered bad manners.
I am really good at it.
My six brothers were both envious and proud that their little ol' sister had the biggest pipes in the house. All it took was a big juicy red apple or potato chips, and I would blast them out of the room, right off the dining room table. Like the soprano who shatters wine glasses, I shattered ear drums. I could burp on command, belch the alphabet. "Sing us the ABCs," they'd say. Sometimes I'd stall out on "lmnopeee," but not always.
I never belched around my mother. She is too refined. I waited until her pressed, coiffed, lined, and lipsticked person stepped out of the house.
When my brothers produced nieces and nephews, their infamous auntie's talent was part of family lore. There I was in my swank black suit with the kick skirt, driving up from my fancy job in biotech, from my Victorian flat in San Francisco in my shiny blue sedan. I'd pull up to the rice farm in the Sacramento Valley, pop one beer with my brother and shortly thereafter explode, sending the kiddies reeling backwards in somersaults, horrified and tickled that an adult could be so artfully bad mannered.
The drawing is from my then seven-year-old niece at one family Thanksgiving. "Iscos me" is Tiffany's approximation of "Excuse me."
As an editor later at Harcourt Brace, in San Diego, colleagues who became close friends, upon recovering from the initial shock at minor eruptions, soon marvelled at my belching prowess after I really let them in on my talent. "You're a mystifying combination of elegant professional and grotesque tomboy-rube," my favorite fellow editor, Eileen, told me. My physician-husband, upon hearing gaseous detonations at our more raucous parties, would say, "Yep, that's my wife!"
Most of the time I practice infinitely good manners and suppress these wondrous explosions, which is in a way, unfortunate. There's nothing as satisfying as a long sonorous belch.
In the outside world, if someone accidently lets out a little burp, or better, lets one lose to be mildly outrageous or cute, and I happen to be nearby, they might expect me to be embarrassed for them, perhaps offended. "I'd give that one a 4" I say, ranking it lower or higher based on volume and duration.
Allie, from our art department, told me one day that no one could rip 'em like her boyfriend, Craig. Ah, challahnge, I whispered to myself. "Oh yeah?" I said to her. "Party at my house. This Saturday. We'll see who can belch the loudest." Belching should be a competitor sport.
Most people already at our house knew this party's raison d'etre, rolling their eyes, indulging my ghastly immaturity. But Allie and Craig hadn't yet arrived and I was getting worried. Those two were goth-cool, so they just had to be late. I could feel a beauty cooking up, ah, that slight swelling of the chest, the rich, potent pressure on the diaphragm. Ding-dong! the door bell rang. I ran, threw open the door, and let loose the longest, most obnoxious honk ever to escape this petite frame of mine. Craig was speechless. And appalled. That's no way to greet a guest, but I had my competitive spirit on, and I was out the gate and bucking before poor Cragig'd even strapped his hat on. I shut the man down before he could so much as say, "hey, thanks for inviting us over, nice place." Even hard-nosed, art-house-hip, thrift-shop diva, doc marten-stomping Allie even seemed a little taken aback. As the evening progressed, Craig let out only the most pathetic little burps. I felt bad, mercilessly stealing his thunder, showing off my superior explosive ability. Come to think of it, something tells me that Allie did not tell Craig about my great skill before the party, about our competition to the death over who could belch the best. Something tells me she neglected to mention that this wasn't just a nice party with the editors. That look on his face, standing at our front door, was a look of confusion.
If that's the case, I go down as the rudest little cutie this side of the Mississippi. A word I can not only belch in its entirety, I can sing every single letter.
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