I farted on a co-worker at work on Thursday.
I could list the mitigating circumstances, but the fact remains.
Well, I had been rushing about the office doing work, I felt nervous about the week, I was leaving for Maryland that night and, worst of all, lunch had been not only late on Thursday–it had also been Mediterranean.
Falafel, hummus, tabouleh, tahini, tzatziki all pooled in my intestines, swirling around as I ran about the office, culminating several hours later at a meeting.
Often I had wondered about my own flatulence. How much one farts seems to be a question of existential comparison: since no one openly discusses how much they fart, or their methods for farting, one has no point for comparison.
I know I don’t hear people farting that often (a matter of proximity or poor hearing perhaps) and that there was a time long ago when I was told and believed that girls don’t fart, only releasing some mysterious whiffing known as the “queef” a phenomenon still unexplained to me to this day (sitting in long car vacations with a mother and sister would decisively disproved the “girls don’t fart” rumor).
Still, I was left with the fact of my own flatulence and my lack of control over it.
Put simply, I fart. A lot. I fart often and loudly.
I’ve often tried to attribute this to my taste in ethnic foods (new foods=more gas), or to my heritage (coming from “good farting stock”, as I would romanticize it) but neither notion would change the loud, wet reality of it.
Eventually, it was just something I came to grudgingly accept little control over, like acne or psoriasis or the lisp in my voice that my brain filtered me from hearing.
But the young lady, my co-worker, who I sat with at the meeting was not so accepting.
I had attempted to squish the fart into my chair but it came out loud and protracted, like a raspberry blown by a professional and as it came out, my co-worker turned on me, first in shock, mouth-open-wide, then in anger and disapproval as if I had slapped her mother or, at least, farted on her somewhat intentionally.
“I was trying for the chair!” I say, re-imagining the moment. “I couldn’t leave! The person sitting on the other side didn’t complain!”
But whatever signals I sent through squinting, shrugging or awkwardly-attempted facial expression was lost as my co-worker stormed from the meeting, driven by fart and outrage.
And as I slunk in my chair, I wondered how this would look when I explained it to HR.
When I ended up in Maryland, one of the first things I noticed was that people had jobs.
Real jobs. Not the sort of jobs me and my friends had talked or bullshitted about having. Not “the future” I had imagined for myself. But jobs with one-word titles, jobs with the sort of finaliy of association that seemed out of place for a 22 year-old.
“Teacher”, “Nurse”, “Auditor”. These were the people we met in bars, people with salaries, jobs, paychecks, uniforms. People who had lives and structures.
Meeting this people made me wonder how to define myself when I met them.
To tell them I was unemployed was not quite true, but if I told them who I worked for, they’d ask more about it and the truth would come out: I’m an intern.
“You’re building up some resume.” My father told me today on a walk down to Jacques Torres to get a chocolate-chunk cookie.
“Working on feature films, television shows, acting and writing.” He listed. “It’s pretty impressive.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Now if only I could find someone to pay me to do any of those things.”
Back in Maryland, faced with these people with jobs like actual jobs (one person even worked for FEMA!), I was flabber-gasted, definition-less.
I could feel proud of who I was and what I’d done. But when I got the utilities bill and some lab fee collection agency envelopes, I gave them to my dad.
“Well, I’m unemployed.” I ended up telling the job-ers. Because I couldn’t say with good faith that what I did was something that I could live from: a job.
Internships have been my life for some time now, an additional structure to the structure of college, like a patio built for a bright spot in a house.
As I walked through NYU with Eva, my girlfriend, and buddy Matt Chao, I recalled an early internship, squatting illegally in an apartment that was sold but not yet occupied since the director of the documentary was banging the real estate agent or property owner or both if the guy was the same thing. They wouldn’t feed me lunch, telling me there wasn’t enough money, but they instead gave me the indignity of taping the director’s receipts for 25-dollar lunches from Negril, charged to the company credit card and used for taxes. She would skateboard to the “office” everyday and occasionally her cordoned off room smelled like pot. Finally, when production was halted so the interns could find her dog, lost as she forgot to close the door to the illegal apartment, I felt bad for Fido, but dumped the fliers in the trash as I headed home to play video games or be alone–anything for the lack of indignity.
Immediately after this though, I found myself in another ‘internship”, apprenticing myself to a cool Jewish Tisch Film senior, who had a hot Jewish girlfriend and could get me in to bars. I would do random work for him, shooting b-roll, picking up clams (a prop for a video) or working as an extra PA on shoots he was on. I looked up to him as a big brother, as it was my Freshman year and in my own insecurity about film school and how I could transition to the world of “cool”, I thought that this senior, who seemed already to have everything I want, might show me a way to be.
My dependence on him was my downfall though, as I assumed too much closeness to him as his lackey and when I asked a question I shouldn’t have asked to one of his former professors, it got back to him and he fired me furiously.
Neither internship was particularly fruitful and I was duped into both of them in various degrees–The documentary had promised lunch, while the senior had called himself “Maurice Kanbar” in the ad posting–and I got little out of them except for some credits on iMDB and a half-good story I can tell to people about those times in my early college career. But still, they were a bulwark in the battle against worthlessness that I felt in my lack of earning power in school. The idea of “being productive” could be easily fulfilled by saying that you had an internship and it precluded you from the decision-making process–you didn’t have to set your own goals as long as you followed the ones given to you.
An internship back then was a place to hide your own sense of indecision and fear about the future, until that worthless-sense caught up with you and you fled back to school or the next one.
After all, losing a patio, just meant you needed to get some new lawn furniture. A loss, almost not at all.
In practice, the job-ers probably faced their own senses of self-despair, the idea of terrible confinement in a hospital or cubicle, just as I face terrible freedom.
But just like my own flatulence, our own inherent sociopathy, our lack of empathy and understanding, denies me the abilities to know others’ experiences, to know how they feel and whether the uncertainty I feel is more terrifying than their own supposed certainties.
I was back in New York then, later, back from Maryland, in New York where I saw Eva and Matt, back among the interns and the students and the job-less.
And as I returned to my computer I saw the emails from my co-workers, co-interns, sick with the flu in bed, looking for covers for a day with promises of shifts returned and home-baked cookies.
Tomorrow, they’ll stay at home and face a lack that could be taken as a vacation, a sick day, or a denial.
It’s complicated, I guess.
Me, I’ll just have to deal with the aftermath of my own flatulence.
And I still don’t know what I’ll say to HR.
JACQUES TORRES CHOCOLATE HAVEN
Chocolate Chunk Cookie (best in the city?)- $2.50
King St bet. Varick and Hudson Sts
1 to Houston St