Another Guest Experience ...

04 May 2006

That last post reminded me of a similar guest experience during those days (again, going back almost 20 years). I first met FartKing during my freshman year of college. He lived on my floor, but far down the hall, so it took a while before I got to know him.

That name I've given him should be self-explanatory.In life, we all (especially guys, I guess) meet people who "fart proudly" as Benjamin Franklin so eloquently put it. Some are more gaseous than others, of course. But, FartKing was far and away the gassiest. (Or is it the "most gassy"?) The kid could clear a room almost on command, which was a rare talent in those days. He lit them on fire, he assumed special stances before letting them rip, he routinely ate special foods that he knew would bring about the desired flatulence. From the smallest passing of wind to the thunderous ones that echoed throughout buildings, each fart was special to him. In short, the guy put the "art" in "fart."

Like RushFan's family, FartKing's family invited me to stay over during a break instead of driving cross-country back ot the Midwest. HisNew Jerseyhome wasn't quite as eventful as RushFan's, though. But, it was weird. FartKing's dad took me aside one day and said, "Patrick, you look like you work out."

"Well," I said, "I like to lift weights."It was kind of neat to have anyone say something like that to me, as I started college weighing only a scrawny 130 pounds or so. By my sophomore year, I'd gained about 35 or 40 pounds, purely from living in the free-weight room for a few hours per day.

"Well, listen," he said, "I'm afraid [FartKing] is turning off to be a bit of a pansy. Why don't you encourage him to hit the gym with you guys. Start him on weight training, okay?"

"Uh, sure," I said, thinking it was really odd to have a guy's father describe his own son as a "pansy." However, I knew it was of no use to bother FartKing about it; the kid was incapable of taking anything seriously.

He did have a certain daring about him, though. And, I think that's what drew most people to him. During my freshman year, for example, he developed a really annoying little game. When walking down the street, he'd often yell something completely disgusting and then quickly dive into a bush. Then, when others looked over, it looked like whoever he was with had shouted the obscenity. He thought this sort of thing was funny, you see. And, frankly, I found it kind of amusing myself, except when he crossed the line with it.

For example, my political science professor (a youngish, relatively attractive woman) was exiting a nearby building and FartKing seized the opportunity. He and I had been walking together and he suddenly yelled "blowjob" at the top of his lungs and dove into a large hedge. She looked directly at me with a completely shocked look, absolutely sure that I'd yelled that at her.That fucker ... I'm sure I paid him back for that one, but don't remember doing so.

Other daring stunts he pulled were considerably more troubling.For example, he once showed me a busy road near his house inNew Jersey. There was a particular cross street there where you had to sit at a stop sign and wait for a break in the traffic to cross or turn onto the busy road. You *had* to stop at that stop sign, as you couldn't see if any traffic was coming unless you pulled all the way up to the sign. However, one night, on a whim, he said he simply floored his car all the way up the side street and blazed across the crowded intersection without stopping -- simply hoping that no traffic would be there when he passed through. Miraculously, he made it through without killing himself or anyone else.

Looking back, I think FartKing's dad had a little more to worry about than his son's masculinity. Hell, the kid nearly killed me twice, and I was his friend!

The first time he nearly got me killed, I went along willingly with his scheme.It all started with an excited phone call."TheRamapoRiver's way up above flood stage!" he yelled.

"So?"

"Don't you get it? That's the best time to try out my canoe!"

During a previous flood, a really nice Coleman canoe -- made of thick green plastic material -- had washed up somewhere near his house, and he'd snagged it. FartKing had ridden the Ramapo before, and knew about the waterfalls, he said. So, we would be perfectly safe as long as we got out of the river well ahead of the three falls. So, three of us headed out onto the river (FartKing, my college roommate, and me).

Canoeing on a river well above flood stage is actually kind of fun, although I'm not sure how safe it is. The current was awfully quick in places. The river itself was so spread out beyond its normal banks that we often paddled through peoples back yards and various sport fields. Polo, for example, is a big deal in the northeast, and we crossed through a large facility. I collected a dozen or so white polo balls, all stamped with what looked to me like the Ralph Lauren logo.

Navigating the first two water falls went perfectly, as planned.We saw the warning signs, paddled to shore, walked the canoe to the other side of the falls, and then went on our merry way.

The third set of falls gave us the problem.Now, I'm not sure what happens to a person who gets sucked over a rather violent waterfall on a river that's surging twenty feet or so above flood stage, but it can't be good. I imagine the sheer weight of all of that churning water must be difficult (if not impossible) to swim out of. And, I have to say that the memory of what happened that day still gives me chills for two reasons: (1) because I'd probably be dead if things went any differently, and (2) because I now have a child who will also no doubt be faced with opportunities to do stupid shit like this in her life. I just hope she turns out to have better judgment than I did.

So, we were cruising along in our canoe and, as expected, we realized that the third set of waterfalls was looming. We needed to get to shore quickly and walk the boat down a level.So, we started scanning the shoreline for landing spots. Only, the water was a little rougher in this area, and we didn't see any great places to pull over.

In the distance, dangerously close to the actual falls, we saw a long, thick tree branch running parallel to the water's surface. The plan, which seemed perfectly reasonable at the time, was to pull up to this branch and use it to guide ourselves over to the shore. Our nearly fatal error, though, was in completely underestimating both the current's speed and the branch's height off the water.

From a distance, we seemed to be approaching the branch slowly. Everything seemed perfectly manageable. We even maneuvered the boat so that we were heading downstream sideways in the water so that would come to rest evenly against the branch. However, as we came within about ten feet, our speed became apparent. We were *flying* into that branch, and it was much higher off the surface than we'd thought.

I'm telling you, it fills me with a desperate panic to this day to even recall what happened. It was a classic "oh shit" moment. At about three feet away, we knew damn well we were going to hit hard -- and *we* were going to smash into the branch, not the side of the boat, as we'd planned.

The impact hurt. All three of us had exactly the same reaction, even though we had no time to discuss the best thing to do. We all simple opened our arms and grabbed that heavy tree branch with all of our might as our faces crashed into the side of it.It was a thick branch; none of us could get our arms all the way around it.

That wasn't the worst part, though.Our strength was no match for the juiced-up current of this river at flood stage. We strained against it, but felt the boat being sucked out from beneath us. We watched in horror as the canoe, the polo balls, and everything else was drawn over the falls. The three of us clung to that branch desperately for a minute, the water churning past us at chest level.

FartKing gave a little chuckle as we hung there, still in grave danger. I can say with confidence that, contrary to the way these things are always dramatized, your life doesn't necessarily flash before your eyes in such a moment. Maybe that does happen when your situation allows it. But, when a swollen river is threatening to pull you to your death at any moment, your thoughts stay relatively focused on not letting go of the lifeline.

We escaped the current by inching ourselves along that tree branch back to the main tree trunk. Each of us wore short sleeves that day and really tore up our arms on the rough tree bark. (Funny how things don't hurt when your adrenaline has kicked in.) We then navigated along another branch heading the other way until we could safely jump and swim to the shore.

Eventually, we found the canoe; it washed up about a mile downstream.

***

Completely unable to remain serious for more than five minutes, FartKing found himself on academic probation in no time. As expected, he eventually went out in a blaze of glory. Remember those aluminum can covers made of ultra-thin plastic film -- the things you could wrap around beer cans to make them look like soda cans? Once FartKing discovered those, he took to bringing beer with him to drink in class.

During a world history class, he got really loaded and told a most unfortunate joke within earshot of the professor. The joke, by the way, was: Why do Chinese people have slanted eyes? For the punch line, you squint and act like you're jacking off. Needless to say, *Dr. Chang* didn't appreciate this brand of humor too much, and I believe this drunken faux pas was pretty much the straw that broke the camel's back. They kicked his ass out of school.

As I said earlier, though, he nearly killed me twice. For the second time, he'd returned once during the following year for a visit.I've still got a scar about six inches long on my right wrist from that night. I'd settled down quite a bit by my sophomore year, but FartKing hadn't at all.He walked into my bedroom at around2:30 a.m.and decided to pour some beer onto my head.

Naturally, I chased him (which was exactly what he wanted me to do), fully intending to punch him for being such an ass. But, I never got the chance. He ran outside and slammed my apartment door behind him.As he did that, I was reaching out for him, and my arm went through a thick security window (the kind with embedded chicken wire), tearing much of my hand and forearm to shreds. It took scores of stitches and numerous surgeons to fix that one, leaving me with a scar that looks exactly like I may have attempted suicide earlier in life.

That was the last time I ever saw FartKing. He was basically a good guy at heart but, considering his borderline suicidal tendencies, I'm sure I'm better off for not keeping in touch. The dude could fart, though. I have to give him that.

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