One evening I was in a study bin, writing a psychology essay. I chose the bin for its space and quiet—I like being able to spread out my work and not listen to the outside world. Having come to the library directly from a formal event, I was dressed in crisply pleated khakis and a sharply pressed white button down shirt. I had combed my hair more neatly than usual and was sporting fancy shoes, the kind that make a loud clacking on hard floors.
Yet, despite my formal outward appearance, one must keep in mind that at this hour, I was still very much a human, an animal even, with basic needs for food and comfort. At around 12:10 I went and got a candy bar with a friend, and was back by 12:20. As I leaned back with my hands behind my head, chewing on my candy bar, it seemed a nice fart would enhance the comfort of the situation. It was all confined to my study-bin world anyways.
However, it turns out that people also study at the desks five feet away from the ‘bins,’ and that, this particular evening, a girl was reading at the desk adjacent to my door, in a library very quiet on a Wednesday night.
As soon as the flatulence resounded throughout the walls of my private study den, the girl picked her head up from her reading. She held her gaze in a mixture of curiosity and blankness, the kind of look people give in libraries when looking up from their work. Something must have made her look up and in my direction.
Fate had it that I was looking in her direction when her head popped up. More than any other time in my life, I experienced what Orwell calls “doublethink”—simply recognizing an alternate, false reality in which there was no such sound. I briefly met her gaze with neither too stern an expression nor too blank a stare to suggest, "I too am taking a break from my work, but I was just about to get back to it. You should too." And so I did. With a face as wrinkle-free as my shirt, I stared back at my computer, took another bite of my candy bar, and, with a precise sum of slight gestures, altered reality. She went back to reading, with no change of expression, either keeping an equally good poker face or believing every suggestive detail of my demeanor and garb.
P.S.— Having heard this story, my friend proposed a good hypothetical: apologizing as formally as my clothes demanded. I didn't/don’t have the balls to try. Our society’s Politeness is so ill suited for any sort of bodily function; formalities mixed with bodily functions deserve an ‘awkwardness category’ of their own. So, my really meaty sounding final statement: if anyone has the balls to fart while he is overdressed, and then apologize, please help this blog by putting it in writing.
*I use the ‘sexist’ pronoun “he” here for two reasons: 1) “He” is English’s default singular pronoun (in this case, modifying “anyone”). And, 2) Anyone besides a male farting is not awkward, but gross.
**The term “overdressed” here is to make clear that the setting's decorum must be visibly less proper than the clothes worn—i.e. at a fancy restaurant, it’s not as awkward, though still pretty awkward.