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The Fart in the Dark

Claim:   A young lady on a date breaks wind in private . . . only to find out it wasn't so private after all.

LEGEND

Example:   [Smith, 1983]

Possibly it was the excitement of going out with Dave, her new boyfriend, for the Cartoon of the legend first time. Alternatively, it could have been something she had eaten. Whatever the reason, Caroline had been stricken for the last hour with a rather bad attack of wind. By the time her date arrived it was all she could do to get from the house and into the car without disgracing herself. As Dave closed the door on her side and walked round to his, in desperation Caroline exploded with a very large and loud fart.

Dave, getting into the driving seat, appeared not to have noticed. However, turning to her and indicating towards the back seat he said, "Let me introduce my two friends, Linda and Brian. I thought they would like to join us tonight!"
 

Origins:   On the all-time list of "nightmare first date" scenarios, this one, er, ranks right up there. It's the classic embarrassment tale, with the longed-for great first impression doing
a crash-and-burn before the outing has even fairly begun.

Our flatulent date story has been part of popular culture for decades, with the oldest print versions dating from 1976 and others recalling having heard it as far back as 1963. In each of these stories, it's always the girl who humiliates herself, and always in front of a surprise double date couple.

Dating is an anxiety-ridden pastime, and a legend like this brilliantly captures our worst fears about what could go wrong. Horrifyingly, this isn't a legend about crazed killers or hooks left on car doors — this one actually could happen to us. A gitzy tummy leading to a mis-timed belch or expulsion of none-too-fragrant wind lies within the realm of possibility, and it would be just our luck for this to happen when an audience is present.

We're an odd species. We know that gastrointestinal events are a normal, expected part of our existence, yet we live in terror that a burp or a fart will escape us while we're with others. Perhaps a refresher from Miss Manners is in order about how one properly reacts to such events:
Acceptable noises. These are noises such as burping or the sounds accompanying choking, to which the response should come from the noisemaker himself, provided that the choking was not complete, in which case he is absolved of all social responsibility except that of having left his papers in order. Society acknowledges that these noises are made from time to time, but does not dignify them with a response. The offender says "Excuse me," and the subject is considered closed.

Unacceptable noises. Miss Manners does not plan to mention them, chiefly because they are unmentionable, but you all know who you are. What they are. At any rate, these are noises that are acknowledged by neither the noisemaker nor the noise recipient, because socially they do not exist. The practice of staring hard at the person next to you when, for instance, your own stomach has given off a loud rumble, is therefore to be condemned on grounds of etiquette as well as morals.
In other words, if someone nearby cuts the cheese, the correct response is . . . nothing. Socially, the event did not happen, therefore to comment upon it would show a lack of culture.

There; you may now let loose with impunity. Should the person next to you wrinkle her nose or offer comment, you are permitted to laugh inwardly at her faux pas.

Oddly, stories about uncontrolled flatulence are often based on the presumption that "out of sight is out of mind"; that if the activity isn't observed, it won't later be smelled. In real life, farts aren't conveniently waved away — the evidence of them lingers in the air. The windy young lady of our story seems to presume her date won't notice anything amiss provided she lets loose when he's temporarily out of the car. In real life, very few of us would make that erroneous assumption.

A related version of this tale has an even longer history, one reaching back at least to 1934:
Once upon a time, there lived a man who had a terrible passion for baked beans. He loved them, but they always had an embarrassing and somewhat lively reaction on him. One day he met a girl and fell in love.

When it was apparent that they would marry, he thought to himself, "She'll never go through with the marriage with me carrying on like this" so he made the supreme sacrifice and gave up beans. Shortly after that they were married.

A few months later, on the way home from work, his car broke down and since they lived in the country, he phoned his wife and told her that he would be late because he had to walk. On his way home, he passed a small cafe and the wonderful aroma of baked beans overwhelmed him.

Since he still had several miles to walk he thought he would walk off any ill effects before he got home. So he went in and ordered three extra large helpings of beans. All the way home he farted. By the time he arrived home he felt reasonably safe.

His wife met him at the door and seemed somewhat excited. She exclaimed, "Darling, I have the most wonderful surprise for you for dinner tonight!" She put a blindfold on him and led him to his chair at the head of the table and made him promise not to peek. At this point he was beginning to feel another fart coming on. Just as his wife was about to remove the blindfold, the phone rang. She again made him promise not to peek until she returned and went to answer the phone.

While she was gone, he seized the opportunity. He shifted his weight to one leg and let go. It was not only loud, but ripe as a rotten egg. He had a hard time breathing, so he felt for his napkin and fanned the air about him. He had just started to feel better when another urge came on.

He raised his leg and rriiipppp! It sounded like a diesel engine revving and smelled worse. To keep himself from gagging, he tried fanning his arms a while, hoping the smell would dissipate. Things had just about returned to normal when he felt another urge coming. He shifted his weight to his other leg and let go. This was a real blue ribbon winner; the windows shook, the dishes on the table rattled and a minute later the flowers on the table were dead. While keeping an ear tuned in on the conversation in the hallway, and keeping his promise of staying blindfolded, he carried on like this for the next 10 minutes, farting and then fanning each time with his napkin.

When he heard the phone farewells (indicating the end of his loneliness and freedom) he neatly laid his napkin on his lap and folded his hands on top of it. Smiling contentedly, he was the picture of innocence when his wife walked in. Apologising for taking so long, she asked if he had peeked at the dinner table. After assuring her he had not peeked, she removed the blindfold and yelled "SURPRISE!"

To his shock and horror, there were twelve dinner guests seated around the table.
As wonderful as this tale is, it's clearly more fiction than truth. Even blindfolded, the fellow would have been sure to pick up on the presence of twelve dinner guests; people do shift around in their seats, after all.

Barbara "blast from the past" Mikkelson

Sightings:   The "fart in the car" legend forms the plot of the 1997 comedy short The Date and was the basis for a memorable 1998 television ad for Smart Beep. A version of the "fart at the dinner party" tale shows up in the 1940 Carson McCullers novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and is performed by Sheriff Brock on an episode of television's Picket Fences.

Additional information:

    Smart Beep commercial   The Fart in the Dark   (Smart Beep commercial)

Last updated:   22 March 2011

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Sources:

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    New York: W. W. Norton, 1999.   ISBN 0-393-04734-2   (pp. 35-36).

    Brunvand, Jan Harold.   The Vanishing Hitchhiker.
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    de Vos, Gail.   Tales, Rumors and Gossip.
    Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996.   ISBN 1-56308-190-3   (p. 87).

    Dundes, Alan and Carl Pagter.   Urban Folklore from the Paperwork Empire.
    Austin: American Folklore Society, 1975. &nsbp ISBN 0-292-78502-X.   (pp. 98-99).

    Martin, Judith.   Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior.
    New York: Warner Books, 1979   ISBN 0-446-37763-5   (p. 247).

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    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.   ISBN 0-00-636856-5   (p. 38).

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    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.   ISBN 0-7102-0573-2   (pp. 31-32).

    Hall, J. Mortimer [pseud.], ed.   Anecdota Americana, Series Two.
    (p. 164).

Also told in:

    Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill.   Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths.
    London: Virgin Books, 1996.   ISBN 0-86369-969-3   (pp. 30, 227-228).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 132).