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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
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Nothing to Sneeze At

I try to be polite. You might never believe it given the socially backwards tales I spin here, but when push comes to shove, I don’t shove back. I say the proper thing, behave myself as best I can, and generally conduct myself with civility and propriety.

At least, I try to. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear what the ‘proper thing’ is in a given situation. That socially backwards thing isn’t all spin. Nor even mostly. It’s like I was raised by wolves, who themselves were raised by garden slugs.

(And have you ever seen a garden slug chatting comfortably at a party, or knowing which stupid fork to use for the salad course? Me, neither. You’d think they’d have figured that crap out by now, frankly. I mean, all they ever eat is salad in the first place. And how witty would you have to be to make small talk at a slug party? ‘Hey, I love what you’ve slimed with the place!‘ ‘Nice pseudopods, Linda!‘ ‘Don’t eat any salt I wouldn’t eat!

“It’s like I was raised by wolves, who themselves were raised by garden slugs.”

Is that so frigging hard? I don’t think so. Stupid antisocial slugs, anyway.)

Take this afternoon, for instance. I was talking to one of the administrative lady types in my office, asking some important work sort of question. It was probably about whether contributing to our 401k is now considered a ‘charitable donation’, or if there’s some way to become eligible for long-term disability pay without bothering with the horrible disfiguring injury, or asking who I have to pleasure vigorously around here to get a goddamned parking space already. Something like that.

Anyway, she turned away for a moment to check her computer — or to call security, maybe — and while she was facing the other direction, her body sort of jerked, her neck twitched, and this very strange, very loud noise came out of her. Presumably from her mouth, but I can’t honestly be certain. Could have come from a number of orifices, really. I can safely rule out the earholes, but after that, it’s anyone’s guess. The noise in question sounded something like this:


After this disturbing sound had burst out of her, she went back to looking up benefits info or dialing the office cops or consulting the ‘Vigorously Pleasure for Parking Spots’ list, or whatever she’d been in the middle of. Which left me standing behind her, with a bit of a dilemma on my hands. What exactly do you say to someone who’s just ‘Buh-HURRRRK!!‘ed in your general vicinity?

The most pressing problem was, I didn’t know what the hell a ‘Buh-HURRRRK!!‘ entailed, exactly. Was it a sneeze? Had she just coughed? Belched? Farted? Suffered a stroke? Given birth? How can I properly respond, when I don’t know what just happened in front of me? Can I get a slo-mo replay of that bodily function, please? Let me call up to the booth for another look at it.

Sadly, the replay booth wasn’t taking my calls. So I had to go with what I had. I ran down the list of possible responses, like a Terminator selecting his next witty quip. If the Terminator had been raised by robotic wolves, that is. Who were themselves raised by bionic garden slugs, perhaps.

Look, it’s not a perfect analogy. Let’s just get to the list already:


Assuming it was a sneeze, this would be the right thing to say. And it’d be sort of rude not to say something along these lines, frankly. But it didn’t sound like any sneeze I’ve ever heard. Not unless she’s got a kazoo shoved up one nostril, and a septum deviated up through her eyebrows.

Also, if she’d just had a seizure or blown a kidney or something, ‘gesundheit’ seems a tad less than helpful, somehow. She might be interested in something more ‘life-savey’, at this point. No good.

Excuse you!:

Again, if I could be positive she’d just burped or passed gas — or maybe both, one on the ‘Buh!‘, and the other on the ‘HURRRRRK!‘ — then I could say this. It would at least make sense to anyone eavesdropping on the nightmare unfolding here.

But I couldn’t be certain. And anyway, it’s a pretty snarky way to acknowledge a biological faux pas. This woman knows where my paycheck comes from, and probably how to make it stop coming altogether. Best not to piss her off. Pass.

Can I get you a tissue?:

I still don’t know what the hell just happened to her. But it sounded like it could’ve been a bit… wet. Maybe she’d like to clean up a bit, before continuing on with the day.

But maybe she needs something more substantial than a tissue at this point. And I’m not about to ask her, ‘You want a towel to wipe off with?

That sort of talk is strictly for significant others, workout partners and people coming in from the rain, in decreasing order of interestingness. And she’s none of those. Next?

How many fingers am I holding up?:

Hey, if she actually hurt herself or popped an embolism or something, this could be a useful diagnostic.

On the other hand, if she hadn’t, then it’s an awfully odd thing to say. If, the next time you sneezed, someone asked you how many fingers they were holding up, you’d wonder what the hell was the matter with them. And if they asked you the next time you farted, you might well wonder just what the hell they were planning on doing with them. With the situation still up in the air, I simply couldn’t risk it.

Clearly, none of these were good options. Seems my Terminator quip generator still has a few bugs in the programming. So I punted on all those choices, and just blurted out the next thing that came to mind:

I’ll give you ten bucks if you can do that again.

I don’t recommend this method, mind you. Particularly if this is the sort of thing that’s likely to be the next thing to come to your mind. The admin lady froze for a second, then slowly turned back to look at me with big, wide eyes. I couldn’t define what I saw in them, exactly. Fear? Disgust? Anger? Last night’s three-bean salad?

It seemed a good idea to get the hell out of there before I found out the hard way. So I pretended to hear my phone ringing, ran out of her office, and promptly locked myself into my own. I didn’t dare come out until I peeped through my window blinds to see her shut her door and leave for the day. I’m not sure how I’m going to face the woman in the morning. And I still don’t know who I’m supposed to pleasure for that parking spot.

I hope to hell it’s not her. Because it’ll be a cold day in Satanburg before she lets me anywhere near her again. Also, I don’t think I could go through with it. She might make the noise again — and then I’d owe her ten bucks. Also, I”m sure I’d say something to totally ruin the mood.

Because I was raised by wolves, apparently. Socially backwards, hopelessly inept, paw-in-mouth wolves whose parents were garden slugs. Man, I am never getting that damned parking spot.

Permalink  |  4 Comments

4 Responses to “Nothing to Sneeze At”

  1. kerry says:

    Oh my god, I laughed so hard at this blog I thought I was going to have a stroke! Buh-HURRRRK!

  2. Jenny says:

    Oh God, I’m crying from laughing so hard. Some poor guy is going to walk into my office and think I’m having some sort of female breakdown and it will be very awkward. And I really don’t want to try to explain that noise – that would just make things worse.

  3. impa says:

    This is how it works…first ya say..”Bless your peapickin’ heart”…THEN ya say “Bet ya ten bucks you can’t do that again.”…Then when ya loose that bet…bet that you can out-do the Baahurrrrrraaaaackkkk for the coveted parking space. THEN if you lose, you then hold up two fingers and assure her she just had a stroke and you now own her parking space. And while she is being carted of in the ambolence then you Buhaaarrrk in her general vicintity just to make your point.

    See now? Wasn’t that easy?

    LOL! You crack me up!

  4. Charlie says:

    Kerry: Aw, thanks. I’m happy to know my awkward moments — and sure-to-be-ensuing reprimand, possibly with sexual harrassment warnings, for all I know — can still get a giggle. That’s what it’s all about!

    Jenny: I shudder to think what a ‘female breakdown’, specifically, might sound like.

    But if you can do it again, I’ll give you… no, wait. That’s how I got into this mess in the first place. Just, um, good luck with it.

    Impa: Clearly, I need you giving me pointers at work. I could have come out of this thing with a new parking spot, the administrator’s office chair and free samples from the ambulance EMTs. I’m missing opportunities here.

    On the other hand, if getting all that means mustering up a few ‘Buh-HURRRRRRK’s of my own, then it’s maybe not so worth it. I’m pretty happy right now, what with my spleen unruptured and my gaskets not blown. I’ll have to try another angle.

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