I have never not farted in public. This is because my parents were hippies during my early childhood (they have since un-hipped). My parents taught me that farting was normal, and that if I had to let one rip, I should just say "excuse me" afterward.
Once, when I was hanging out with a friend late at night in some girl's backyard, he suddenly said, "I have to go look at that tree." He walked over to the tree, stood there for a minute, and then walked back to resume the conversation. I was like, "I don't get it. What's up with the tree?" I bugged him about it until he admitted that he had to fart, but he didn't want to fart right in front of me, so he went to fart by the tree.
That was the first time I really realized that when you need to fart, it's considerate to walk away a few steps, and not just toot away right then and there. I was 17 years old. But old habits die hard.
At 20, I was working in a ski shop in Colorado, and I had made this bulgur pilaf from the Moosewood Cookbook the night before, which I ate for three consecutive meals, and I let out the worst SBD in history while standing among my co-workers. One of the guys yelled, "Eeeew! Who blew ass?!" I assumed a face of total unknowingness. One of the guys blamed another guy, and they all started ragging on him, and I got off scot free.
If anyone who worked in the Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski rental shop in 1999-2000 is reading this: That fart was my fart, and yes, I should have bought you all beer instead of buying that snowboard off of Kimmie with the tip jar money the time that I won it. If any of you ever end up in the Jewish part of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, there are no bars here, but I will buy you a beer at the corner store.
Then a few things have happened. One is that I grew up, lived in another country where it was normal for a place to smell like old fish and olives, and then also I became a Chasidic Jew. My whole perception of smell has changed.
For instance, I take the subway into Manhattan to work. When there is any humidity in the air, the subway cars smell like people and old pee. Sometimes the car smells so bad that I can't even say my morning prayers in there. A lot of times, somebody in my vicinity will fart on a crowded train. All I want to do is say, "Hey! Who farted?!" but nobody would laugh, because commuters are humorless.
Everyone would look at me like I'm that ranting weirdo who is eating his own boogers on the train, and then they would look away, and they would think, "I guess Chassidic ladies talk like that."
I basically have to watch what I do in public all the time (and now in private, because I am married, and it's not nice to fart at your husband). I wear a wig and a long skirt and long sleeves, and even though I am about as "in the world" as a Chassidic woman could be, I am obviously a member of the tribe.
I cannot pass as a member of another ethnic group. I can't even pass as secular Jewish. I can't even pass as Modern Orthodox. The black socks and the wig just give me away every time. Whatever people see me doing, they assume that it is representative of all Chassidic Jews, of all sects, now and forever.
So farting in public is out, as is being rude to clerks, and other nasty behavior that people get away with. (I do reserve the right to talk smack to people who diss Judaism and Jews, especially Chassidic Jews and Chassidic Judaism.) I guess at some point, I had to grow up. I couldn't keep working in a ski shop, eating bulgur, and farting in public. Thirteen years later, I am proud to say that not only do I not fart in public, but I also don't blurt out, "Who farted?!" when someone else does.
If that ain't progress, I'm not sure what is. Now tell me about you.
Chaya Kurtz is on Twitter: @chayakurtz