Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to Sneeze

This column was a semi-finalist in the Robert Benchley Humor Writing Contest in 2010.

Sneezing is the most expressive of the human body’s functions.  Make sure yours are extra special.

Upon realizing that sternutation is imminent, today’s fashionable sneezer will pause in conversation and raise their eyebrows.  This serves as a warning to bartenders and other nobility that a Great Event is about to unfold, and observers should vacate the immediate blast area. 

During this pre-sneeze period, as your inhalation progresses, dramatically over-express yourself, like an opera singer.  Be expansive in your chest.  Wave your arms about and draw attention to your twitching features.  Yell or scream, again like an opera singer.  If a sneeze (or opera) is not immediately forthcoming, take something slender such as a chopstick or Calista Flockhart and thrust it repeatedly up your nostril to initiate the proceedings.

At the height of your inhalation, squint your eyes and cease all motion. This is the pause before the Great Storm.  It is the final notice that something wondrous is about to be born, or that you are choking on an oyster.  Be absolutely still, nose elevated slightly, arms aflutter, teary eyes about to close in the final moments before the triumphant finale.

The sound of a proper sneeze is important.  Most amateur sneezers still use the outdated Cleveland Technique of letting fly with a constrained and demure “Ssshhhhew!” sound.  This method is rarely used in competition nowadays, although it is still popular with denture wearers. 

What you want in competitions is the loudest possible expulsion from your chest, such that a single sneeze is all that is required.  If the sneeze is accompanied by the popping sound of herniating spinal discs, so much the better.

Attempting to suppress all sound by holding the nose and forcing the blast up into the cranium can pose a danger to the sneezer and those around them – particularly in theaters.  Earwax bullets shot into patrons on either side of the participant have caused needless injury, and were the impetus for the Stockholm Sneezing Protocols of 1929.  These protocols now eliminate the need to wear combat helmets at most recitals, while rifling of competitor’s ear canals has worked wonders to improve accuracy.

As with other seizures, for a high score, one must enunciate using proper verbiage.  Asian-sounding surnames are prized, with the Japanese “Hyyy-ASHiii!” being most common in tournaments.

Of Middle Eastern origin is the popular and sophisticated “Haa-BLAH-haaa!”  For truly memorable scores, professionals add a slight upward intonation at the conclusion, as though asking the romantic question, “Haa-BLAH-haaa?”

In closing, let me offer a cautionary note about arm movements, which was related to me by several members of the royal family.

It never fails that a sneeze occurs while one’s hands are occupied holding flowers, glasses of bourbon, or bottles of ketchup. While one hand must remain stationary under these circumstances, the other hand will involuntarily thrust upward from the waist in a rapid motion which may injure passersby.  Swift uppercuts administered by sneezing enthusiasts have rendered more than a few bystanders (and sneezers) unconscious, so do be careful, or sneeze only while boxing.

America can hold its head high when it comes to sneezing.  Whether amateur or professional, the people of this great country lead the world.  Bless you!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Pipeline Progress

“We are on location at the opening ceremonies of the Northern Pipeline, here in Kitimat, BC.  We have put microphones onto various officials to record their comments for posterity.  Let’s listen in before the ceremony begins…

“It was an accident!  They were pounding in the ‘Warning! Pipeline Located Here’ signs when they heard a ‘Ping!’ sound and…”

“Don’t tell me – they ruptured the pipeline?”

“We’ll have it under control in no time, boss.  It sure makes a pretty geyser though – look at these pictures I took on my phone…against the pristine mountain backdrop! I think it’s beautiful”

“Never mind that.  How is everything on the first tanker?”

“It’s just coming into the harbour now, sir.”

“What is the name of it again?”

“It’s the Exxon Edmund Fitzgerald.”

“Ah.  Where is it registered?”

“Bolivia, sir.”

“Bolivia?  Bolivia is a landlocked hell hole filled with nothing but illiterate, migrant workers producing a highly addictive substance that is driving us all to economic ruin!”

“Oops – correction.  It’s registered in Ft. McMurray.”

“Same thing…”

Meanwhile on board ship, we see the Captain in front of his crew, pointing with two fingers…

“We have emergency exits located at the front of the ship – what we call the pointy end in the shipping business – also the middle and back of the vessel.  In the unlikely event of a rare, non-scheduled shore landing you can use your mattress as padding for when you leap onto the rocks. 

“During our transit we ask you to keep your cell phones on at all times, since our own GPS navigation system doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.”

“While under way you can help yourself to beverages and snacks at any time.  We have an excellent selection of single malt scotches, vodka, bourbon, beer, cider and rum, of course, since we do have our sea-going traditions to uphold!  We do ask the harbor pilots to not over-serve themselves, and the tugboat captains to not start drinking until we have left the immediate harbour area.   

“I’ll remind you crew members of our excellent safety record on board this vessel – we have not had a spill of any beverage in over three years, so let’s all do our best to keep a clean record, people.  I said lets do our best.  People?  Hello?  Do you speak English?  English!  DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?  NO HABLA? Hello?”

Back on shore…

“We are most fortunate to have with us today our docking safety consultant, Mr. Andrew ‘Sleepy’ Bigbumper.  Mr. Bigbumper is the former docking supervisor with BC Ferries and as the ship approaches our terminal…uh, Mr. Bigbumper perhaps you could explain why the ship is coming at the pier at such a high rate of speed?”

“Why thank you Mr. Chairman, and yes, to answer your question, in order to maneuver properly, a ship must carry some speed while ramming the dock and this is quite normal for us in the ferry business.  The key is to judge how much speed you should use and I think our captain is doing just fine, although he does appear to have dropped his spectacles and this bright sun is in his eyes…”

“Well, everything appears to be going smoothly here in Kitimat, so it’s back to you in the studio…”