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  Most amateur sneezers still use the outdated Cleveland Technique of letting fly with a constrained and demure “Ssshhhhew!”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!

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