Monday, November 10, 2014


I loved when it was Mother’s turn to host her Tuesday night Mah Jongg game – so much so that I wrote a book, On Tuesdays, They Played Mah Jongg, which led to my being asked to write the introduction for the soon-to-be-released book, Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game: A Collector's Guide to Mah Jongg Tiles and Sets.

Yes, those were two shameful plugs. Get over it. I live in a trailer, drive very old cars with manual everything, and only buy store brand products. It is either this or Kickstarter.

Anyway, I loved it when it was her turn to host because of the buffet. All the women worked, so this was also their chance to have dinner when they were not in play. They had five players, and Mah Jongg is played with four hands. The fifth bets on which of the four will win. I think six dollars was the most you could lose, so if you lost six dollars, you were at pie, which meant you couldn’t lose more but could keep playing. Sometimes they served pie, which made it even more delightful.

Aunt Anita was always accused of cheating when she was the fifth. None of these women were my aunts. My mother had no siblings, so all these women who were my biggest influence were called Aunt. But that is not the point here. Aunt Anita was also accused of never putting out any food. Well, that is not entirely true. She would have a bowl of those jellied orange slice candies and a liter of Pepsi. Unfortunately, Uncle Walter, her husband, would drink all the Pepsi before the girls arrived.

I don’t know if any of this is true, or if these women were exaggerating. Mother was known to tell a fib or two to make a point … or hide a secret.

My experience with Aunt Anita was that she was always generous with her time and things. When I was typing my last term paper for college, my Royal electric typewriter exploded, even sending off a few sparks. Mother was on the phone with Aunt Anita at the time and casually mentioned that my typewriter just exploded while I was finishing a paper. Aunt Anita promptly hung up. Fifteen minutes later, she was at our door with her own portable electric typewriter. No one asked her for it. She just showed up. That was the Aunt Anita I remembered.

Nana died one week before my college graduation. After the week of shiva and the graduation ceremony, people no longer stopped by the house. One day soon after, Mother was writing thank you notes, and there was a knock at the door. Aunt Anita dropped by unannounced to check on Mother, and she stayed and kept her company all afternoon while Mother wrote the notes, just to be sure she was ok. Aunt Anita never said a word. She just sat there with Mother. It was perhaps the most touching act of friendship I had ever witnessed.

I remember Aunt Renee saying one time, “Anita will give you the shirt off her back. Just don’t ask her for money.” I really didn’t like when they talked about her like that.

Nana lived below Anita and Walter in the late 1950s in Stewart Gardens, and according to her, they would fight about money every night. Nana would light up a Kent cigarette and listen to them until she got bored, then she would bang on the ceiling with a broom stick. Nana had no room to talk. She could squeeze a nickel until the buffalo farted.

Anyway, one night it was my mother’s turn, and she went all out with enough food for a Bar Mitzvah. Tuna salad, egg salad, smoked fish salad, bagels, potato salad, pound cake, fresh brewed coffee in the Sunbeam 30-cup percolator. Jews sure do love their white food. The only thing with any color was the coffee. Oh, you thought I meant Caucasian.

Aunt Anita arrived first, followed almost immediately by Aunt Renee, who upon seeing the food yelled with delight, “Oh my God, look at this spread.” Didn’t bother Aunt Anita one bit.

I will never forget that. Of course, Aunt Renee had an advantage. She owned a deli for God’s sake. Before buying the deli, her husband worked at a furniture store, and rumor was all the nice things in her home fell off the truck as it passed by her house. It was decades ago, so the statute of limitations has run out.

Well, nothing changed for the next decade or so. Food was served, Pepsi was consumed, and they all remained friends.

Then, they hit their fifties, and all of a sudden everything changed.

Aunt Cis developed a hiatal hernia. She couldn’t eat anything with roughage or that would irritate her throat, so she brought her own dinner. Mother had a heart attack, so she couldn’t have anything with fat or cholesterol, and Aunt Anita? Oh she could eat anything, but unfortunately, she died soon after. It was a sad time.

But, the tragedies didn’t stop there.

There were no more buffets. Two things affect Jews deeply, death and a lack of food.

Due to all the dietary restrictions, the ladies who Mah Jongged were brown bagging it. They had to switch from coffee to iced tea, and decaffeinated at that.

I used to joke about how one couldn’t keep up with who could eat what or which. I thought I was funny, making fun of these post-menopausal women.

One should never joke about post-menopausal people because some day one will become one of the post-menopausal people. Karma is a bitch.

It all started around age forty-nine.

I farted.

I know that is no big deal. However, I never farted. I came from a family who farted all the time, but I never farted. I was not like them. I shit a lot due to irritable bowel, but I never farted. I could never understand how people could fart without shitting themselves. My friend, Danny, calls that sharting.

But, I farted. I didn’t just fart once. I couldn’t stop farting. It was awful and painful and uncomfortable, and of course, smelly.

What was happening to me? What did I do to myself? They weren’t just little farts. Oh no, I never do anything little. These were loud, long, wind shear farts.

When I sneeze, I wake up the dead in the next county, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that what was coming out the other end was just as noisy and disruptive.

I kept checking my drawers to see if I shit myself. I didn’t. I was just farting. Non-stop.

I then had to examine my diet. I haven’t missed a meal since 1962, so this was going to require some serious investigating. Then, I found the culprit. Pasta. To test out my theory, I had a plate of spaghetti.

I farted. I farted all night. I felt as if my insides were going to explode. Technically, they did.

So, I cut out pasta.

Then, I farted again.

Now what? Another inquiry was conducted.

Could it be bananas. I thought they only made monkeys fart. I ate a banana.

I farted.

I hate farting. Some people enjoy farting, but I hate it. The worst part is I don’t fart in daylight. No, I fart at night. How am I supposed to sleep with the sheets flapping all night long?

When I do doze, my farts wake me up. Oh hell, they wake up the neighbors.

Rose Marie sleeps under the sheets, so I kept checking to be sure I hadn’t gassed her to death.

I stopped eating pasta and bananas … and whole wheat bread, cauliflower, beans, cottage cheese, chocolate, cake, pie crust, sour cream, plums, walnuts, and any kind of lettuce, and the list just kept getting longer and longer.

I could just eat what I wanted and fart to my heart’s content. But, I’m single, and if I had any hope of getting married, I needed to nip this fart problem in the bud.

I finally managed to alter my diet enough to eliminate the eight-hour farting spells. But, with that came another problem.

Eating out.

I recently visited my friends, Danny and Mike, in Michigan, and they picked this restaurant with one of those weird menus where all the dishes are made with dozens of ingredients – seventy-five percent of which make me fart.

I picked something and picked at it. Danny made fun of me, saying I couldn’t eat anything and how could anyone cook for me because I am so picky. Then, he leaned to the side and farted, right there at the table.

I wish I was as comfortable in social situations as he is. It takes a brave man to be a pig in public.

Milton Stern is a writer and columnist and thinks he is a humorist: