The list of audible bodily functions is relatively short.
There’s the one you’re thinking of right now, of course, as well as its little cousin, the burp. While discouraged in polite society, they remain widely admired in some families, including the one I am related to by marriage. Their forceful impact on the ears and nose, as the case may be, is a measure of manliness, an exclamation mark delivered at the conclusion of a well-prepared and heartily enjoyed meal.
But the bodily sound I find most entertaining is located directly between these two more popular noises, geographically and biologically speaking.
It’s the stomach growl.
Aside from the occasional creaky joint, the outside of our body generally doesn’t know what the inside of our body is up to. We don’t hear our heartbeat, for instance. Our breathing is silent, most of the time. Our spleen doesn’t feel the need to announce its presence. The synapses in our brain don’t go “bang” when they fire.
Really, the only thing inside of us that’s routinely noisy as it goes about its daily business is our stomach. To me, it underscores the comforting and terrifying truth that God has a tremendous sense of humor. The stomach growl has to be his funniest invention since the uvula.
(No, that’s not the instrument played by South African soccer fans at the men’s 2010 World Cup. You’re thinking of the vuvuzela. The uvula is that dangly thing behind your tongue that exists solely for the use of cartoon animators. Beside the picture of the uvula in the dictionary should be a picture of Olive Oyl hollering: “Popeye, help!” with her uvula wiggling urgently in the back of her throat.)
I always think of the first people, Adam and Eve, reclining in the Garden of Eden in their birthday suits. With the exception of bellybutton lint, everything funny about the human body happened to them first. What must they have made of the first stomach growl?
Eve: “What was that?”
Adam: “I don’t know.”
Eve: “It sounded like a bear.”
Adam: “It came from inside me, almost the spot where God removed that rib the other day.”
Eve: “We’ll ask him when he comes through the garden tonight on his evening walk.”
Adam: “Good idea. Hand me those figs. I’m starving.”
Eve: “No more figs for you, mister. Remember that strange noise that came from your behind after you ate all those figs yesterday? It sounded like a vuvuzela. Here, try this apple.”
The strangest thing about stomach growls is their comedic timing. Stomachs seem to know when they can growl to the greatest effect.
Working alone at my computer all day, my stomach is quiet as a church mouse. But, on a Sunday morning, during a thoughtful pause in the pastor’s sermon, having skipped breakfast in the mad dash to get to church on time, my stomach emits a barbaric yawp that would make Walt Whitman blush.
There must be something about the resonance of those old wooden pews that make church stomach growls louder than any other stomach growls. You can feel it coming on, which makes it worse, because it leads to a whole series of actions as you try to mitigate the embarrassment.
You rustle the pages of the hymnal, trying to cover up the sound. Fake a cough. Cross your legs at the exact instant of the growl so that maybe it doesn’t seem so loud. Some people even shout “Amen!” to mask a church stomach growl. But nothing works. Everyone notices, especially Eve, who’s sitting right beside me.
“You should have at least eaten an apple,” my wife whispers.
Contact John Gladden at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ThatJohnGladden.