The joke went like this:
Kid One: “Pull my finger.”
Kid Two: “Why?”
Kid One: “Just do it.”
Kid Two does it.
Kid One farts and laughs.
Kid Two feels disgusted to have been a part of it, and therefore laughs.
I saw this when I was eight. The two kids worked their pull-action fart machine after church during the coffee break between the service and Sunday school. After they finished, I considered the state of my own stomach. Did I have farts in there? Of course I did. Great ones. Everyone does on the Sabbath. Gases itching to rip against the wooden pews and let out a rich, oak-toned vibrato. I wanted to, but I wanted to do it like I’d just seen it done. However, I was too shy to ask anyone to pull my finger.
Then I wondered, “Should one pull one’s own finger?” I glanced to the wall at a paining of Moses cradling the Ten Commandments in a death-grip. He looked stern. Terrifying. The cloud above his head was barking lighting. He had a message for me: Thou shalt not pull thy own.
So I waited until I was far from the dangerous painting, back at home, in the safety of my bedroom. I locked the door.
Then I grabbed on and got ready.
I expected that all the farts I hadn’t loosed on the ride home from church would come firing out now. I didn’t feel their presence, but I was convinced by what I had seen at church that farts come when you pull.
I gave it a tug.
No farts followed, or they didn’t come out of the usual place. I heard and felt a soft little fart inside my hand, right at the base of my knuckle. It didn’t hurt. It was a comfortable little pop that actually felt fantastic.
In that moment, I remembered Moses. He had another message for me, one that I’d been hearing all my life: “If it feels good, you’ve probably got your hands on some of the lubricant that makes the slippery slope slick. And if it feels really good, you’ve got your hands on the devil.”
But I was locked in my room as safe and sound as a brain in its skull, and brains can do anything they want to in the privacy of their rooms.
I tried another finger, then another. They all popped. Even my thumbs. Pop! Pop!
Heaven. I was hooked.
It didn’t take long for the addiction to spread. In the following months, my joint-pop song became a symphony, which utilized my wrists, toes, elbows, knees, neck, spine, and even my sternum.
My body became a lusciously hedonistic rhythm of juicy clicks and clacks. I didn’t need fidget spinners or knitting to keep me occupied. I had myself, my bone xylophone, and I jazzed all over town.
In time, though, this wasn’t enough. I watched people and noticed they left their joints alone. I resented these fools. Their bodies were wasted on them.
I appeased my growing appetite online, watching hours and hours of chiropractic pop-compilations, cracking myself silly while I watched, but this wasn’t enough either.
I began casually asking friends and relatives if I could give their joints a try. Some said no. Some said yes. Those who said yes came back for more. We had a little arrangement. Whenever we saw each other at parties and reunions, we would close ourselves off in some empty room and do our business. If you listened at the door, you’d hear the popping and the giggles.
My church did this thing where they sometimes let adolescents lead the singing. It was my turn. I led. Between two hymns I had an inspiration.
“Everyone,” I said, “on the count of one, two, three, go! I want you to crack a joint. Whatever’s your favorite. Your back, neck, fingers, whatever. Ready?”
They were ready. I hadn’t given them enough time not to be.
What followed filled the sanctuary with a sound more glorious than any singing could ever be. It was the crackle of holy rain on heaven’s tin roofs, a savory sound-feast that fed my depraved pig-soul to the top.
I went home that day trembling with fleshly electricity. I cued up the internet and buried myself in hours of professional crack-work. By the time I stumbled out of my room, the snap-gasses in my joints were completely spent. I couldn’t pop myself if my life depended on it. And it did. I needed someone to pop, anyone. But my parents had long ago said, “Stop asking,” and there was no one else around.
Except the cats.
I considered their paws. Did they contain any crackles? I decided the work that would go into harvesting the sound out of their little fingers wouldn’t be worth it, wouldn’t yield enough pleasure.
I was about to give up, to drag myself miserably back to the computer, when I considered the cats’ tails.
20 bones in a cat’s tail. Imagine the delicious ripple of pops and cracks. We had two cats at the time: Fred and Susan.
I cradled the cats in a gentle grip and carried them to my room.
I locked the door. I closed the curtains.
I started with Fred.
Fred purred in my arms. I grabbed his tail and began to pull. He looked at me, concerned.
“Trust me,” I said, and pulled harder.
Fred began to groan and struggle to free himself.
I pulled even harder, trembling with fear and need, and just when I thought there was no use and I should give up, the first joint released its little pop. Fred stopped struggling. I pulled on, and in quick succession, all the other joints followed the first. It was a plump collection of dainty and robust pops and cracks that zipped from the tail’s tip to the base of the spine.
Fred rode the glorious pleasure-wave of release, his eyes closing and opening as slowly and serenely as butterfly wings. I did the same to Susan. Both cats walked away well adjusted for the first time in their lives.
I, on the other hand, was not well-adjusted, but as far from heaven as I had ever been. But there was no turning back. I’d had a taste and needed more.
I considered the animal kingdom: the kangaroo; the ring-tailed lemur; the long-tailed grass lizard…
Spines of 180, 200, 400 bones!
Moses thundered from on high.
I traveled to Amazon.
Moses shouted, “Thou shalt not!”
But I, I ordered myself a snake,
and that has made all the difference.