Has a friend ever said something, a simple little line, or maybe they shared an innocent yet amusing anecdote, and it became completely embedded in your head to the point that you started using that comment or anecdote with other friends and family? And then they adopted the line or story and started telling it to their friends, and soon enough the whole thing spread across the nation like a bad taste sensation? It’s sort of like a chain letter, but you don’t get five dishtowels in the mail or your wish granted at 3:14 p.m. by angels if you pass it on to ten of your BFFs.
I’ll give you an example. In college, my friends and I regularly ate dinner together after class. One of my friends always dined at a more languorous pace than the rest of us and once rebuked us when we attempted to leave too soon with a defiant yet sing-song, “I’d LIKE to finish my WATER!” For some reason I shared this with my family, so now whenever one of us is taking our sweet time at a restaurant and the rest of us are antsy to leave, someone says this exact phrase in the same irritated intonation. My dad says it, my brother says it, and with a little persistence, we’ll have my grandma saying it by Christmas.
The best part is that usually the person behind the incident has no idea how popular it’s gotten. And now it’s my turn in the hot seat.
Yesterday I was chatting with a friend, and suddenly she started laughing. “You know," she said, "I thought about you the other day when I was talking with A (her son).”
“Oh god,” I said, grimacing, “I already know what it is.”
I knew because a few years earlier I'd made the mistake of telling her that I'd boarded the (insanely slow) elevator on the seventh floor of my office building and absentmindedly let one rip, only to have another rider board the elevator immediately afterwards, on the sixth floor. It was the classic Fart in the Elevator For Unexpected Company gag.
So my friend told my story to her son, who happened to be at the age where farts are the pinnacle of humor. He was between 1 and 99. My little (sneaker) anecdote latched itself to their shared history, and every time they’ve boarded an elevator in the seven years since, they look at one another and giggle over me and my friendly little fart in the elevator.
I know this because she told me.
So as this boy grows up, he will always think of me as the Person Who Farted in the Elevator (And Then Another Person Boarded the Stink Box and Probably Gagged). I will be thought of this way even if I single-handedly rescue every resident of a four-story burning nursing home or develop the ability to summon marshmallow unicorns with a clap of my hands.