Now It Can Be Told
one well-deserved Nobel Prize, was well into his eighties when I was sent to interview him. "He's appearing on the Don Philahue Show," said my editor. "His people have agreed to let you talk to him for a few minutes in the green room before he goes on the air. Don't ask him any thing stupid. Don't try to be funny. Just get some human-interest stuff. Don't honk him off. This is a beloved-type guy."
My editor and I were aware of the possibility that this assignment might be a little out of my class here [and how right we were!], so I actually did some research to prepare myself for the interview. The great man-- who I will call Dr. Leo Petering-- had done incontestably outstanding work in his field, and had conducted an interesting public life as well; in his later years, he had spent most of his energy promoting a substance I will call Vitamin Z. No one disputes that Vitamin Z is absolutely essential to human life, but Dr. P. had been claiming all sorts of benefits for it, and had come perilously close to proclaiming it the universal panacea. Initially, he said it could help prevent the common cold, later that it might be effective against cancer, still later that it would help in controlling heart disease and slow down the aging process. Because of his reputation, these claims got-- and still get-- a huge amount of publicity, but clinical studies just hadn't borne any of this out. Dr. Petering advocated taking huge doses of Vitamin Z-- about, oh 6 jillion times the Recommended Daily Allowance; since the body can't store Vitamin Z, most of this leaves the body in the form of incredibly enriched urine.
Well, I figured, what the heck; I wasn't a science writer, I wasn't about to tangle with a Nobel Prize winner; I was just going to get a cute anecdote or two.
I sure got one.
I entered the Philahue Show green room and introduced myself to Dr. Petering, who stood up in greeting. As we shook hands, there was a loud "BLAAAAT!!" I mean really loud. Well, these things happen, I have been known to perfume the air myself upon occasion, and we treated the incident the way adults generally do: we pretended it hadn't happened. I told Dr. P. I just wanted to ask him a few questions about his daily routine and so forth, and he nodded, and as he nodded, there was another loud "BLAAAAT!" This time I blinked and glanced around the green room at the other guests, one of whom, a young actor then appearing on a prime time show about a hospital in Boston, pointed to his watch and silently counted off 11 seconds, at which point there was another "BLAAAAT!!"
"Old Faithful," the actor said off-handedly. I asked a few inane questions and Dr. P. answered them patiently, but now I was barely paying any attention to what he was saying; I was just silently counting to 11 and dismally realizing that there was just no WAY I could write about this; I mean, what would my lead be? After a few moments, one of the gofers brought in a plate of donuts and some coffee. "I really shouldn't," said Dr. P., reaching for a donut. This proved to be an understatement. The consumption of the donut disrupted the 11 second cycle and then some.
ME: "Dr. Petering, you seem remarkably limber for a man your age. Do you get much exercise?"
DR. P: "Well, I do *poot!* get some regular exercise, yes, even at *F-F-f-f-rrrrraaaaAAAAPPPPP!!!* my age; I do quite a bit of *poot! poot! poot!* walking, and there's a *fra-BLAAAAT!* pile of stones near the barn which I *poot!* move from one place to another..."
At this point the actor opened the door and hollered: "Please extinguish your cigarettes! No open flames!" Dr. P. and I both stared at him. "Do not turn any electrical fixtures on or off," he continued, "A single spark could level mid town Manhattan. Thank you for your cooperation." He sat down on the couch and pretended to read a magazine.
A production assistant informed us that the show would be starting in 3 minutes. "Just one more thing," I said.
"Yes?" said Dr. Petering. [*Fffrrrraaaaappppp!* "We have lift off," said the actor.]
"About Vitamin Z... I'm just wondering-- with all of the wonderful benefits you've described in your writing... is there any down side? Any side effects?"
"No, not really." *poot! poot! poot!* The actor dumped the remaining donuts into a wastebasket. "Of course, you should *BLAAAAT!* increase the amount you ingest gradually. If you begin taking "F-f-f-ffrrraaaAAAAPPPP!!* mega-doses before your body is ready, you may experience *poot!* loose bowel movements for a time."
"I wonder-- could mega doses of vitamin Z result in increased flatulence, by any chance?"
Dr. Petering pondered this for a moment-- not, precisely, in silence, of course--(*poot poot BLAAAAT!! f-f-f-frrrRRAAAAAAPPP!! poot!* "Go, cat go!" said the actor.) and then replied:
"That's a good question. *BLAAAAT!* I don't think so, though. *poot! poot!* At least, I've never heard of a case of it. *f-f-f-frrraaaAAAPP!!*" "Well, thank you for your time, Dr. Petering," I said. I wrote up the interview, including what I felt were all the relevant details, and my editor said, "You know, I think maybe we don't want to run with this," and I tended to agree, but now that 15 or so years have passed, I think perhaps the world is ready for the whole *F-f-f-fffrrAAAAAPPP!* story.

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