This article originally appeared on Outside
It was around 3 a.m., and you could’ve heard a pin drop–or, more to the point, a stalactite drip. We had been floating in the cave on a wooden raft for six or seven hours when I solemnly chose to accept the challenge: $50 if I could fart on pitch, specifically the G above middle C. This jocund wager was put forth by one of my fellow actors, Cristin Milioti (star of stage and screen, particularly known for her killer pipes as a singer), who clearly was more than ready for this tedious working “day” to end. Initially, she’d offered me $500, but quickly retreated to one-tenth of that amount when she registered the lack of hesitation and the stone-cold elan with which I’d agreed.
When I first learned that The Resort, the Peacock series I was working on, would be filming scenes in a cenote in the Dominican Republic, I said, “Hell yes!”–and then immediately cracked the ol’ dictionary app to look up what a cenote was. “Cenote (suh-noh-tee): A deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed by the collapse of surface limestone that exposes groundwater underneath.” Like I said, hell to the yes. After consuming many titillating photos online, I flew to the Caribbean robustly juiced with anticipation to experience this magical geological anomaly.
As we all know, the promised good times ahead often don’t turn out to be all that good. Or, more accurately, the highlights are rarely what we expect they’ll be. Before I knew it, I was schlepping down hundreds of dangerously slick, uneven stone steps into a cave system that was for sure spectacular. It had an otherworldly quality, kind of like we were spelunking into the digestive tract of an enormous rock giant. But I didn’t have much opportunity to enjoy the scenery, because I was focused on performing my role. Also, I was wearing extremely heavy makeup so that I appeared old, plus a wig. By the time I’d completed my descent and was “on set,” I was sopped with sweat. And I had an easy job compared with the crew, who had carried down the equipment and supplies.
The work was grueling for all of us, and came with a certain amount of forced tedium that can inspire horseplay. When we find ourselves stuck in such circumstances, left literally to our own devices, that’s precisely what happens. Tucked beneath a sheltering pine in a downpour? Sequestered in a lodge without a deck of cards? If you don’t count a skilled beatboxer among your number, then you, too, might turn to the original streaming service of making fart noises with your mouth, hands, armpits, elbows, or–if you have the talent–your actual flatulator.
It’s funny how an adventurous life teaches us this lesson time and again. We travel thousands of miles to experience the glory of nature, only for our dreams to be dashed by random factors: the weather, our fellow tourists, our upset stomachs, an insect. Whatever the thing we’re excited about–the summit, the powder run, the cenote–there’s a strong chance it will be a tad underwhelming, if not a complete bomb. Usually it doesn’t matter. If you’re lucky enough to have quality companions, you often find that the best moments arrive when you least expect them.
Something majestic about human nature allows us to delight in the stupid diversions we come up with when we get saddled with a bout of waiting.
When I was a kid in Illinois, our family had a ramshackle fishing cabin known simply as “the cabin.” My favorite memories have nothing to do with fish or bears or the woods. Instead, I remember staying up for hours with my siblings and cousins doing funny voices, paralyzed with laughter at the stupidest bits. Lying awake in the dark when you’re supposed to be asleep, especially if other humorless people (parents) are trying to sleep nearby, can be an intoxicating circumstance for foolish humor. It’s like trying not to laugh at a fart in church, when the atmosphere of reverence and the fear of mortal punishment makes the temptation that much more urgent. Suddenly, church is no longer a bore.
The same rules apply on an overnight film shoot at a subterranean lake in the Dominican Republic. Something majestic about human nature allows us not only to survive tedium and stave off boredom, but to delight in the stupid diversions we come up with when we get saddled with a bout of waiting.
In our raft, there was just one problem: Cristin might have a golden ear, but how were the rest of us to judge whether the pitch I’d attempt to produce was the right one? This was easy, as it turned out: GuitarToolkit, a tuning app on my phone. One of its functions is to play out a selected tone as if you’d just plucked a string on your guitar. I tapped the G, and–tingggg … tingggg … tingggg–a high clarion sound rang out in the cave. This was quickly followed by exhausted giggles and titters from Cristin and the two other actors on our raft, William Jackson Harper and Luis Gerardo Mendez. I tapped it again–tingggg–and as the tone hung in the air, they waited for me to match it with a tunesome whine from my nether-trumpet.
And so I did, though not until my third try. It was unmistakably on pitch, with a slight tremolo.
“Holy shit, that was it!” exclaimed Will, and we all agreed, laughing and shaking our heads in disbelief, relieved that the contest had drawn to a triumphant close. I had some inexplicable need to legitimize this feat, and I rather hounded Cristin to Venmo me the $50. She did, and I felt darkly victorious, proud, and filthy at the same time, as though, like Cool Hand Luke, I had eaten 50 eggs in an hour.
PS: The next day, I awoke with a tinge of that benign shame that can follow a night of revelry in which you know you took things too far. You removed one garment too many, perhaps, or were a little too demonstrative with the pelvis on the dance floor. My light chagrin was assuaged when I opted to donate my winnings to the GI Research Foundation, and to this day my pride at my feat remains. It’s evident in my answer every time someone hears of my victorious, late-night, subterranean flourish and asks, “How did you do that?”
“I’m classically trained.”
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