Recently I received a letter from a justice of the United States Supreme Court concerning a product called "Beano."
I absolutely swear I am not making this up. The letter, written on official U.S. Supreme Court stationery, comes from Justice John Paul Stevens, who states:
"Having long been concerned about the problem of exploding cows, it seemed imperative to pass on to you the enclosed advertisement, the importance of which I am sure will be immediately apparent to you."
Justice Stevens enclosed an advertisement from Cooking Light magazine for Beano, which, according to the manufacturer, "prevents the gas from beans." The advertisement includes pro-Beano quotations from various recognized intestinal-gas authorities, including (I am still not making this up) the New York Times, the Idaho Statesman and Regis Philbin. The advertisement calls Beano "a scientific and social breakthrough," and states: "It's time to spill the Beano."
I was already aware of this product. I don't wish to toot my own horn, so to speak, but thanks to the efforts of hundreds of alert readers, my office happens to be the World Clearing House for information relating to gas buildups that cause explosions in animals, plants, plumbing, humans, etc. In recent months I've received newspaper reports of explosions involving a flounder, a marshmallow, a mattress, two wine bottles, several pacemakers (during cremation), countless toilets, a flaming cocktail called a "harbor light," chicken livers, snail eggs, a turkey, a tube of Poppin' Fresh Biscuits, a raccoon and a set of breast implants.
So needless to say, many readers had already alerted me about Beano. Several of them had sent me actual samples of Beano, which comes in a small plastic bottle, from which you squirt drops onto your food. But until I got Justice Stevens' letter, I had not realized that this was a matter of concern in the highest levels of government. When you see the Supreme Court justices, they always appear to be extremely solemn, if not actually deceased. It never occurs to you that, under those robes, they have digestive systems, too.
Anyway, I decided, as a tax-deductible public service, to do a Beano Field Test. To make sure the test was legally valid, I asked a friend of mine, Paul Levine, who's a trained attorney as well as an author, if he'd participate. Paul is a selfless, concerned citizen, so I was not surprised at his answer.
"Only if you mention that my critically acclaimed novel 'To Speak for the Dead' is now available in paperback," he said.
"I'm afraid I can't do that," I said. But Paul agreed to participate in the Field Test anyway, because that is the kind of American he is. My wife, Beth, also agreed to participate, although I want to stress that, being a woman, she has never, ever, in her entire life, not once, produced any kind of gaseous digestive byproduct, and when she does she blames it on the dogs.
To make this the most demanding field test possible, we went to a Mexican restaurant. Mexican restaurants slip high-octane beans into virtually everything they serve, including breath mints. It is not by mere chance that most of Mexico is located outdoors.
Paul, Beth and I applied the Beano to our food as directed -- three to eight drops per serving -- and we ate it. For the rest of the evening we wandered around to various night spots, awaiting developments. Other people at these night spots were probably having exciting, romantic conversations, but ours went like this:
Me: So! How's everyone doing?
Beth: All quiet!
Paul: Not a snap, crackle or pop!
Anyway, the bottom (Har!) line is that Beano seems to work pretty well. Paul reported the next day that all had been fairly calm, although at 3:30 a.m. he was awakened by an outburst. "You're familiar with the Uzi?" was how he put it. I myself was far safer than usual to light a match around, and Beth reported that the dogs had been unusually quiet.
So this could be an important product. Maybe, when you go to a restaurant, if you order certain foods, the waiter should bring Beano to your table, instead of those stupid utility-pole-sized pepper grinders. "Care for some Beano?" the waiter could say. "Trust me, you'll need it."
And getting back to Justice Stevens' original concern, I think federal helicopters should spray massive quantities of Beano on the nation's dairy farms, to reduce the cow methane output. And of course it should be mandatory in the dining rooms of the U.S. Congress. I'm sure the Supreme Court will back me up on this.