Out There

Out There


The last category of "Funniest Person on the Internet" contenders that I considered were people who are fans or curators. Indeed, if the Internet is a place where anyone can pass himself off as a celebrity, it is also a place where fans can define themselves solely by their enthusiasms and fixations.

Many of these enthusiasms and fixations are unsavory.

One involves nostrils.

Before I started spending a lot of time surfing the Internet, the act of sneezing was not particularly evocative for me. I sneezed occasionally, others sneezed occasionally--the rapid expulsion of air through mouth and nostrils as a result of the irritation of the nasal mucous membrane had for me an import and significance roughly equal to those of other bodily tics, like blinking or shivering.

But the Internet can change you. The Internet opens up a window and lets a blast of new and unfamiliar air in. Sometimes this air is sweet; sometimes it is mustard-tinged and sulphurous.

And sometimes this air is without aroma altogether, but nevertheless proceeds to linger in your home like a strange smell.

I'd heard about the site Kushami Room from the blog Mister Pants, which referred to it as a locus of "sneeze fetishism." Although nothing on the site tells us who the site's creator is, two items on the first page--the information that "Kushami" means "sneeze" in Japanese, and the exhortation that if you, too, "enjoy sneezzing," then you and he should be enjoying it together--lead me to suspect that this creator is a Japanese male.

There are two parts to the site--the first consists of clips from a TV program on which

many womens are tickled them nose by Kleenex, and sneeze. Please enjoy!

The second part features ten clips from a cold-medicine commercial; in each clip, an attractive young Asian woman sneezes

My most favorite sneeze is the 3rd girl. Her pre-sneeze face, sneezing face is very liked.

The creator of the site doesn't explain what he likes about sneezing, because he doesn't have to. Even the most cursory look at the clips of these women sneezing says it all: vulnerability. There's something powerfully sensuous about seeing a sneeze creep up on, and then topple, a person's face. His face is momentarily unmoored. Add to this unmooring a suspense-laden period of tremulous expectation (before the sneeze) and a slightly wobbly righting of the craft (after the sneeze), and, voilà, you have yourself a small pageant of affect, the sexual cycle in miniature. It's a diorama of orgasm--a diorgasma. Upon enlisting a few search engines, I discovered that Kushami Room is merely the tip of the sneeze-fetishism iceberg. I encountered a site for Milwaukeean sneeze fetishists; I encountered a site for gay sneeze fetishists. There are essentially four distinct activities happening on sneeze sites: celebrity fantasizing, information swapping, fiction writing, and counseling/supporting.

As for the first of these activities, one notes with interest that the celebrity whom sneeze fetishists would most like to observe sneezing is not some strapping he-man who would be rendered instantly vulnerable by a sudden achoo! but, rather, a certain horse-faced Canadian songbird. Yes, Celine Dion is mentioned repeatedly as a desirable sneeze sighting; I imagine that this has something to do with the fact that, while sneezing, it is impossible to continue singing.

Over on the gay site, Sneezing Men4Men, one of my favorite sneezers--a fellow who goes by the handle sneezecat--posted an urgent memo on the site's message board one night, a notice to all that

They are re-running the episode of NASH BRIDGES tonight where Don Johnson is allergic to a chimp.

But the celebrity sightings on Men 4 Men that seem to elicit the greatest amount of enthusiasm are those of sports figures. One site member shares his impression of which three tennis players seemed to be suffering at the last Wimbledon (Tommy Haas, Cedric Pioline, and Marc Rosset); and much is made of soccer star David Beckham's comments to the press about the multiple sneezing of his wife, Spice Girl member Posh. (The author of the latter bulletin negligently overlooks the rich potential for a spice/sneeze joke, thus instantly costing himself the "Funniest Person on the Internet" crown.)

One Men4Men member was entranced by a TV profile of Italian skier Alberto Tomba at the Sydney Olympics. In one scene of the profile, Tomba is on the floor while his trainer helps to limber his legs by moving them around. All of a sudden, Tomba lets loose with a big wet one, right in the trainer's face. The trainer responds by wiping his own "face with his arm while continuing to exercise Alberto." The Men4Men writer concludes, "I have it all on tape as it was definitely a keeper."

Why would sneezing in someone's face--nay, your employee's face--be a turn-on? Perhaps the act derives its strength from its essential insolence; it is possible to view the act as the ultimate in bad-boy impudence. After all, sneezing in someone's face is not much different from spitting in someone's face; you've simply turned your proverbial nozzle to "Mist."

As for sneeze sites' second function--information swapping--two items drew my interest. Here again, sneezecat leads the way, with his July 24, 2000, Men 4 Men message board entry, titled "I've always wondered... ," in which he poses the question that has been plaguing us all for years:

If you were in bed with your lover, which part of you would you want him to sneeze on?

He receives two responses. Sirsneezealot writes that his ideal bodily targets are his face or ears; zenees responds that it would be his eyes or ears, but definitely not his genitals. Thus we can conclude that sneeze fetishists don't want to be near the object of their affection's sneeze, they want to be in it, they want to be Alberto Tomba's trainer.

This theme of total immersion is similarly borne out in the short stories the members of this subculture write up and swap. The setup of the story is usually very simple: two people meet on a park bench, or a couple is hanging heavy, dusty drapes. The engine of such narratives, invariably, is one member of the party's sudden sneezing, which sometimes crescendoes with a full-on sneeze on the other person. ("He slipped himself into her, still sneezing," one story runs. "Every time that he sneezed, he would thrust harder, almost uncontrollably." The dusty-drapes story takes it one step further: "He sneezed right into my mouth. It made my ears pop.")

In sneezecat's "Romeo and Junius," the sneeze is the transgressive act that threatens to "out" two men. Romeo and Junius, lovers, are hiding in Romeo's closet (literally) while Romeo's mother cleans his room; suddenly Romeo's allergies start acting up. "Romeo panted and struggled with the fire in his nose that threatened to erupt and expose them both," the story runs. "Junius, thinking quickly, placed his slim dark finger under Romeo's quivering pink nose and pressed hard." The mother leaves the room; "It was at this moment that Romeo lost the battle with his nose. Ki-chunn!... The resounding explosion reverberated through the empty house to his mother's ears."

If you think that sneeze fetishists divorce the less attractive elements of sneezing (contagion, rheuminess, snot management) from the more sensual elements (the presneeze tension, the look of vulnerability, the atomized spit), you are wrong; here are narratives liberally sprinkled with the fascinating details of mucosal discharge and Kleenex disintegration. Moreover, the characters in these stories do not sneeze just once or twice during a story; these are champion performers, able to bang out twenty or thirty achoos! in one session, be those achoos! a series of discrete "singles," or be they that form of oral-nasal air expulsion so sought after by true aficionados: long, drawn-out "multiples."

Ever the iconoclast, sneezecat pushes the sneeze-fiction envelope with his variations on the form; viz. his seminal November 4, 2000, bulletin

I've written a story called 'IN DISGUISE' in which a man sneezes his disguise off! Enjoy

Sneezecat, too, is one of the prime practitioners of these sneeze sites' fourth function, counseling/support. When not supplying Men 4 Men members with bulletins that betray the source of his fiction ("The winds have been blowing here in Northern California at 60 MPH. Man-sneezes galore! I myself woke up stuffed to the rafters and proceeded to sneeze my glasses off twice..."), he is buoying the spirits of the lovelorn. "It's a very bad place to be in" he consoles one Man.

I can count the number of times I have been near a man and he has let one really rip and I've felt myself swoon. He would ask about the smile on my face and I'd have to make up some lame lie, while dreaming of the two of us together in my head. If your concerned about your sexual orientation... don't be. It is possible to be attracted to certain facets of the same sex, but not all. It's also possible that this man's sneeze awakened feelings in you you've always had for him...

I am hard-pressed to sum up this particular section of our quest. I am reminded of the academic critic who, reviewing one of the more jingoistic Sylvester Stallone vehicles, penned, "The film requires no analysis; it is sufficient to note that it exists." Indeed. God bless.

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Excerpted from Out There by Henry Alford. Copyright © 2001 by Henry Alford. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.