Birds may chirp, but Nathan can burp

Sometimes there is genius among us, and we are blind. There is talent that is not merely life-affirming, it is life-changing. The other day I caught a glimpse of such awesome brilliance: I saw 5-year-old Nathan Viera of Lincoln burp the entire alphabet.
Yup, all 26 letters — or, because “W” is a three-syllable letter, 28 consecutive burps.
Moreover, he does this with burps that are deep and resonant and clear: Bullfrog burps, in which a “P” is as distinct and recognizable as an “M.” The boy is the Broadway belter of burps.
Now, I don’t know Nathan well. About all I know is that he is a terrific young person who colors very well, and happens to be much better behaved in church than I ever was at his age. He patiently colors in his pew with his brother. Me? I would scream out inappropriate things. To wit: One Sunday morning when everyone else had their heads bowed in prayer, I made my presence known by standing up in the pew and shouting, “Sugar Pops are tops!”
The irony, in hindsight, is that I never liked Sugar Pops. It would have made much more sense to have pretended I was Tony the Tiger, the advertising spokesfeline for Frosted Flakes, and blurted out, “They’re grrrreat!”
In all fairness, I also screamed out embarrassing things in other locales, too. I was 8 years old when my parents took me to the movie, “Goodbye, Columbus.” There is a lengthy and pivotal scene in the film about birth control and a diaphragm. I knew nothing about either subject at 8, and when my parents wouldn’t respond to my whispered entreaties about diaphragms, I finally yelled in the theater at the top of my lungs, “What’s a diaphragm?”
Now, why were my parents taking me to “Goodbye, Columbus” when I was in the third grade? Oh, I’m just guessing, but “A Clockwork Orange” was probably sold out.
In any case, my family and Nathan’s sit near each other in church on Sunday mornings, and I have always been mightily impressed with the lad’s understated dignity and reserve. He often wears a necktie to church, which is more than I do.
Consequently, I was completely unprepared one Sunday morning when the youth pastor, Todd Goodyear, had about a dozen kids from the congregation gathered around him at the front of the church for his weekly children’s moment, and Nathan for the first time strutted his stuff. The moment was especially powerful because Nathan is modest and unassuming. He certainly hadn’t planned on amazing an audience that day by burping the alphabet.
Goodyear, however, was asking the kids if they knew firsthand any Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” stories, when Nathan’s older sister, Kyla — a charismatic 10-year-old with an impeccable sense of fashion and a dress for any occasion — raised her hand and told Goodyear that (Believe it or not!) Nathan could burp the alphabet. Whole thing, all 26 letters. Goodyear calmly unpinned the small microphone from his shirt and turned it over to Nathan. And, Nathan, without a trace of nervousness, burped his ABCs with the panache of a pop star. Simon Cowell would have applauded. Paula Abdul would have tried to adopt him.
Now, this isn’t the first time I have been dazzled by a vocal performance by one of my neighbors. It wasn’t all that long ago that Griff the Wonder Dog howled the theme song to NPR’s “Morning Edition” in a local variety show and left my wife and me hyperventilating we were laughing so hard.
But it’s rare that I have seen a talent come out of nowhere like this and electrify an audience. The church burst into applause. Consequently, you heard it here first: It’s only a matter of time before burping really catches fire, and “American Idol” replaces Country Night with Burping Night, and — one always can dream — we hear Beyonce and Justin and Fergie burping, too.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on April 22, 2007.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.