I try not to clear my throat in public, but accidents happen. It was winter. I had a cold. I stifled the bodily noise with my palm, but a guy a table away still heard. His head spun around like the kid’s from The Exorcist. He pointed, and I drew frantic checkmarks in the air.
“I know that sound,” the man said, hovering above me. “Forty-three seconds into Pink Floyd’s song ‘Wish You Were Here’ there’s a throat clear. It wasn’t guitarist David Gilmour. It was you. Wasn’t it?”
“You have the wrong person.”
I’m not a big prog-rock fan.
It was a gig.
“No, it’s you. I have an ear for these things. They told us it was Gilmour, but it was you.”
I glanced around for my absent waiter before tossing all the money inside my wallet onto the table and leaving. The man followed me out the door and onto the street, waving a napkin he’d dug out of his pocket. He wanted me to clear my throat into it then sign my name.
“I promise, you have the wrong guy.”
I looked over my shoulder and saw an army of throat-clearing groupies, so I booked it toward safety, toward my apartment a few blocks away.
“Okay, you don’t have to sign anything, but can we talk about how your throat clear in the song represents the meaninglessness of life, of existence.”
“What are you even talking about?” I said, power walking. “It was just some gunk in my throat.”
A man next to the first man scrunched his face and said: “You’re wrong. The throat clear represents the opposite. It gives life meaning, gives life hope.”
A voice from inside the throng screamed: “You’re both wrong. It’s about loneliness and how we can never truly be connected to anyone.”
A war broke out. Factions were formed based on what my throat clear meant. From my eleventh-floor apartment, I watched battles rage. Flipped cars. Fires. Broken glass and megaphones. Long, extensive solos blasted. The governor called in the National Guard. A peace treaty was signed with beanbag pellets and zip ties. The crowd dispersed, was hauled away. People were willing to go to jail for my throat clear, for their meanings.
That night, I put Wish You Were Here on the record player. I hadn’t heard it in years. Maybe my throat clear did mean something. I moved the needle to the titular song and listened. I heard my throat clear. Nothing. I moved the needle back. I heard my throat clear again. Still nothing. I paced around my apartment clearing my throat and cocking my head, listening.
Nothing, nothing, nothing.
That was when I realized: People were willing to suffer for what they believed my throat clear meant, but I was doomed to only hear the dislodging of phlegm.