Mack Williams: What’s that ratcheting noise?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 5, 2022

My old pants belt (even older since I got it “new” at Goodwill) had been looking even “worser” for wear lately; as I had found it necessary to patch some of its splitting creases with black tape (black belt).

A church friend evidently noticed my belt’s waning condition; and being a church-goer, he offered kindly advice to set me on a belt’s straight and narrow (by chance, the physical dimensions of a belt).

I then heard a metallic, sort of “ratchety” noise; and wondered if there were something amiss with the workings of my friend’s spine, or if he had been fitted with a particularly “noisy” artificial arm like the police Inspector in “Young Frankenstein”(1974).

He proudly announced that what I had heard was the sound of his “ratchet belt” at work! He said his grown children had given it to him as a joke; but that he loved it, and had purchased several more of different colors from Amazon.

The word “ratchet” first made me think of my brother, Joe and son, Jeremy being life-long percussionists, and that they, no doubt had experienced playing a ratchet at one time or another.

My next thought was the “scene changing” in the “play-within-a-play” that occurs in the film, “The King and I”(1956). During those scene changes, Siamese ladies in traditional dress cross from opposite sides of the stage, playing ratchets while the scenery is being changed.

My third “ratchet” association was a very unpleasant one involving Jack Nicholson.

A friend of this church-going “ratchet man”(not “rocket man”) told me that when they were recently shopping together at Target, the gentleman immediately behind them in the cashier’s line had only a regular, “holed” pants belt in his shopping basket. Upon seeing this, my fellow parishioner gave the man a demonstration of his belt, “r-r-a-a-t-t-c-c-h-h-e-t”(the sound) and all! The other man immediately returned his old-fashioned belt to the shelf, saying he would emulate him, and order a ratchet belt from Amazon.

I told my friend later that if that his Target encounter had been filmed and used for advertisement purposes, he would be receiving royalties to this very day from the ratchet belt’s maker (and maybe Amazon, too!).

So, I placed (clicked) my ratchet belt order with Amazon; and it arrived in only a few days! I put it on. Out with the holes! In with the “ratchet!”

When I saw my friend just outside church the next Sunday, he said: “Let’s hear your “ratchet!” Following his, I did my best “ratchet;” and a nearby lady’s surprised look seemed to say she was thinking she might have unwittingly walked into an exhibition of “sidewalk flatulence!”

That instigation from my friend to “ratchet,” followed by his answering “ratchet” made me remember the famous “D-day Clickers” of the Normandy Invasion in World war II. If it were nighttime, and a dropped American paratrooper wasn’t sure who was behind that French hedgerow ahead, his single “click” was to be answered by “click” “click”(that is, if the soldier hearing his click on the other side of the hedgerow wasn’t wearing hob-nailed boots). If the two ‘clicks” were not heard, he was to “Hit the dirt!”

The “ratcheting joy” of my church friend and me also made me think of when Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) formed four men into a barbershop quartet. He said words to the effect: “From now on, you will never see any of these men singularly. They will always be a group!”

The ratchet belt’s “niftiness” even made me think back to my “Nifty Notebook” in 1962 at Granite Quarry School! The ratcheting noise, to me, seems as “cool” and as functionary as the magnets which held the lid on my Nifty notebook’s pencil box (but I never really got used to the dimensions of its non-standard paper, though).

When I took my seat at choir practice the other day, and gravity made my ratchet belt press against my stomach (or vice versa), all it took to relieve the pressure was the slightest nudge of my pinkie finger against the buckle to make it release (no ratcheting sound is made then). Prior to this recent Amazon purchase, similar discomfiture while sitting at choir might have led to my undoing my belt from one of its holes, possibly causing one of the lady choristers to think, or even say: “What’s he doing with his pants?”

Thinking about the sound my belt makes, I’ve hit upon a practical joke to perform in the grocery store check-out line. Unnoticed, I’ll loosen my belt a bit, then pull it tight, producing a loud “R-r-a-a-t-t-c-c-h-h-e-t!” I’ll then say to the staring bystanders that when I had my hips replaced several years ago, my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. John Mahoney, being of Irish extraction and excellent Irish wit, implanted a device by which, if my replaced hip bones ever loosened a bit, I, myself could tighten them with a firm tug, resulting in the “ratcheting” noise they just heard!

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