Swallow Your Pride
Oh, it turned out to be tinged all right, but with something less agreeable all together.
It started innocently enough, on the final leg of the drive home, when I innocently raised a bottle of grape juice to my face and took what should have been a long, rejuvenating swill. I knew as soon as the liquid entered my maw that something wasn't right. In fact, something was very, very wrong. The juice was thick and lumpy. Hmmm, I pondered for a nanosecond. Had the fruit-water gone bad in the half-hour since I last took a sip? Or is it one of those juices that has crud balls of nourishment at the bottom?
The strange foaminess swishing around my mouth told me it was something much more heinous than that. And then, with a small jolt of horror, I suddenly knew: As I had gotten out of my man Marty's Jeep and gathered up my stuff a few moments before, I had not seized my grape juice at all, but rather Marty's orange juice bottle. Which would be fine, except that Marty had finished the orange juice at around noon and then spent the better part of the afternoon using the bottle as a spittoon. What was currently enveloping my tongue, teeth, and gums was a mix of masticated chewing tobacco and frothy spittle.
I was driving at the time of the swig and realization, but thank the goddesses I was only in a parking lot. I hit the brakes, flung open the door, leaned out, and spit repeatedly onto the concrete, trying in vain to cast out all the syrupy fibroids and will my taste buds into denial.
I spit, but I didn't barf. After all, my more logical side quickly reasoned, it was spit from Marty. He's my boyfriend, for gosh's sake; because things are good between us, I experience his spittle regularly. So it was hot, hours-old, fermenting Marty spit mixed with the chaw he occasionally indulged in--that shouldn't send me running for the hills, arms a-flail. It could be worse--a pal of mine knew someone who once, at the movies, accidentally grabbed the wrong cup and took a huge gulp of what he thought was Pepsi but which turned out to be a long-gone stranger's sudsy tobacco spit. My friend's friend upchucked and then ran out of the place--and rightly so.
Even if that had happened to me, though, I might not have yacked. I have a long record of taking such occurrences in stride. Going around inadvertently eating and drinking dreadful stuff just seems to be my cross to bear. My digestive system is apparently cognizant of this--it doesn't wretch even when subjected to the most unspeakable of substances. It just sighs and tries to obliterate the memory.
Maybe I'm just tolerant. Perhaps my insides went numb at an early age. But I don't think so. I overact to everything else--why not accidental skank ingestion?
Take, for example, the "cheese" incident of 1989. I was staying with my friends Donna and Julie and putting off leaving New Orleans, though my reason for being there--college--no longer held. One night the three of us were sitting around being slothful and giggling and eating Domino's Pizza. I looked down and saw what appeared to be a few errant, rice-sized scraps of mozzarella on my shirt. This was no surprise, as seven times out of 12, my meals end up dotting if not blanketing my front. I plucked the little scraps of cheese off my shirt and deposited them into my mouth.
But they moved, these scraps. Curious but not freaked, I spit them onto my finger and quickly saw that what I had assumed were glistening, bone-white pieces of cheese were actually a pair of tapeworms from Donna's cat's ass.
I started to spaz out. My heart raced. I became alarmed, flushed. The cat--or rather, the cat's tapeworms--got my tongue, leaving me temporarily unable to tell Donna and Julie what had happened. I just sat there, red and sputtering.
But this condition only lasted about 15 seconds, at which point it was replaced with a weird sense of calm--as if my body knew already that it would have many, many more of these episodes to endure and was just happy to get one out of the way.
I suppose I should have known better than to frolic on the floor with the cat and her kittens before dinner. How the butt worms got on my shirt, I don't know. How I mistook them for cheese, I'm not sure either. I guess that was about the time I started to need glasses.
The next episode was undoubtedly my fault too. I was living with a couple in a ramshackle house in a crime-ridden section of New Orleans and trying to make a living as a freelance writer. All day long, I'd hole up in my room and try to concentrate on my stories, which is always challenge as I fancy myself badly stricken with ADD.
To make matters worse, when I'd emerge briefly from my room to relieve myself or get vittles, the woman of the house would trap me into long-winded conversations of no consequence. My bladder's the size of a peppercorn, so I was forever coming out of my room and getting cornered, and badly diverted from my life's work. After a few weeks of this, I was starting to miss deadlines.
To remedy the situation, I considered just hanging my butt over the balcony that was attached to my second-floor room and letting fly on the backyard. But it no longer being the Middle Ages, I figured there was some ordinance against that. So I devised a sort of home bedpan, which is to say I just started peeing in a cup. That seemed to be just what the doctor ordered--I got a hell of a lot of work done only coming out of my room maybe twice a day.
Problem was, I wasn't careful to designate a certain type of cup the Pee Cup. So, of course one morning I woke up and hazily took a big swallow out of a cup half filled with urine, thinking it was water. And of course, I sat there utterly stunned for a second. But by the time my brain had downloaded what had happened, the sharp, iron-tasting waste materials were already well on their way down my esophagus. All I could do was reflect on the event, try to extract some message from the whole thing (like maybe, "Learn to deal with your housemate in a more conventional fashion," or "Only pee in special cups"), and move on.
Soon afterward I moved out and got my own place, where I was free to use the bathroom in peace. And a few months later, I was relieved to read that some folks voluntarily consume their own urine to get at the oodles of vitamins it contains. Thank heavens my own toxins weren't going to kill me slowly, which I had assumed.
"Even as a child I responded to this kind of crap with eerie calm. Once I bit off half of a factory-fresh chocolate cookie, chewed it up, and swallowed. Then I looked down at the other half of the cake-y confection and saw two rather large dead worms imbedded in there. That is, two rather large dead half worms; the rest of their bodies were by then making their way across the threshold of my jejunum. I'd chewed them up, passed their broken bodies back, and forth across my tongue, and never even tasted it.
I was only about 8. I was delicate, and not the type to eat paste or rocks or locust shells. But did I heave when the weight of the worm situation made itself known to me? Nope. I just took a swig of milk and sighed, "Oh well."
What's next? Someday I'd like to be crime reporter, but will I accidentally take a bite out of a human arm during an autopsy? Hell, I'm surprised that during my time as a health care reporter I never consumed a petri dish of anthrax or swigged from a vat of sputum during one of many hospital tours.
And what about when I become a mom and a homeowner? Will I inadvertently gnaw on full diapers? Will I be out planting nasturtiums and mistake a pile of fertilizing manure for my sandwich? When the dog vomits, will I absentmindedly fry it up on the griddle?
I have to assume that the answers to all these questions is a resounding "yes."
They say that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I must be a team of oxen by now.
Exit Stage Fright (2/26/2003)
Editor's note: With this installment we bid adieu to Germ Bag.
Cabin Pressure (2/12/2003)
Escape -- you might think it's what you desire. Until you've actually run somewhere.
New Traditionalists (1/8/2003)
It was Christmas Eve morning on Harvard Street. Marty and I sat on the hardwood floor near our...
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201