Friday, April 22, 2005

Vomit Phobia

(Most humble apologies to all and especially Sharon for inserting this between her superb guest postings on the new Pope, but she needed some time to polish part II, and the muse just struck baby!)


I have a major puke phobia, and I don't really think it's my fault.

When I was a kid, my brother and I contracted this projectile vomit stomach flu. It was so bad that my mom eventually passed us off to the grandparents in order to clean up the house and just sit and vibrate for a while. I think we ralphed every 30 minutes or so. And not just little urps, either. No, we're talking Monty Python scale, as bad as it gets stuff. I still have a vivid memory of yarking so hard it shot in solid streams from both of my nostrils.

TLD: Ever noticed how many terms there are for the big Technicolor yawn? I imagine you've heard the urban myth that you can tell what a society deems important by how many words they invent to describe something, and the example trotted out is that Eskimos have twenty seven and half words for "snow." Well, I think the plethora of terms for talking to God on the big white telephone sorta puts that theory in the commode, if you will. Long ago, back at the dawn of the public internet when vanity web sites were all the rage, this fact amused me enough that I compiled a list of all the terms I could come across for the ole heave-ho. Warning: Don't go there while eating or if you feel on the edge of an impending hurl.

Every year in school, I was in direct proximity of the kid(s) who hauled off and puked in class. The more dramatic the event, the better view I had of it.

The first monumental spray was in kindergarten during the pledge of allegiance. This little stick of a girl in front of me punctuated "and justice for alllllllllll" by projecting a column of translucent orange hurl into the back legs of the victim in from of her. The teacher (named Mrs. Rehorse which set me up for truly appreciating the Cheech and Chong skit "Sister Mary Elephant") grabbed the girl and drug her to the classroom's bathroom (most kindergarten classrooms have a bathroom directly attached for the many obvious reasons). She emerged shaking, explaining that we should sit and color until she'd taken care of the girl. She went back into the bathroom for a long time, and then reemerged with the girl in tow, a stack of those ubiquitous brown paper towels in one hand, which proved to almost be a good thing. The girl retched and Mrs. Rehorse - I'll never forget this sight - slapped the stack of towels against the girl's mouth, which made her vomit spray in a dazzling circular pattern around it, resembling a liquid orange daisy blossom at the height of its trajectory. Of course, that covered the girl, Mrs. Rehorse, her desk, and about 7 square feet in every direction. Mrs. Rehorse, who was one of the calmer teachers I ever had, just freaked. "Oh my God!" she screamed while pulling the poor retching thing out of the room, abandoning the class. About five minute later the very pale principle of the school came and ushered us to another classroom so they could begin the cleanup. I swear that girl gushed more than half her body weight during that episode.

The next gloppy memory is actually a serial memory, because this one kept reoccurring like some sort of Groundhog's Day nightmare that revolved around spewage rather than constantly waking to Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe." At the end of every school year we marched in single file down to the park (yes, my hometown was so small that at that time, we had only one) to have a picnic. For some reason, this was the height of nerve-wracking torture to the boy who had to sit next to me due to the unforgiving rigors of name alphabetization. Every. Single. Freakin'. Year we would be halfway through our peanut butter sandwiches, and he would barf from nerves. To boot (har har - that's another puke term), he had this technique where he would hold his hands palms up, fingers splayed as though he were going to catch a football or a baby that Michael Jackson had dropped from a window, and yarf directly into them, creating sort of a sprinkler effect, maximizing coverage of the local area and definitely kicking the visual up a notch. For the cherry on top, he also made an extravagant vocalization each time, something like "huuuuurghwaaaahkkkalk!" When, a couple seasons later, it became clear to me this would be an annual event, I begged the teachers to let me sit elsewhere, but was told, no, there were too many kids to keep track of and if we weren't in order, chaos would surely ensue. I began questioning the guy himself if he felt OK this year during our march to the park, and he always said he did, but there we'd be, him with his eyes bulging in the act of the personal protein spill, me shuddering, lip acurl, trying to avoid the chunks from the sprinkler effect. I got to the point where I didn't even take my lunch out, I just waited for the human upchuck fountain to do his thang. Then I'd use that opportunity to get up, get away, and go tell the teach that ______ was doing it again. Oh such wonderful memories.

In sixth grade, we had a guy who just puked randomly all the time. He wasn't nervous, he was a pretty mellow guy, and claimed it was a mystery to him as well. But about every week or so, he'd go up to the teacher's desk and say he'd "done a woops" (used that phrase every time) on his homework. That was the other odd thing, he consistently laid down a neat little puddle in the middle of whatever we were working on. The teacher eventually compensated by always making an extra mimeograph or photocopy so when he'd "woops" she could immediately supply another one. I remember taking particular offense one time when we were coloring ducks for a spring class decoration theme and he "woopsed" on them - sugar corn pops I think it was - so he got to color a second sheet of ducks. Outside of movies and filmstrips, coloring/art projects were my favorite school activity, so I was incensed that he got to color more only because he puked all the time. Life can be so unfair.

The best one happened in Jr. High (what we called "middle school" back then). We had this math teacher who was universally loathed because he was very strict and kind of a stick in the mud. He also had a nasty habit of picking his nose and flicking the boogers towards the unsuspecting students when we were heads down doing equations. You learned to cock an eye for any incoming crust missiles. One morning, whilst we were scribbling away, the only sound being someone dodging a looger on occasion (you think I exaggerate, but no, dear friends, I do not), a kid in the back knocked over his desk in his effort to bolt out the door. The sound of his struggle covered the sound of the reason for his speedy egress, but the unbroken trail of barf from his overturned desk all the way past the sight line of the door cleared up the mystery. As if the river of ralph wasn't impressive enough, it was dotted with brightly colored chunks representing all the colors of the rainbow. To borrow Burt Reynold's description from The End, it looked like Walt Disney had puked.

We swiveled as one back to the teacher, who was standing, mouth agape. He had a comically long face anyway, and with his jaw on the floor, it was even funnier. Well, he composed himself, straitened his jacket, smoothed his hair, cleared his throat, and said, "Um. Well. I just want to commend that young man for his forgoing the expectation that one needs to ask permission before leaving the classroom. I once had a student who experienced the same circumstance who came up to my desk to request permission to leave when it would have been best just to apologize later. Ruined a week's worth of assignments, which, of course, made both the class and myself quite unhappy. So, let me assure you that if you feel the need to ... uh ... well ... you may leave without asking first." And he sat down. The thing is, I still don't know if he was trying to be funny or not.

If it didn't happen in school, it certainly occurred at our parties. One late night, one of the guys who had a rep for having a glass leg, after lying back on the couch for a while, eyes close, suddenly jolted up, pivoted around the end of the couch towards the bathroom down the hall, and shot a stream of yack the entire length of the couch. It was big couch, too. Had I not seen it myself, I wouldn't have believed it could shoot that far. I mean, the force of velocity required would seem to be beyond the abilities of our gastric systems, but the cohesion of the substance itself so that it does stay rather nicely columnar is impressive, and I'm wouldn't be surprised if it ended up being the topic of a doctoral thesis someday. (The research would be icky, though.)

Sadly, the most comical event I witnessed was really an audio event, and can't really be recreated in prose. Out in the darkness surrounding one of our outdoor parties, one of the guys finally succumbed to overindulgence, and the sound - oh my. Imagine the loudest, deepest, most ragged belch you can imagine, followed by someone dumping an entire bucket of minnows on a rock. If only iPods had existed back then. Movie sound guys would still be paying me for that one. I could've retired before college. Alas.

The last story I relate only because I got such chuckle from the punch line. For some reason, the fad of beer bongs swept our little group one auspicious summer. A beer bong is a funnel with a large plastic tube attached to the spout that will hold one entire beer. After the beer is poured in and the foam has settled, one puts the tube into one's mouth, and a combination of gravity and stupidity cause the whole beer to shoot down one's throat in approximately 3 to 5 seconds. Yes, the point is to get very drunk. One of our crew just loved beer bongs, but apparently he just wasn't built to be able to take that much liquid that quickly at once. 3 times out of 4 it would come back up as fast as it had gone down. We eventually bought the cheapest swill for his beer bongs just to cut back on the expense (either generic "beer" or "Billy's Beer" usually). Well, one time he'd barely gotten the tube away from his mouth when it predictably gushed back out. One of the comedians of the group walked over to the puddle, bent over, examined it, then announced, "Eeewww! It's still cold and foamy!" And it was, by all appearances.

So now, unless it's my kids (somehow my concern for them overwhelms my phobia), if anyone acts like they're gonna call for dinosaurs, I instinctively go into "flee" mode. For instance, one of my peers at work had a bad reaction to some vitamins during a morning meeting, and she, out of the blue, gagged, slapped her had over her mouth, pushed back from the table, turned towards me(!), and retched a couple more times. By the time her hand began the trip to her mouth, I transitioned into "bullet time" from the "Matrix" movies and in one smooth, speed-blurred motion I leapt from my chair, opened the door behind me and was out into the hall before I called back, with all of the bravado of Deputy Barney Fife digging his bullet out of his shirt pocket during a crisis, "Are you gonna be sick?!?!?" My one-and-a-half-backwards salto mortale without a spotter so distracted and impressed everyone that we almost forgot about our poor hurl bunny, who had recovered and managed not to deface the carpet. They're mostly letting me live it down.

Yes, I have the most well developed, hair triggered flight response of anyone I know, and sometimes I choose to be proud of it.

8 comments:

sharon said...

Oh good. I just directed members of my
Catholic homeschooling support group over this direction. Of course we're all moms, so vomit is a topic we're intimately familiar with.

Deb said...

You really need to post warnings, guy, for all us older women who thought Kegels were just something the doctor "suggested" during pregnancy. Off to change the granny panties and wipe the tears out of my eyes.

Anonymous said...

In fifth grade Mr. DeGeer allowed us a sort of class fair/show-and-tell. Arlene Urizar brought her new puppy. It was not long before it did what puppies do, and Arlene was set to cleaning it up. This was very unwise of Mr. DeGeer, but it was the sort of unwisdom he didn't need to worry and speculate about, anticipating appalling consequences sluggishly looping through the universe and settling batlike on his thinning pompadour, decades hence. The consequences were immediate. Led by Arlene herself, joined instantly in a higher register by Susie Carter and in a lower by Ronnie Keil, a chorus of 10-year-olds began to barf. It was a bit like neutron emission in nuclear fission reactions; each barf released a cascade of other barfs as the pool of dogshit smell and gagging spread; the mass went critical. Mr. DeGeer, an experienced teacher, began with frantic efficiency to hustle the not-yet-barfers out; those who had already made their deposits were allowed to stay and look down at their barf shell spots around the puppy-shit nucleus. And that's what happened at school.

Bulemia is still near-incomprehensible to me; that you'd voluntarily do THAT is something I understand is true of some people, but I don't Get it.

Kevin Jones said...

I've been chronically vomiting for the past 16 months, and I don't have any good stories from my experiences. I'm so deprived.

Here's a tip: Don't go to ratemyvomit.com

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