Readership Warning: the contents of this post are somewhat disturbing and GROSS. No bloggers were permanently harmed during the making of the material for this installment, but you may want to skip this one, Mom.
It’s been 3 days now since the “accidental” ingestion and still the terrible taste is thick in my mouth like a stain. It feels a spoonful of evil soil’s on my tongue and no amount of scraping or spitting or icy flavor crystals will flush it. I’m beginning to worry the taste is permanent, that this is the consequence of casual backyard nibbling without protection. Could have been worse. Look at Yushchenko. What’s a little permanent potty mouth compared to being ogre-fied by dioxin?
It all started, inconceivably enough, with our sweet potato picking outing to Redwing Farm a few weeks back. We’d borrowed a small child for the day and while she slept in the car I put my recovering back to use forking sweet heirloom root vegetables from the earth. It was a vegetable treasure hunt. When else is shoveling dirt in tandem with instant gratification? Good times.
Somehow my brain misapplied the lessons of that good time to create a really, really bad time. This monday I invested my time in backfilling dirt into the backyard workshop that has become my own private Greek Hell for carpenters and builders. Greek Hells are all about the repetitive Charlie Brown-kicks-the-football cycle of hopes built up and then dashed, again and again, etc. Mine’s a very minor hell in which instead of moving on to the next phase of construction I tear up the blueprint and re-design the structure. Only instead of a blueprint it’s a portion of the structure I’ve already spent time and money to actually complete, and instead of balling up paper I’m tearing out framing and making piles of bent nails pulled from the work in progress. Lots of improvement. No actual progress.
The latest “improvement” involves moving all the dirt I’d excavated with a rented Bobcat the summer before last back into the formerly wood framed floor system so that I can pour a concrete slab. The shed is surrounded by earthen ramparts I’d piled up in half a days work with the Cat. After months of weekends spend reversing this process as I tear out the floor joists, I’m almost ready to call in the cement trucks and pump team.
The schedule experienced a significant setback when the designer/shoveler-in-chief unearthed a strangely familiar root and was apparently too stupefied by the transfer of dirt to resist the temptation to take just the tiniest of nibbles. Or two. Really, the long chunky root looked very similar in shape and color to those Redwing sweet potatoes. Of course, this root had a suspicious and very un-potato-like stalk attached to it, but that detail seemed far less nefarious at the time. After 2 tiny, dirty, rat nibbles that were far from unpleasant, I cast the root aside and resumed the filling and emptying of wheelbarrows with dirt.
Then I went for a swim at the Y, after swinging by and picking up a roadside toilet I’d had my eye on for weeks. Many of you know from experience that my downstairs toilet is highly dysfunctional and I’m thinking of swapping it out. Anyway, I usually swim the lanes for a minimum of 26 minutes, but after 15 minutes I was tapped. After a few minutes in the sauna surrounded by naked chit-chatting men I began to feel even odder than usual. As I left the Y parking lot my mouth began to fill with that telltale pre sick session saliva and my mind began to fill with doubt. I’d long forgotten about the forbidden root. The only suspects I could isolate were the newly purchased rotissary chicken and that second helping of coffee. And that toilet. Already there was something funny about my tongue. It was all dried out and tasted of burt coffee. During the swim I had to get out of the water twice to drink from the poolside fountain- to no avail. Again with the greek hells!
I’d dropped Ada off at the airport that morning and had already stocked up for a week of unsupervised self-poisoning with cans of mexican beer, fish sticks, and corn dogs. I was stocked with all the necessary supplies to live for days off chicken nachos. I’d even planned ahead and paid $3 to download the first episode of AMC’s Dead Walking, a soap opera with zombies. The stage was set for a better than average bachelor evening that was horribly undermined by the unplanned ingestion of the super-emetic that is the poke weed.
The humble poke weed. Such a fragile, shitty plant. So easy to kick over, so quick to grow back. It’s the shame of the unindustrious landscaper, and I’ve spend years knocking it back into the earth. One of the main reasons I started the workshop project was to deal with the poke weed patch in that corner of backyardia. Pokeweed payback is a BYA-tch!
I should have known from the first puke that this was no simple Salmonella situation. It was a heavyweight fight for your life puke from the getgo. I had a plan and a theory. Bad chicken. I’d puke it off the edge of the back deck and be back to my evening in no time. I didn’t yet realize that this WAS my evening. The first bad sign was my glasses slipping off into the darkness down to the yuck saturated leaves I don’t believe in raking because that’s the powerful fall wind’s job.
My face became a great weeping sphincter, bright red and exhausted from all the muscular effort. My eyes were leaking, my nose was running, my mouth was drooling out what I thought were the the last of the contents of my stomach. I felt sick, not from the poison, but from my own shockingly violent rejection of it. I recalled my one experience with wrestling in college intramurals, when after 3 minutes of clueless straining against an equal opponent I may as well have just stayed on the bench and tensed every tensable muscle until I blacked out from the useless effort. I yacked and heaved and even though I can hold my breath for a long time I began to panic. Is it possible to pass out from being strangled by ones own revolting stomach? It was like waterboarding, with the flow reversed.
When the fit passed I looked in a mirror and found a perfect specimen for the zombie parade. I stared into the angry bloodshot eyes of some drunk lunatic. What the fuck? What demon is this and where the hell did he come from? And my evening was just beginning. This was just round one of a ten round bout. My other digestive orifice hadn’t even jumped into the ring for a vicious double team effort. Instead of a zombie movie, I’d entered an evening of improv featuring a mashup remake of the Exorcist and Ed Norton pounding his own face in Fight Club.
I’m not trying to wallow in my misery here. I’m just trying to capture a lengthy and trying experience. An involuntary marathon for one. With smells unmentionable. I rarely get sick. I’m the one with a supportive hand on Ada’s back during our trips to Mexico when she’s traditionally the one encasing the stomach betrayed by its own mother country’s microbes. I continue to guiltily eat tacos as she retches on the photogenic cobblestone streets. When I do get sick, puking is normally a great relief. This time it was like pouring water on a grease fire. Things just intensified, and stayed that way.
I fell into a desperate pattern of hiding in my snowflake patter flannel sheets shivering until the next hateful contraction hit and I stumble-sprinted to the bathroom. My mouth kept filling up with spit and I was too bewildered to keep a spittoon by the bed. Somehow I knew that if I swallowed enough it would trigger the next stomach explosion but as hard as I fought I couldn’t resist the reflex. I was one of Pavlov’s dogs only the saliva was being pumped in, with nothing worth salivating over in sight or memory. Bizarro science world. Backwards Pavlov. Perverse upside-down birth. It felt like I was trying to delivery a leaky truck battery into the world through my mouth. I felt pregnant with my own death.
The soundtrack got completely ridiculous. It sounded very much like I was being butchered but was putting up a pretty decent, if hopeless, fight. I was equal parts pissed and scared. Eventually I remembered that tender dirty root. During the next calm I introduced Google into the equation only to have my worries spiked by a story of 3 boys in New Jersey who lifted some dreadful plant out of the river ice and after misidentifying it tasted the root. One boy grew suspicious at the bitterness and spat his death back out into the river but the other two swallowed. A few hours later they began vomiting and desperately voiding the toxins but grew worse and weaker before succumbing despite medical treatment. I read this just as my own contractions were growing heavier and more frequent, and started imagining this as my own reverse birth story in which I painfully exit the world alone on my toilet just like Elvis, without all the fun and fame and taxidermy.
I thought about calling the Poison Control Center, which I imagine to be in a secure bunker underneath Atlanta. Without doubt I have them confused with the Center for Disease Control, but maybe they share office space. I’ve know about the Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) since my early tweens from the pages of Boys Life magazine, the magazines all young Scouts are drawn to because of the grim cautionary cartoons that typically feature chainsaw accidents during blizzards. All that red snow and bloody white tourniquets. In Boys Life chainsaw accidents and poisonings are commonplace events to be prepared for, and perhaps opportunities to use such handy knots as the Sheet Bend (which I always thought was the Sheep Bend) or the Bowline on a Bite.
Luckily I clicked on a second webpage of useful advice for the poisoned which recommended that I chill the flip out. This was easy enough advice for me to follow. I’m naturally inclined to relax during my self-induced minor apocalypses. I go all Daniel in the Lions Den with my firm faith that things can only get better in most disastrous situations if correct steps are taken. Generally, my problem is not taking correct steps when things are going well. Ada’s way better in that department. And it was Ada, half a continent away in Mexico City, who came through for me during my bachelor trials and tribulations. She always keeps a vial of charcoal pills stocked in our medical dispensary. I popped two of those black saviors and stabilized enough to nap and then begin writing notes to preserve all the gory details for limited readership.
Now I’m just grateful that Ada’s away because until my stomach fauna returns I’ll continue releasing the most unmentionable gasses. Yesterday I did a stability test by warming up some of those corn dogs and fish sticks. I’m not brave enough to add beers to the equation yet. Results are mixed. Experiments will continue… Friday night Big Poppy wants to kill zombies and drink some caffeinated malt liquor he says tastes like cough syrup and dog piss and makes him want to jump out windows. We’ll see.
PS. I watched this Office episode on netflix during my recovery period. I howled with glee! The setup is that Pam asks everyone to be considerate of her sensitive stomach during that phase of her pregnancy. Dwight refuses to comply and savors a hard boiled egg in front of her. In retaliation she barfs in her wastebasket… and the rest of the office responds.