Tuesday, January 02, 2007

There's nothing funny about vomiting.

If Gallup ever polled people about what causes them to vomit, the two most popular culprits would likely be excessive drinking and illness. Somewhere down the list, but certainly not in the top three, would be one of the most embarrassing reasons: overeating. Sadly, this is exactly what caused me to vomit one sultry night in Myrtle Beach a dozen years ago. I puked from overeating.

To clarify: I'm not talking about the Roman version of gluttony-induced regurgitation, where you tickle your epiglottis with a "vomiting feather" before dessert. I mean simply gorging yourself with so much food that your stomach, stretched like overtaxed Hefty Bag, suddenly decides to send everything back from whence it came.

In my case, it happened twenty minutes after feasting at one of South Carolina's more expansive buffets.

First, a quick word about my relationship with the buffet. Back in college, my housemates and I used to breakfast at one of two local eateries: The Ponderosa and China House. Both featured all-you-can eat options on their menus. At Ponderosa, the "salad bar," as it was understatedly called, came for a special price when you ordered one of their low-cost entrees. The trick was to get the entree to go, stuff yourself on the buffet, and then re-heat the entree at home for dinner.

The whole package came to one of the worst six dollars you could spend.

I'd order one of their defrosted sirloin steaks, which often came curled up around the edges like a Shrinky Dink and smelled oddly similar to their fish entree, and go hit the mac and cheese and garlic bread. And I'd wash it all down with a giant plastic cup of Pepsi, which was refilled on demand by one of the most morose waitresses ever to don an apron.

The better bet was China House, where for five bucks or so you gained access to a glistening feast of cheerfully misspelled buffet items. You'd scoop up a serving of "shimps," then help yourself to a syrupy mound of "meatball." And after you were filled to the brim with cornstarch and MSG, you "topped off" with that most ancient of traditional Chinese desserts: vanilla pudding.

All of this is to simply say that I'm no stranger to the buffet. I've had my share of having more than my share. I've lain prostrate on a gloomy couch, paralyzed by a flood of insulin as daylight waxed and waned across the face of a television set. I've felt the paradoxical pangs of hunger that so often vex the buffet enthusiast just hours after the feast. I've even publicly swore off buffets forever, knowing only too well that it was just another damned lie.

But I'd always kept the food down. Which, I suppose, is a point of pride in some counties.

Back to my story. As I already recounted on this blog, I spent the summer of 1994 in Myrtle Beach. One night my friend Paul and I decided to go out to eat. As I recall, we decided on a place called "The Captain's Buffet." This place was the Disney World of food. For volume and variety, it had no rivals. Giant crab legs, chicken wings, egg rolls, salmon, burgers, endless sides, all drenched in butter, and a separate dessert station for the truly obese...or foolhardy.

I was over stimulated, like a six year old on Christmas. Pacing nervously up and down the isles off food, afraid that I might overlook the steamed dumplings or spare ribs, I heaped serving after serving on my plate. I ate so fast my body didn't have time to register the fact that I was full. I must have had four full plates of food and a couple desserts.

And then, I didn't feel so good. I sat back and sort of pursed my lips, hitching my thumbs in the pockets of my acid-washed jeans. All the myriad smells that had tempted me an hour before were now palpably revolting. I felt thick and off balance. Paul, who had exercised more self-control during the meal, was amused at my discomfort. We paid up and left.

The plan was to now go to a bar and have several drinks. We crossed Highway 17 and made our way along a parking lot lined with rows of U-Haul Trucks.

The early stages of nausea are disorienting. You don't quite know what's happening and your expression conveys this bemusement to everyone around you. I kept wincing and crooking my neck as though trying to hear some far away music. My tongue felt fat and I kept swallowing. Paul walked along beside me, asking me if I was OK.

One more thing I should mention: Paul thinks vomiting is the funniest thing ever. Ever.

We kept walking. The bar was a few blocks away. I could smell exhaust from the fleet of trucks to my right.

Suddenly -- and it always happens suddenly -- I felt that awful swirling sensation. My stomach was a washing machine and my head was the dryer. I leaped behind a truck and started vomiting. Copiously. Uncontrollably. I was pitched forward, clutching my arms around my waist, undulating like an untended garden hose as the spray issued forth. I would stop, thinking it was over, only to start vomiting again. It went on and on.

During all of this, I'd lost sight of Paul. It was getting dark now, but I could no longer see his shape by the side of the road.

That's because he was on his back, rolling back and forth in a ditch and laughing as hard as I ever seen him laugh. He laughed longer and more violently than I'd vomited. And he kept laughing, hours and days later, every time he thought of me vomiting. And when he was done, he'd wipe the tears from his eyes and say: "Too funny." And then start laughing again.

We never made it out that night. I was exhausted and Paul couldn't have ended the night on a higher note. But really. There's nothing funny about vomiting.

When not to die

MTV had it all wrong: The real celebrity death match happens when two or more luminaries die within a week of each other and the world sits back to watch which one will get the coverage. Apparently, the hot list continues even when the body is cold.

I first noticed this when Princess Diana died in a car crash, and five days later Mother Theresa slipped away quietly from a prolonged illness. Both women were great, both mourned, but it was the 36-year old Princess who got all the press. Didn't seem fair to me. Mother Theresa set the standard for selflessness. She defined it so completely that people used her name as shorthand for kindly people, the same way we use Einstein to describe brainy people. She was a real Mother Theresa, that Mother Theresa was.

But by the time she died, the Princess Diana media mourning machine was running so hard, Mother Theresa barely graced the cover of the NY Post. If she had just held out for another few weeks, she might have got the sendoff she deserved.

When you're famous, timing is everything, in life and in death.

Which brings me to the current batch of deaths: President Ford, James Brown and Joe Barbera. A president, a musical genius and the guy who drew Huckleberry Hound.

With all respect to Barbera, the real media battle was between Ford and Brown. The former prez got nearly a week of painstaking, 24-hour, blow-by-blow coverage on cable news ("The car holding the casket appears to be coming into view now. Once again, the former Michigan football star and president whose controversial pardoning of Nixon may have helped heal a nation, appears to be in the second car from the front..").

The Godfather of Sould got a slew of musical retrospectives on VH1, preempting their usual line-up of smart-ass B-listers making wisecracks about Modern English and the Rubik's Cube, and histrionic ho's bitch-slapping and defecating their way to Flava Flav's oversized heart.

Winner: Ford, but Jamie Foxx may already be negotiating the rights for a bio pic, which could tip the scales back to James.

As for Barbera, he would have done himself a huge service by hanging in there until all this hoo-ha settles down. After all, most of us have had more exposure to his work than that of Ford or James Brown.