Middle age has its share of embarrassments – the uncontrollable girth, the aching joints, the sudden tendency to crank up the volume when Genesis comes on the radio. Come to think of it, still having a radio at all at this stage is an embarrassing sign of aging. But we can also be encouraged by having outgrown certain juvenile attributes. For most of us, the worst of our acne is long behind us, we don’t have to take algebra tests anymore, and thanks to endless reruns on cable television, we no longer think that the Six Million Dollar Man was the greatest show in television history. We’ve wised up and left many of our youthful anxieties behind. As for me, I’m mostly thankful that I don’t throw up much anymore.
As a kid, of course, throwing up is second nature. Somewhere between Sesame Street and naptime, there’s bound to be an afternoon spew. Parents stuff their children with hotdogs and Milk Duds knowing full well they may see them again before the day is over. But the irony is that once kids grow old enough to keep their Cheeze Doodles down for an extended period, they start developing an interest in alcohol. Guzzling ill-gotten Schlitz under the bleachers starts the cycle of hurl all over again, turning teenaged guys and gals right back into erupting infants. You could argue that extending the “spit up” years is one sure-fire method of postponing adulthood.
My teens and early twenties were an alcoholic blur. I generally started my day with a heave and ended it the same way. Fortunately for me, I was good at it. That is, I could toss my syrup with near-silent stealth, immediately refreshed and ready for another tallboy. Often it didn’t even interrupt my drunken monologue on the important issues of the day.
“What are you, stupid? Sheer Heart Attack was a MUCH better album than Night at the Opera! For one thing…hang on a second.”
(Quiet hurl into the nearest trash can.)
“…Brighton Rock alone is worth ten Bohemian Rhapsodies! I oughtta kick you in the dick!”
And this would go on until all the beer was gone and everyone was fully educated on Brian May’s studio achievements. This was my problem with alcohol. I was not a binge drinker – I couldn’t “funnel” beer or anything like that. But I stayed awake and ready for more drunken arguing long after everyone else had gone face-first into the linoleum. And unlike my other boozy friends, an upchuck did not signify an end to the evening’s festivities.
“Get up, you pansies! We still haven’t heard side two of Strange Days yet!”
(I feel sad for those who missed my exotic, pantsless dance to “When the Music’s Over.”)
Most of my friends would quickly binge their way to a volcanic eruption and the dutifully pass out, leaving themselves vulnerable to the magic marker tattoos the rest of us would immediately apply. But me, I was a temperate puker. I could sip and spew between Marlboros until the sun came up. I considered myself a sophisticate. None of that uncouth, projectile firehosing for me. In fact, I once had a dinner date with a charming young lady where I was suddenly forced to turn and toss mid-conversation. Far from ruining the date, it left me recharged and inspired us to exchange witty stories about vomit for the rest of the evening. Booze can relax the restrictions of romance considerably.
A level of self-control can make all the difference. My old drinking companion, Gnat, certainly knew the value of a well-timed hurl. One night in the depths of the 1980s, Gnat and I arrived at a particularly seedy little redneck bar just in time to see a fight breaking out in the parking lot. The largest hayseed brawler was swinging a pool cue and loudly threatening to kick the shit out anyone who came near him. Gnat, who had confessed earlier to “feeling vomitose,” quietly waddled up to the bellowing savage and sprayed all over him. The lummox dropped his cue and retreated several feet. There’s simply no defense against puke.
Gnat could inspire a memorable expulsion from me as well. Once when we were returning from a night of convenience store wine on the beach, I confessed that riding in his passenger seat was making me queasy. He asked me to keep myself bottled up until he could find the best place to pull over. Blind stinking as I was, I had only the vaguest awareness of where I finally released the Kraken. Gnat explained the next day that he had driven me to the front door of House Representative and notorious racist Arthur Ravenel, Jr. My silent purge woke no one.
The frightening part is realizing that, had I been more genetically inclined, I really had the perfect qualifications for functional alcoholism. The rummy who can spew quietly in the men’s room and return to his cubicle without dozing off can continue damaging his liver and still keep his 401K. And at the risk of trivializing the disease of alcoholism, I’d suggest that if you can retire without remembering much about your job, you’ve beaten the system.
But I found the thrill of beer-fueled deviance was gone once I’d attained the legal drinking age, so I gave up the hurling life. These days, getting face-down in a toilet bowl isn’t a mere pause during party time, but the main event of a miserable illness. There’s a lot of sweating and cursing, followed by total collapse, and I find that I’m in no mood to debate the merits of Queen albums when I’m done. I now indulge in regular swigs of Pepto to quell my gastrointestinal rumblings rather than provoking them with Pabst.
Puke is rare in my world today, I’m happy to report. But when I do feel the need to rage against the latrine, whether by flu or by Ferris wheel, I find myself overcome with nostalgia. I sometimes ruminate over glories past, like an aging running back sidelined by a splintered pelvis, wondering what life would’ve been like had I continued honing my hosing skills. My expert timing could’ve come in handy while performing the various public service jobs I’ve had over the years. I dream of disagreements with demanding patrons cut short with a well-aimed blast of indigestibles.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. Our return policy won’t allow a refund on the Garth Brooks CD you’ve been using as an ashtray. But I can offer you this…”
And if Arthur Ravenel, Jr. failed to recognize me when we meet, I could refresh his memory.