Hey, tell us a disgusting story

Food.

I pride myself (although in this case, “pride” really shouldn’t be the correct verb; more like, “fixate childishly”) on being able to eat just about anything, at least once. I’m just not squeamish about most things. We’re just all made different, and enjoying a broad range of stuff to eat that might make a Neanderthal think twice is just how I am.

Raw foods, insects, reptiles, fiery spices, gooshy, mooshy, funny, runny, squirty, fuzzy, overcooked, undercooked (sometimes both for the same piece of food because that’s what campfires can do), off the tree, out of the ground, underripe, overripe, whatever. Tell me it’s food, and I’ll take a bite. (Obviously, I draw the line at food that at least smells spoiled. I’m not quite that stupid.)

And I’ve had remarkably few bad consequences from it. I don’t know if it’s just a matter that the odds of a successful salmonella run haven’t caught up with me yet, or maybe I have a constitution that takes it. I dunno. But from the following story, I suspect it might be a case of a surprisingly sensitive stomach in some ways, a tummy that says, “Hey, I can either digest or pass it…. except for this. This is not good, and we’re not gonna take it. Not happening here.”

Many years ago, I was taking in a long meeting in a town about an hour away. They courteously stopped for lunch, broke into little knots of people, none of which I was invited to join, and I went for a walk to see what I could forage. Came to a Chinese restaurant. Hm. It’s not like this particular town is the center for international culinary charms, but hey, Chinese sounds good. Oh, and they have a buffet. Well, load it up.

The food was kinda too saucy, in a way that made you think less of “sweet and sour” and more like “worm jelly.”  The temperature and taste seemed to be off a tad from what I was expecting, but as I said, I have a wide tolerance. Snarf, snarf, and back to the meeting.

The meeting went for another hour before adjourning. By that time, the worm jelly flavoring, the off-temperature bites, and the slightly questionable taste all felt like it was congealing in my stomach like its own Egyptian protest. I drove back to the office, another hour, and over the course of that drive, the protestors had decided to stop in place, start stomping, waving their signs, shouting their dissatisfaction, and just generally be ugly-natured, if immobile.

When I got back, I complained a bit to Auntie, the office manager, and Breezy, the part-time high school girl helping out, and after getting the same type of sympathy that they’d give to a buzzard who complained about bad smells, I sat behind my desk to work.

The mass of protests in my stomach slowly compressed, shrinking in on itself, into a 40-pound rock. I sat there, helpless and miserable, because moving a large rock through my system and out to freedom was a challenge I didn’t know how to address at the time. But as it turned out, I didn’t have to do much. After a while, the rock unexpectedly came to life, stretched, looked to the heavens, and decided to start to climb. The potential consequence of this action was clear to me, and it wasn’t particularly inviting.  I was miserable and starting to feel a little sweaty, a little clammy.

Back then, the office was on kind of a mezzanine level. To get to the bathroom, one walked the length of our office complex to the back, then down steps, a short hall, and to the bathroom. The only reason this is important is so you get an idea that I would need more than five seconds of decision time if the unthinkable were to spring a surprise on me. So I was caught in indecision, not knowing, once I got the warning signs, if I could make it the whole way. Or even if I could make it, I wasn’t sure yet that it would even be necessary. So I decided for the moment that I could just sit still and test the Serenity Theory of, “This shall surely pass.”

It was not to be. Fortunately, our wastebaskets had plastic liners. I took the liner out, not knowing for the moment if it was necessary, and then the Incredible Climbing Rock picked up speed and let me know that, indeed, it was necessary. For the second time in a three-hour period, the Chinese buffet products saw the light of day, however briefly, and looking pretty much the same as they had the first time.

It’s hard to believe, but as soon as that happened, I felt instantly better. And by “better,” I mean, “normal.” It was as though the Food Poisoning Switch had been clicked to Off. I just felt kinda hungry, seeing as how I was empty again and obviously, judging by forensic if momentary observation of the subject material, hadn’t really digested anything since breakfast. Although I didn’t have the thought of revisiting a Chinese restaurant right then.

The story pretty much ends there, except for the enduring and embarrassing memory of a somewhat horrified Breezy watching her boss, a weak smile on his face, carrying a bag of warm vomit past her and out to the trash bins in the back. It probably made for a good story for her back in high school. Or, considering that a number of her friends probably worked in fast-food places, it might not have even made the Top Ten for the day.

There is a bit of an epilogue. Back in that same town, still an hour away, but maybe a decade and a half later, I visited another Chinese food place. No buffet this time, which I’ve been persuaded to largely ignore anyway by an epidemiologist friend, but that’s another disgusting story for another time. But the restaurant did offer sushi, and I’m a sushi fan.

Well, not a fan of that sushi. It’s the singular time that the accompanying soup was a choice of egg drop or hot & sour, and if you eat sushi often, you know that sounds weird, like being offered a nice dish of macaroni and yogurt. Nothing wrong with the individual ingredients, but the combination doesn’t sound right. And sushi should have a certain level of crispness to it. Not a distinct level of, well, mooshiness. It felt like I wasn’t biting into a chunk of fresh salmon so much as an aging watermelon.

Now, despite the offputting sensation, I didn’t have the consequences that I did before. Just mild regret over having spent sushi money for something that had apparently been wrapped in newspaper for a day. But reluctantly, I’ve decided to just give up on Chinese restaurants in that particular town. At least until the next time that it sounds good.

P.S. If you’ve read my other stories (yes, I’m looking at both of you that this applies to), you may recognize thematic similarities between this and “Open House.” You may be thinking, C’mon, Grandpa, come up with something original.

Well, just so you know, “Open House” was a story of fiction. Now, it is true that none of my friends believe it’s fiction. They say they know that I was writing about a real-life occurrence. But no, I wasn’t. If that had occurred in real life, I’m sure I would’ve been too mortified to write about it or even remember it. Being fictional is what makes it fun. At least for me.

This story, though, is true. It actually happened. Just ask Auntie or Breezy. Particularly Breezie.

— Grandpa

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