When I was younger, my family visited southern California for my uncle’s wedding. Nicely enough, the weekend of his nuptials coincided with that year’s Tournament of Roses. So I was fortunate enough to be in town for one of the great American experiences: the Rose Bowl.
Not only did I see the parade that New Year’s Day, I also spent the evenings beforehand witnessing the frantic overnight construction of its signature floats. The climax of the trip would be our attendance, along with 100,000 other sun-drenched football fans, at the Granddaddy of All Bowl Games.
Like all things good, my visit to the Sunshine State had a dark side. In this case, it took the form of Chicken McNuggets.
It’s been said that you never forget your first time. It was during my West Coast trip that I first sampled one of the chopped/pressed/formed/breaded/fried abominations of nature.
That day’s fast-food order remains seared into my memory: a four-pack of McNuggets, with small fries, medium Coke, and BBQ dipping sauce. My older brother partook of a McDLT. If the Grail Knight had spoken to me instead of Indiana Jones, I would have heard, “He chose . . . wisely.”
With frightening speed, I became terribly ill after that meal. That afternoon, I vomited many times.
Needless to say, I missed the football game.
Later that evening, we drove from my uncle’s home in the Palisades down to Santa Monica in order to dine at one of that city’s poshest restaurants.
I spent most of the meal softly resting my forehead against the cool wooden table, doing my best to quell the torrent of shakes and sweats that seemed to come straight from the bowels of hell. I silently cursed everything about that day, from Ronald McDonald to his unwarranted attack against my digestive tract. Needless to say, I didn’t have dinner that night.
That didn’t stop the rest of my family. While everyone else was dining, my father took measure of the solid-looking gentleman at the table next to ours. Although he sat with his back towards us, it was obvious that this man was of great importance.
When my father recognized the man, he lightly tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, son! Look over there. Isn’t that Lou Feregino, the Incredible Hulk?”
I lifted my soaked forehead. I looked at the man. Then a shower of green vomit shot towards him like a loose water cannon.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, I threw up on The Incredible Hulk.
Actually, I am exaggerating somewhat. I should say that I threw up towardsThe Incredible Hulk.
All of those years of gamma radiation exposure must have bulked up more on Lou than just his muscles. For the split second my vomit was about to strike him, Lou whirled around, dodged my chunks, and slid out of the way in the nick of time.
The last thing I remember before becoming dizzy and passing out was the look of shock on his face. Lou Ferrigno could have hulked out and discombobulated me while I lie in a poultry-induced coma, and I would have never known better.
Since I am on the subject of vomit, here’s another classic….
In the seventh grade, I was in a life science class being taught by Mrs. Brown. One day during her lecture, I became unexpectedly ill. And when the urge to vomit soon followed, I thrust up my hand to get permission to be dismissed.
Mrs. Brown, a classroom veteran of many years, immediately recognized my need. Skipping the bureaucratic requirement that I first be given a hall pass, she pointed to the door and barked, “Go! Quickly!”
I flew out the door, took a sharp left, and sprinted down the hall. My left arm pumped as I ran, while the right one firmly held shut my quivering mouth. At the end of the hall was the boy’s bathroom. As I went to open the door, it swung open on its own.
I was now face-to-face with the school janitor, a private Vietnamese man weathered from years of manual labor. The janitor was in the process of pushing his mop bucket out of the bathroom, meaning he had just finished the thankless job of cleaning up after stinky boys. He and the bucket filled the doorway, preventing me from entering the facility. We locked eyes, much the same way that gunslingers visually engaged one another on dusty streets outside Old West saloons.
Our standoff was broken by my uncontrollable vurp. The odor of destiny wafted from my mouth to the janitor’s nostrils. His eyes narrowed in recognition of the smell’s meaning and soon they smoldered with contempt. He muttered, “You little shit.”
I had no time for this! I shoved him aside and burst through the doorway!
I ran left around the small privacy wall, right towards the toilets, and in mid-stride kicked open the door to the first stall. Sweet porcelain release was now before me.
My forward momentum continued and I dove to my knees. But before I could assume The Position, my gut decided it could not wait any longer.
As I fell forward, my body heaved. And before my knees touched the ground, I spewed. Hard. Instantly, the three walls of the stall were coated with a dripping patina of my lunch from earlier that day.
Subsequently, I felt much better.
When I exited the restroom, the janitor was waiting for me. He was leaning on his mop and shooting daggers with his eyes. For the rest of middle school, I was on his shit list.
To be honest, I didn’t hear much from him after that fateful day. Perhaps others were higher than me on his list. Or maybe it was a combination of a school of obnoxious teenage students with his case of raging, untreated tuberculosis.
Janitors are such messy people.