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Strove to find a way to punch people in the face by using the Internet.

7/19/2005

DIARY OF INDIGNITIES
Or Maybe He Was Just Holding It for a Friend
People talk about food poisoning a lot, mostly in the context of lies they tell their boss.

It’s a good excuse for taking the day off. You’re too debilitated to work, but nobody expects you to go to the doctor. It doesn’t last long, so you can show up hale and hearty Tuesday, with no need to fake any special symptoms on your return or anything. If someone starts quizzing you, just allude to bad stuff coming out of your pooper they’ll generally change the subject. Convenient — especially when one’s only real affliction is a hangover, or an intermittent inability to pretend like you like your boss.

I think lots of people, especially vegetarians, convince themselves these occasional bouts with made-up food poisoning are real, despite mild or nonexistent symptoms. Even those without a full-blown Costanza can work up a little nausea after noticing the milk they just drank expired yesterday or whatever. And vegetarians... Man. Ever see a vegetarian find out their soup might have been made with chicken broth? It’s quite a spectacle. Coughing, dry heaves, tears... They’ll put on a nice little show, for sure. You’d think someone smacked ‘em in the gut with a frozen ham. Not that I would know what it looked like if you just up and smacked some vegetarian in the gut with a frozen ham... I swear.

I was vegetarian for more than a decade. My crazy mom decreed us so when I was 11 or 12, and I just sort of eventually went along with it. As my mom no doubt knew, being vegetarian was a good way to get attention and act all self-righteous and morally superior. When you’re vegetarian, everyone has to fuss over you, make special plans. When they don't, it gives you an excuse to sulk, especially during Thanksgiving or Christmas, when the rest of the family as 11 different dishes they can eat and you only have two, corn and cranberry sauce, and you know this because you sat there and counted. And you can get even sulkier when nobody pays attention to you mewling out questions like, “Was this corn boiled in ham water?” Because they’re all too busy eating delicious regular food to care.

Also, when you’re vegetarian you always get to decide where to go eat, because the place all the normal people want to go, the place with “BBQ” in its name, “doesn’t have anything you can eat.” That’s a funny word, can.

Vegans do all that shit as well, and usually ramp it up threefold in the self-righteous category too. Vegans also spend 62% of their time imagining totally false but entertainingly nefarious origins for commonplace ingredients. “Don’t drink that Mountain Dew, dude,” they’ll tell each other. “It’s colored with Yellow #63, which is made from crushed bugs.” Or, “The sorbitol in your toothpaste comes from rendered bear fat, dude. Better ditch it.”

These sorts of lines are delivered with an air of disapproving gravity that suggests the recipient is ignorant, less of a vegan than the speaker. It implies they don’t have the commitment or discipline required to be really pure. Mastering this tone is important, because veganism is more than a diet, or even a cult — it’s a constant game of one-upmanship. You start out not eating meat and dairy, then progress to throwing away all your leather belts and shoes. Soon, you’ll be turning your nose up at honey, because it oppresses bees. Ever see two frantic, indignant vegans try to top each other by listing all of the fun, ordinary shit they won’t do? It’s a hell of a thing, less a war of attrition than a duel where the winner is the one who proves himself the biggest loser.

...Some people might think I kid with that whole bee thing. But some people are no doubt gritting their teeth right this second, thinking, “After we get done dismantling world capitalism, we’re bringing our stupid giant puppets and firebombs over to your house, fucking bee exploiter Hughes.”

I have some insight into all this stuff, you see, because I was also a strict vegan for about a year and a half, at the tail end of my vegetarian period.

Mind you, during my time as a vegetarian before that I’d occasionally — very occasionally, like once every two or three years — get drunk and take a bite out of someone’s hamburger, just to freak everybody out, since they were used to me being such a fucking drama queen about vegetables or whatever the rest of the time. And, every so often, as inevitably happens to every vegetarian, I’d find out something I ate included some insidious pork blood or something.

Unlike other vegetarians I knew whose “systems” had become too sensitive and pure to digest that poisonous interloper of succulence, meat, accidentally eating animal parts never made me feel sick. I’m not saying I didn’t play it up a bit, because what’s the fun of being a vegetarian if you don’t do that? But, much as with all you lying fuckers and your fake-ass Monday morning food poisoning, I never experienced any real distress. In fact, I just assumed it happened all the time when I didn't know it, because it probably did. You ever wonder why vegetarians only get sick that way when they know they accidentally ate meat? Well, don’t, at least not out loud in front of one, because you’ll be in for a bracing lecture.

Shit, you know, I didn’t even get sick the day I forswore veganism and vegetarianism forever, hitting a cheap Chinese food buffet to cram handfuls of every possible quasi-identifiable flesh nugget and MSG-laden gloop I could grab in my belly. Nope, on the contrary — that day I felt great! Not only was it psychologically liberating, it was probably the first time vitamin B12 hit my bloodstream in a decade.

Viruses and occasional stress aside, only once have I been really walloped by any kind of gastric rebellion. Absolutely 100% bona-fide food poisoning — the real stuff. Borne on the wings of some funky sour cream, it was, and fearsome.

The evening it hit me I had gone to a now-defunct local nightclub to watch some people make noise. And I mean “noise” in the direct sense of the word.

I understand that most people have no direct experience with out-and-out noise, at least presented in a context usually reserved for traditional musical performance. That’s because most people, if not happy or well-adjusted, are too busy with rewarding careers and hobbies, perhaps spending time with friends and family, to notice this crap even exists. And even if they’re unlucky enough to run across it, they don’t pursue it or anything — no, the reasonable response to encountering noise is to shrug and go off and spend your free time doing things that are relaxing and pleasant.

But an audience for noise does exist, as well as what might be a surprising number of prolific performers and artists who make the stuff. People go to noise concerts, buy noise CDs and records. Nobody in their right mind ever need be able to make these distinctions, but noise actually varies pretty widely in texture, dynamics, volume and overall presentation. Much like with veganism, aficionados chiefly value it for the opportunity it gives to one-up fellow nerds with useless, arcane knowledge and the dedicated pursuit of unpleasantness. Frequently, though, noise enthusiasts pretend otherwise, making up a bunch of theoretical arty hoo-hah to smokescreen the fact their devotion is more a symptom of emotional problems than reflective of a refined aesthetic sensibility or highly developed intellectual capacity.

I have to admit, though, that I personally love me some noise. When I was a kid, I’d hold up my heavy, black Panasonic cassette tape player to the tinny speaker of my small black-and-white TV during Godzilla movies and record the sounds of destruction and mayhem. I’d lie on my bed for hours, eyes glazed over in happiness, playing back the tapes and listening to the explosions and shrieks and roars. As an adult, the occasional noise concert serves as an amusing novelty, and, in private, some of that stuff can be useful to effect a kind of instant satori, deployed to override the mental circuits and scour the forebrain of thought-based clutter — a refreshing, controlled way to blast that pesky ego for a few minutes without the need for all that terrible Buddhism.

The night I experienced real food poisoning I was hanging around this nightclub’s warehouse space, waiting for the first noise act to begin. It was my friends Justin and Shannon — they had made their own feedback-loop machines and would get onstage and fiddle with them while playing a variety of warped easy-listening records on a all these broken-down turntables. Another guy in the audience, on this night I think my friend Frog, would project old Super-8 home movies over them while they performed.

Please don’t be fooled into thinking this is in any way novel. Since the late '60s, every metropolitan area and college town from here to China has had a couple of deep thinkers pop up every three or four years like clockwork and do exactly this. Sometimes they wear costumes.

This night Shannon came up to me and, smirking, asked me in a tongue-in-cheek way if I wanted to “jam” with them. (As you might have guessed, smirking and sarcasm are important components of participation in this scene.) I agreed, and set about the warehouse looking for “instruments,” silently congratulating myself at the spontaneity, conceptual audacity and overall cleverness of using “found” materials for my part of the performance.

I came up with some pretty good stuff, too. As they began fiddling with their machines and Frog cranked up the projector, I sprinkled a little sand inside a big metal bowl, then started rubbing a smaller metal bowl inside it. I held it up to a microphone and it made some neat noises, sort of like a cranky robot whale. The sound guy threw a little echo on that shit and we were on our way. The 12 people in the audience sat there, twitching in ways that communicated quiet appreciation, or maybe heroin withdrawal.

After a few minutes I started getting a little restless. It was too pastoral or something, too gentle. But earlier I had reckoned this particular bit of noise might end up needing a little action to spur it along, and had gathered up a couple of claw hammers along with this really awesome thick slab of metal. I arranged it on this podium thing and positioned the microphone while Justin and Shannon kept fiddling, looking over to see just what I was doing.

I got it all set and, grinning, took up a hammer in each hand. I had this mental picture of me hammering away like Hephaestus with those bad boys, slamming down on that slab with mighty force... I was going to give these passive noise pussies an ass-kicking night to remember, a performance filled with sweat and muscle and metal and sparks. I was going to evoke the propulsive rhythms of America’s industrial age, conjure the mighty dynamo vigor inherent in the cars and machines and buildings and shit that filled our lives like a one-man Futurist Manifesto. I was going to blow their fucking minds.

I brought a hammer down, and it kind of went “clink.” The other one too. It didn’t conjure up Hephaestus at all. It conjured up me, a dorky guy pathetically making a clink sound in front of a dozen or so pasty douche bags in a smelly, dark warehouse. So I started in a little harder. The clink got a little louder, but certainly nothing that would fucking blow a mind.

About nine seconds in, my arms got real tired, and I couldn’t keep a steady beat. I looked out into the darkness and saw the skimpy audience, illuminated in the flicker of those stupid movies. They were wholly unimpressed, blankly staring at me. “Bring back those whale bowls, dude,” they seemed to say. Frustrated, I picked up the slab and threw it on the cement floor in front of the stage.

The slab, solid metal, weighed about 75 pounds. When it hit the floor it made a sound like a bomb going off. People jumped and scattered.

“Ah,” I thought. “This is more like it.”

I did it again. It was so loud. The noise was almost unbearable, but I was too excited to stop. I’d heft that slab up, brace it on my chest, rear back and push it away from me as hard as I could in the direction of whatever little pool of audience members was closest. They’d run and that thing would hit the floor and BOOM. My arms ached and my ears were seriously ringing after two throws, but I managed to toss that thing maybe eight or nine times. By that point Justin and Shannon had given up and were unplugging all their little gizmos. My slab schtick was a little vulgar for them, perhaps. I collapsed on the cold floor, arms trembling. Maybe it wasn’t subtle or artistic, but man, that big ol’ slab kicked up some serious noise.

A short while later Frog got up on stage. He had changed into a costume made from red patent leather, or maybe shiny rubber. It was like an S&M get-up for a cricket of indeterminate gender that was made out of candy. I grabbed a chair up front — this was going to be good.

Frog had a tape or machine sequestered away somewhere producing these great shimmering sheets of pure white crackle. These would kind of fade in and out, creating a simple rhythm. He had a guitar, too, that he used to overlay this with all kinds of roaring and squealing. Some kind of distortion effect had been applied to his vocals, rendering them a completely indecipherable electronic squawk. It was really loud, too, penetrating through even my damaged hearing.

I sat there, letting it wash over me, and wondered where Frog was going to take it. He stretched it out a bit, staying the course, and it was exciting, even a little nerve-wracking. He could do anything, but what would it be? I waited. Then I started getting a little antsy. And then full-blown anxiety kicked in. I stared at that creepy red costume, bathed in red light, and started getting really weirded out. The noise felt like it was smothering me.

I tried to tough it out, but could feel my guts churning. What the fuck? Had Frog figured out a way to generate one of those crazy secret military subsonic frequencies that made people shit their pants? Was Frog going to melt our brains in the name of art? If anyone was capable of it. it'd be him. Was I fixin’ to die? I had to get the fuck out of there.

I ran outside, ears still ringing, and hopped on my bike, speeding home to safety. Man, I’d never reacted that way to noise before, or, shit, anything else. “Frog must be some kind of mad scientist,” I thought. “I wonder if he’s even allowed to, you know, do that, like with the Geneva Convention and all?”

Once home I nonchalantly hit the bathroom. I was standing in front of the toilet peeing when it hit me — I was going to barf. I slammed the seat up just in time, as before I could really prepare for it that evening’s burrito dinner came spraying out of my mouth in liquid form, achieving a velocity that frankly shocked me.

The forward momentum, the force — deep inside me, I could feel it pushing something in the opposite direction. With great effort I clamped my mouth shut and spun around, aiming my butthole at the toilet just as a thin, swamp-green ichor pulsed out of my nether regions, hitting the ceramic bowl with enough force to make me worry about the potential for serious blowback.

As with the first eruption, it seemed like the force my body was using to banish these foul poisons triggered a reaction at the other end of my body. I squinched my ass shut as best as I could and spun again, once again barely making the switch in time to target the latest stream of watery horror-gruel into the toilet.

This pattern was repeated for what seemed like hours. I danced and spun in front of the crapper, alternately clenching and relaxing various orifices in an attempt to direct the vile flow. It was mostly successful, but exhausting. Finally, though, after who knows how long, I was finished. And dehydrated. Pretty much every drop of moisture, at least all the gross moisture, had been expelled from my body.

The next morning wasn’t too bad. I drank some Gatorade, but was a little ginger about eating anything solid. By the end of the day I was still tired, but the gurgle in my intestines had ceased. Later, I found out that several people who had eaten burritos from the same joint that day had also gotten sick. The culprit, of course, was the dodgy sour cream, which I guess on that day I reckon was just a shade or two too sour.

It was maybe a week later that I ran into someone who had been at the noise show the night I got sick, a girl with the nonplussed, laid-back attitude of the dedicated stoner.

“Hey man,” she said. “It’s too bad you split that night. Where did you go?”

“I had food poisoning — the real food poisoning, not that shit you make up to tell your boss — and had to get out of there. It was grisly.”

“Right on.”

“Did I miss anything? How was Frog’s thing?”

“It was cool,” she said. “But Dan Aykroyd liked that thing you did with the piece of metal better.”

I stood there for a second, trying to process that.

“Did you say Dan Aykroyd? Like, Blues Brothers Dan Aykroyd?”

“Yeah. I smoked a joint with him up against the back wall,” she said. “He was in town for River Phoenix’s funeral and was just checking out the scene. He thought you throwing that metal around was great.”

I just stared, trying to make sense of what she was saying.

“I thought it was kind of obnoxious myself,” she said, and walked away.

Kids, I'm sure Dan Aykroyd was just pretending to smoke marijuana so this girl wouldn't feel uncomfortable. Stay in school, don't do drugs.

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