A gentleman (or, in my case, someone who is trying to behave in a more gentlemanlike manner) ought never to vomit in public. One should hope to avoid vomiting altogether — but at the very least public vomiting should be out of the question.
Alas, I find myself in violation of this principle with alarming frequency. Indeed, in the past two years, my per-lifetime rate has jumped 200% — from a respectable once per lifetime to an abysmal three times. (Be forewarned that what follows is not a pretty tale; I refrained, however, from including photos.)
The first time was perfectly legitimate: I was flying home from a late-summer visit to my grandparents’ house in California and encountered a particularly nasty bit of turbulence on the flight from Detroit to DC. I held out as long as I could, but there’s only so much happy thoughts can do when the young girl next to one breaks ranks and goes first. (At first I cursed the little minx, but then repented when her mother handed both of us Disney hankies to wipe up with.)
The second time was an underhanded blow from fate. Finding myself newly employed in a job that paid well but required intensely long hours of work, I decided that, in order to prevent my waistline from expanding at a rate roughly comparable to my bank account, I would join a gym and start working out with a personal trainer. I signed up at the gym across the street and began training with a guy promisingly named Armstrong. He tried to convince me that getting strong was easy (“You just have to pick up a lot of heavy stuff”) but I found it really complicated and stressful. There were early mornings and incredibly intense workouts (that reduced me essentially to jello and made walking tricky) in an uncomfortable and foreign environment (my life, to that point, had been significantly more bookish than jockish — early gym experiences consisted primarily of my asking the other guys to take off their 300-pound weights so that I could put on my 30-pounders). Those things alone were enough to make me anxious (I’d wake up at 4:45am with a huge knot in my stomach) — but then my trainer started imposing new dietary rules. For example, I had to eat (not a foregone conclusion, in my case). Not only that, but I had to eat a lot, including lots of protein and calories: meat, peanut butter, vile protein shakes that tasted like doom. Not inclined to eat in the best of times, I found it infinitely harder to do so under these circumstances. I was a complete basket case of nerves — but I was resolved to do my part: Every morning I’d gag down a quarter of a piece of toast with peanut butter on it and look at a little bowl of applesauce for a few minutes before heading over to the gym.
Then one morning this trifecta of physical exertion, rampant anxiety, and unaccustomed food struck its blow: I was about three-quarters of the way through a workout, when suddenly I felt lightheaded and nauseated. I shrugged it off and pushed on (I may not be a jock, but I am stubborn as hell), but my body revolted: I puked all over the gym floor.
Naturally, I was mortified. Never had I done such an undignified thing in my life. Mr. Armstrong, however, didn’t miss a beat: He ran off to get a towel and a mop, and while he cleaned up the mess (and I pretended I was invisible), he explained to me how this was a sign of just how hard-core I was, because most people would have given up way before getting to the puking point. (Riiiiight. Suddenly I knew why I was paying him the big bucks…)
My third infraction occurred today, and this time I had neither an abetting little girl nor a spin-doctor trainer. This time, I was just plain sick.
I haven’t felt well for the past two days. I’m not sure of all the causes, but with the number of large and heavy meals I’ve eaten lately, I think overeating may be part of it. My stomach was unsettled after eating too much at Brasserie Beck on Saturday, and I continued to take in large portions of heavy food on Sunday (BBQ sandwich at the Eastern Market) and yesterday (fried chicken at Georgia Brown’s). By late last night, I felt horrible. Despite it being Amanda’s last night in the city, all I wanted to do was make myself throw-up and go to bed. (Which I did.)
I suspect, however, that despite the fact that I’ve been taking Cipro and Septra for the past ten days, I may actually have a bug. I scaled back on the food considerably today, eating only small portions of light fare. But I felt progressively worse. By dinnertime the thought of anything more solid than chicken broth was unbearable. So I headed over to Panera and got a bowl of chicken noodle soup and tried to get some work done there.
I regretted that decision right away. I was in a downward spiral, and the soup was not helping. Pretty soon I was holding on for dear life, cursing my (a) having ever left my apartment, and (b) having chosen a restaurant where you had to get a key for the restroom. In a last ditch effort to avoid total public humiliation (and ruining everyone else’s appetite), I managed to empty my drink into my soupbowl and use my cup when the moment of truth came. And come it did. Strike three.
Fortunately, I’m a pretty discreet vomiter (I’m pretty sure nobody was really aware of what was happening). And once my stomach was empty, I quickly felt better enough to walk home without further incident. (By the time I got home, however, I was seriously unwell — despite the mid-90s temperature, I was so chilled that I was shaking uncontrollably, and I felt achy and weak all over. I abandoned all thought of work and went right to bed. I slept for about two hours and then woke up roasting. I got up and nibbled on a few chips, sipped some Gatorade, and sat down to write this post until I felt better enough to go back to bed.)
There’s also a remote chance that public vomiting is just the norm in Virginia, and I’m being sucked into the culture of my adopted home-state.
Back in 2009 I went to a fancy wedding at the Homestead resort. It was a very nice resort and only a little creepy (I felt like I needed either to be old white Southern money, or to be chased by Jack Nicholson with an axe to really appreciate the place). The morning after the festivities, a friend and I were surprised to learn (at 10:05am) that the hotel stopped serving breakfast at 10:00am. Because none of the other restaurants in the resort were open, and because we were in the middle of the Appalachians, our only option was to go to Ruth’s Beehive, a little diner in the half-block of “village” that supported that resort. Ruth’s Beehive had been recommended to us as “charming” but couldn’t have been less so: We walked into a sickly salmon-colored dining room where a greasy haze hung in the air. An unkempt waitress seated us at a sticky table and handed us some slimy menus. I couldn’t focus on the menu, though, because a couple of tables away, right in my line of sight, a grossly obese man sat vomiting on himself. That’s right. Repeated little gurps that sent streams of mess down his front. I about died. Our waitress came back a minute later and asked if we wouldn’t mind moving to a different dining room (we didn’t mind at all), which turned out to be a shrine to Elvis Presley (complete with Elvis-print curtains and many black-velvet Elvis paintings).
Despite the change of scenery, we chouldn’t get the puking man’s image out of our mind, and couldn’t help suspecting that there was a correlation between the insalubrious conditions of the place and his gastrointestinal distress. For some reason we felt bad just leaving without ordering anything, so we ordered the very minimum possible (one slice of Wonder Bread, to share) and left as soon as we could. Never did I think that someday I would be the guy in the corner vomiting!