Sunday, August 23, 2009
What you are about to read may contain very strong sexual or offensive language, strong explicit nudity, very strong gore or disturbing violence, or graphic drug abuse. Essays with this rating should not be read by anyone over 18 (even if they are accompanied by an adolescent) and are usually edited to get an "R" rating. Today NA-17 essays are called "uncut" for verification that very graphic sex or violence scenes will be depicted.
Or it may just contain vivid descriptions of snot.
Whenever I want to make myself laugh, I think of this one particular “incident” I had with my friend Julie in college. I sometimes do this intentionally, and I can really get myself laughing maniacally if I don’t stop thinking about it. If I were an actor, I’d use this to my benefit if given a scene that required me to perform floor-punching, hysterical laugher. I don’t know why I find it so funny, but I doubt seriously that I’ll get through writing this without slipping over the edge several times.
I first met Julie in junior high school, although we really didn’t like each other then. We were both in band, and she admitted years later that she couldn’t stand me at that time. Julie was always high strung, and she wore her emotions on her sleeve. The first time I noticed this was when she got into an argument with the band conductor. I don’t remember what the problem was, but I do remember that he was the kind of person you didn’t want touching you. He was creepy in a Bela Lugosi kind of way. His skin was semi-transparent and tissue-papery, and Vitalis dripped out his thinning gray hair. I believe he made a sexist innuendo from his podium, and Julie took issue with it, and they went back and forth until he sent her down to the dean’s office.
Even at age fourteen, she had balls bigger than anyone I knew, and I always admired that. She was dramatic in a Bette Davis, Depression-era movie kind of way. To this day she is the only person who has ever thrown a drink in my face in a restaurant. Or anywhere, for that matter.
When we got into high school, we were still in band, which was overcrowded. Neither of us bonded with the director (“I can’t respect a man who blows his nose on a washcloth,” she once said.) We both had the low honor of being Band Alternates. As if being a band nerd wasn’t bad enough, we were the leper nerds of the Plant High School marching band. There were a set number of people needed to march the formations. Any extra players, instead of practicing marching every day on the football field, had to show up and just sit in the stadium. If someone was sick or broke a leg or couldn’t play for any reason, the director would put in an alternate. If he’d been a reasonable person, he would have switched out alternates for each game, but that’s not how he operated. We were Permanent Alternates. The Not Good Enough. During the entire school year I marched once.
Julie and I got to know each other while being leper Alternates, roasting in the afternoon sun on splintery wooden bleachers. We learned we had a lot in common. We both were in single mom-led families, something that was much more the exception than the rule back then. Both of our mothers were “heavy drinkers” (although neither of us would ever utter the “A” word about that.) We both loved Volkswagens. Her mother had a tan squareback, and when I turned 16 I bought a ’71 Superbeetle. And we both shared a perverted sense of humor and adored the grotesque.
A friend of her mother’s was opening a restaurant, and Julie got me my first job as a shrimp peeler/dish washer there. We got work permits and health certificates together, which were required of anyone under the age of sixteen. Ever the emotional one, Julie almost fainted while having her blood drawn for the health certificate. And she cried.
Although I never told her so back then, Julie was lovely. She had blazingly white, wavy Lady Godiva hair that she wore in a long braid that stretched all the way down her back. But the thing about her that really got to me was her laugh. It was loud and sharp, and once she got going she would throw her head back, look towards God, and bring her hand up to her chest as if she was grasping make-believe pearls. It physically drained her. When she ran out of air, she would stomp her feet back and forth until she could stop laughing long enough to inhale.
Just as she was hot-headed and dramatic, she was also quick to laugh and fast to forgive. And I did plenty of unforgivable things in those years.
As time passed, we remained close friends, but we were also, at times, viciously passive-aggressive. To know and to love Julie was like living in a kettle of fish. You couldn’t help but admire her assertiveness, and she was seemingly fearless. You also recognized that there were times when Julie would not only stir the pot, but would light the flames under the kettle, and before you knew it, everyone in the pot would turn into an uncomfortable, steaming bouillabaisse. I, on the other hand, was only mean and inconsiderate. Julie would always calmly say, “Bill, I can’t wait ’til you die so I can dance on your grave.” And after we graduated and shared a 50-minute commute to college, I would sometimes leave her stranded out there, forcing her sister to drive out and pick her up.
Which brings us to The Incident. One late afternoon after classes, we got in my bug, buckled up, and I let out this rip-roaring, fender-popping sneeze. “God, Bill,” Julie said, “flip the car, why don’t you?”
I’d had a headache all day, and didn’t want to get into it with her, so I just apologized. As we headed west on Fowler Avenue, I noticed that my headache was almost gone.
We are approaching the NA-17 segment of our program. You may want to leave now.
There are times when you get something caught between your respiratory system and digestive system. You have to get rid of it, but you can’t decide the best way to remove it from your body, so you try both ways. You try blowing your nose to get it out through the respiratory system. When that fails, you try to swallow it and hawk it up into your mouth to expel it. But sometimes, neither system works satisfactorily, so you just stop, conceding that in time it will work its way out on its own.
This foreign body isn’t really snot. It’s a semi-translucent, whitish-clear color. Maybe it’s 20% snot, 80%, uh, I don’t know, but for want of a better word, let’s call it “organic latex.” Like a bungee cord, it is extremely rugged and quite stretchable. Sometimes you blow out only the beginning of it, and you can pull the rest out, like a magician with endless tied-together silk handkerchiefs up his sleeve. It is tough yet adhesive, and well held-together, and sometimes you can pull the whole alien out of your nose and feel it resurrect up the back of your throat. Sometimes it hurts to unearth. But it is so bizarre and so elastic that you could use it to secure luggage to the roof rack of your car. Let’s give it a name and call it The Blob. We have all produced this at some time in your life.
A little later, we stopped at a red light, and I noticed something bright and shiny in the hollow of the tiny armrest on the door of my car. I stuck my finger in to the opening and pulled out what appeared to be the largest Blob known to mankind. I really didn’t know what it was or how it got there. To this date, it has never been matched, either size or durability. It dangled from my pointer like a giant, slimy pendulum, or perhaps a baby elephant’s trunk.
“Good God!” I exclaimed. “What the hell is this?”
Julie took one look at it and, remembering The Sneeze ten minutes earlier, began howling. She grasped her chest and turned her head upwards. Her feet drum rolled against the floorboard of the car. She was radish-red, and tears streamed down her face, and when I moved The Blob closer to her for further examination, she screamed, hit my arm away and continued laughing and crying and screaming until after the light turned green and we approached the interstate.
Her laugh was infectious. After I remembered the sneeze, and could therefore identify the foreign object, I should have pulled over. We were both hysterical. I don’t remember what I did with The Blob, but knowing the kind of person I was back then, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I at least tried to hang it from my rearview mirror, just as people do with CD’s and beads today. I should have bottled it, or somehow preserved it for science. It was simply not of our species. We were on the highway a long time before either of us could speak again, and when we did, we could only have tiny conversations until Julie would recall my prying The Blob out of my armrest, and off she’d go again. That would, in turn, prompt me to start laughing breathlessly as we rushed southward on the interstate. It wasn’t safe. I’m surprised that Mothers Against Laughing Drivers was never launched.
When we pulled up to her house, Julie plopped down on the sidewalk and went into her last nuclear-powered hysterical rant. She reclined onto her back and rolled side-to-side, stomping her sandaled feet, and I soon joined her, getting to the point of silent laughter, where all you can hear is breathless wheezing. I don’t know what was funnier: the incident itself, or just watching her being so tickled. It took a long time to stop. There would be a minute of getting under control, and then for another few minutes we went off on another doubled-up, cackling binge. If any neighbors saw us, they probably assumed we were under the influence of some really good weed. It was painful. My abs were sore the next day.
Julie and I have spoken several times about this in the last three decades, and every time we do, we both still get out of control.
And luckily for me, she has passed this story on to both of her children. And if this legend keeps being handed down, I hope one day it will be a common folk song played around summer campfires: “The Blob That Ate the Volkswagen.”
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