My Own Private Ganges
My Own Private Ganges
Most of this was written in the throes of a massive fever, and cleaned up the next day after the fever started breaking.
I hate being sick. Not that many people enjoy it, but for some people, being sick is an excuse to take a day off work, lay around, watch too much TV, and generally pamper themselves. Not me. For me being sick means I can’t do all the stuff I need to get done and it pisses me off. If I want a day off work, I’m gonna take it when I feel good, when I can run around on the beach, when I can go record shopping, when I can eat a big lunch and fall asleep in the park. I’m not gonna waste a day off curled up in a pathetic little ball on the floor of my apartment, I’m gonna go to work and be miserable.
I don’t take it easy when I get sick, I try to wear the virus out. Tequila, cold showers, loud heavy metal, garlic. I try to make my body the most inhospitable environment on earth, and I don’t take medicine. Medicine just makes new things fall apart. Your body knows what it’s doing when it knocks your core temperature up to 102 degrees, it’s frying the little fuckers that are making you sick. Plus, fevers are pretty cool. It’s like a whole new buzz, an altered state of consciousness, hallucinations, strange thoughts.
Earlier this year, my good friend Squili flew to India to attend his cousin’s wedding. It was a last minute arrangement, and being the idiot math savant that he is, he totally spaced getting his immunization shots. I remember him saying, “I’ll just be really careful” as he ran out the door of our house to a waiting cab, backpack slung over his shoulder. Yeah, I’m going to Calcutta, and I’m gonna be careful. “I’ll start calling doctors now,” I yelled as he gave me the finger and jumped in the back seat of the taxi. Sure enough, 2 weeks later he came home, yellow as a banana, sick as a dog, and barely able to walk. A trip to the doctor confirmed he had Hep A, nonlethal, but a hell of a recovery nonetheless, and relatively contagious. No one had to convince me to stay with friends while he recovered.
The entire time he was sick, he tried to pinpoint where he picked up the virus. Hepatitis infects the body through bodily secretions, shit being a major vehicle. As my other roommate Jake was fond of saying, “Hep A means someone’s poop got in your mouth.” Possible sick points: the corn vendor in the subway station, the yogurt bought in the open air market, some strange dish from the wedding festivities, bottled `water’ from the grocery store. Squili, in a feverous rage, finally called his aunt in India to get to the bottom of his disease, and discovered the truth. There is an Indian appetizer called pani puri, which is a hollow puff pastry shell filled with potatoes and served with a spiced water over top. Turns out, this spiced water was from the `holy’ Ganges river, a nearby waterway where bathing, burial, and bathroom rituals took place daily. “I drank untreated water from the Ganges? The Ganges?!? What were you thinking!? I’m an American!?” After severe bilingual cursing of his aunt, Squili slammed the phone down and stomped of to brush his teeth for a half hour straight.
I think of this now as I stumble around my apartment. My mind is making virus transfer vector connections faster than I can register them. How did I get sick? The new flu, transferred by pigs and ducks, receptacles for the virus, integral incubators in the life of invading RNA. Liquidated pork squirted into waterways, powdered duck charged as an aerosol, pumped into storm clouds, emptied into storm drains, breakfast cereals, packages of baseball cards, lotion soaked tissues, lard, a pot roast soaked in mopwater. What? Slow down, take a breath. Who was sick, what did I touch? Was it the tropical storm that came from the south today, blowing Mexican wastes through my bedroom window? Or was it my shower, the water backing up from the drain, the sewer, absorbed through the cuts in my feet, my bashed toenail a revolving door for viruses of every color and bacteria of every flavor? Take a breath. Stop thinking.
Torment. I’m too messed up to read, too hyped to sleep, and the television is making my heart beat too fast. I start imagining a one-two punch of radiation charged viruses, CIA experimentation, feeding off of the electromagnetic cues of Jerry Seinfeld, the laugh track picked up by a million tiny microphones, a million microscopic antennae inside my body, receiving the signal loud and clear: reproduce and colonize. Off. I try to go on a walk, it’s foggy, misty, dangerous out. I should go swimming, drink chlorine, get an IV of cool blue pool water. Instead I get some ice cream at the taco stand, the only thing open around here after dark, besides the bars. Some guy hits me up for change, I hand him a quarter without touching him and walk back home. I sit in front of my front door and eat ice cream.
I feel a little better, I lay on my back and put a piece of ice cream on my forehead. It melts almost instantly and runs into my hair, my eyes, my ears. Man. I’m fucked. I lay there for awhile, long enough to psychologically terrorize my neighbors, not long enough for the ants to pick up the scent. Walk back inside, put my head under the bath spigot, wash off the sugar, take some sleeping pills, lie in bed listening to talk radio until the voice drifts off. Burn all night long to the tune of IRS hearings, Marv Alpert’s crotchless panties, plane crashes, El Nino, cellular phone commercials. The radio anchors me via my spine while I float two feet above my bed like a 3 day old aluminum birthday balloon. Not really asleep, not really awake, wishing I was dead, glad to be alive. Somewhere in the night I blacked out totally. I woke up at sunrise, the fever had broken. My bed was soaked with sweat, fear, stress. I felt my back for the bullet holes which had to correspond to the shooting pains in my organs. My girlfriend was just getting back from her night job (4 hours of quality sleep before her next one starts) and started walking towards the bed. I scream “Don’t touch me, I’m swarming with viruses!” (Which is an excellent thing to say if you don’t want someone to touch you), wrap myself in a blanket and hop into the corner like a leprous burrito.
I start talking out loud, trying to prove some half baked point, shouting into the bathroom as she brushes her teeth. “Being sick makes us selfish. We feel compelled to tell whoever will listen that they should feel sorry for us, make excuses for ourselves saying that our performance is somewhat limited, coughing up a minute by minute report of the disease and its progress. We scream `Take care of me. I’m sick. I demand compassion, affection, attention. I’m gonna make you miserable too.’ We start hating the healthy and their carefree ways, the way we have to change our behavior in order not to infect them, the way they can come and go, the way they can drink a beer and not throw it back up. Even if we wanted to pound on the healthy, we couldn’t get one good hit it before collapsing in a pathetic, blood coughing, sprawling catastrophe.”
Used to the effects of illness on my already unbalanced mental state, my girlfriend attempts to right my tilted mind. “First of all, shut up. Go lie on the couch. I’ll go buy some orange juice. I’ll get all the Omen movies and call your boss and tell him your brain is cooked. Just please stop talking.” Oooh. Orange Juice, Dameon, home from work, but wait, no, I gotta tire this virus out. I’m not giving in.
“No, I’m going to work.”
“You’re sick. Lay on the couch.”
“Don’t argue with me. I’m going.”
“Fine, go to work. You’ll make everyone there sick and they’ll hate you.”
“I don’t care, I’m going.”
So here I am. I wish I had orange juice.