FEAR AND LOATHING IN WILLIAMSTOWN
(I promise, no more Hunter S Thompson references)
It’s amazing the things you think about in times of crisis. In the movies, it’s always the same. Bruce Willis is trying to save the city of LA from a terrorist cell when he starts thinking about his wife. In “Tonight is the Night I Fell Asleep at the Wheel”, Steven Page sings a ballad of a man who can only think of his lover when he’s about to die in a car accident. And in one of my greatest times of need, I could only think of Dave Attell, one of my favorite and most inspirational stand-up comics.
The year was 2004. It was summer, and I was in Kentucky. Ever since 2001, I’d spent my summers with my grandmother on my dad’s side. I would sleep in the same house that my dad was raised in, with the local Catholic church just 100 feet away. In retrospect, it’s the closest to God I think I could get. I’ve never been one to think that church is the only place to talk to God, but I always figured the reception is better there.
With all that in mind, I’m certain the following event was a test from God, as on that day, I experienced the worst in physical and psychological pain...
I was constipated.
In the weeks prior to this disaster, all the warning signs were there. I imagine if I had known what I know now, I could have prevented the entire episode. But, every day I would eat several bowls of Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Reese’s Puffs, with nary a thought that the amount of dairy I was introducing to my bowels might lead to a situation.
But, within a few weeks, it happened.
I had sat down, and even had my copy of Kingdom Come (no matter how awful you might find this story, that’s still a great read) ready to go. But when I turned the ignition, the engine just wouldn’t turn over. Crank after crank, nothing would happen. I tried harder. Still no ignition.
And then it hit me. A joke Dave Attell once told that still makes me laugh, while at the same time reminding me of this horrible experience:
“Whenever you have a hernia, people wanna know ‘How’d you do it man? How did you do it, were you lifting, were you helping people move?’ And that’s how you can get a hernia. Did you know you can also get one by trying to take a shit really quickly?? Yup. No one ever tells that story. Until right now.”
And as I find myself deeper and deeper into this crisis, I keep hearing it in my head, “trying to take a shit really quickly?” “Shit really quickly?” “Hernia”. All of these words are swirling around in my head, and suddenly I am deathly afraid that if I struggle any more, I’m going to destroy my body, and be in even more dire consequences than those I’m already mired in.
Now, I know that my grandmother is in the other room. I am certain she knows how to deal with this. But I am in no way prepared to ask her. For a good 40 minutes, I’m in there, periodically turning the crank, checking if anything has changed, trying to think of solutions, and echoing “you can get a hernia by trying to take a shit really quickly” in my brain.
At this point, I’m trying to rehearse the most eloquent method of telling my 72 year old grandmother, who has had 4 children, survived a depression, 3 wars and seen the Berlin Wall crumble, that my gastro-intestinal functions are all but defunct. Finally, I admit defeat, and tell her.
Of course, she knows what to do, and it mostly involves what looked like a bullet traveling into my rectum. Had I been given the choice, I’d have preferred a bullet traveling into my skull. But eventually, I made it out of the woods and into this essay.
If there is anything to be gained from this experience, other than the knowledge that roughage and water are good things, it is that in my moment of need, I thought of a stand up comedy bit. In a roundabout and horrifying way, I realized that entertaining millions was really something I wanted to do. Which is why I have told stories like this one in front of audiences of tens, to largely the same reaction as you all have now.
Hopefully, I get to meet Dave Attell one day. And when I do, I already know that we’ll be fast friends after this story is told.