“You have to smell it. Take a deep whiff.”
Their grandfather was in his 90s. It seemed he was in his 90s for 15 years because when you’re a child age is constant. Until he passed away.
But before he passed away, he was in his 90s and lived with them, C & B (initials for privacy), our friends.
We grew up on the end of a dead end street in Illinois. You could now call it a suburb of Chicago. But then it was just rural Illinois.
It was the dead end of a street with a 2-acre yard bordered by thousands of acres of woods and wetlands, streams and ponds.
It was a small neighborhood so us kids formed a gang.
We had a plastic urinal from their grandfather because there’s a lot of schwag that happens with an old person and a plastic urinal seemed useful. We hid it under a large spruce tree in our yard.
So my older brother and our neighbor, B, made an initiation out of it.
After lunch someone convinced someone else to stick their finger down their throat and puke into the urinal.
We ate a lot of summer sausage and cheese. What can you expect? We lived not far from the border of Wisconsin. And so it began.
“Take a deep whiff.”
I was the first after my older brother and B initiated themselves.
I whiffed. But it wasn’t bad at first.
You’d hold the handle, pop the yellow lid with your thumb and stick your nose to the edge. At first it required the help of a finger in the back of the throat because the smell wasn’t horrible yet, but you could visually identify sausage rinds and cheese curds if you looked closely, so the visual and the finger kickstarted the gag reflex.
I puked. They cheered. We passed the urinal in a circle for a second round.
We puked, laughed and cheered.
It was fun.
The next day it was worse.
It smelled of ripe meat and rotten cheese mixed with fermented fruit. Enough to trigger the gag reflex, no finger required.
We invited friends over.
It grew riper as each new member’s initiation succeeded.
“Take a deep whiff.” If it didn’t happen on the first, we’d repeat “take a deeper whiff…”
Friend after friend whiffed and puked. Another kid’s reflux was added. We dry heaved and celebrated.
The yellow lid was flipped down and urinal placed back at the base of the great blue spruce.
We forgot about it for awhile.
It was a hot July in Illinois. Degrees of heat = humidity in percentage.
It fermented and gestated.
Until an altercation.
Our neighbor, B, and his sister, C, notoriously fought.
She said something. They yelled at each other. They tugged and pulled.
He stuttered back and disappeared under the great blue spruce.
He emerged. Yellow lid open, urinal in hand, she wide-eyed in panic.
We dry heaved at the sight of the yellow lid, trained like Pavlov’s dogs.
His arm arced broadly. Drops, then streams, of puke and loogies and pee and maggots spewed forth.
We scattered like mice from a cat.
We arched our backs and ran, extending our bodies as far from the smell and funk as possible.
I’m sure we screamed. But I remember only silence and slow motion like a tranquilized Will Ferrell in “Old School.”
She ran, he chased and sprayed until it was empty.
A drop on the hand was cause for panic. A spray on the shirt drew tears.
Clothes were shed as we ran inside.
Friends raced home to shower.
The yard was abandoned to all but the lonely, dirty urinal tossed back under the great blue spruce where it sat for 3 years until receiving a proper burial in the trash.
It was an upchuck tornado and the second most disgusting memory I have of childhood. I will not recount the first.
“Take a deep whiff.”
But we all have our own urinals.
News, commercials, war, poverty, hunger, sickness, cancer, injustice, death, traffic, anger, hate, fear, drugs, slavery, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Virtual urinals people stick in our faces and tell us “take a deep whiff” because we just have to smell what they’re smelling and add to their collection of puke.
So we whiff. And with each whiff we throw up a little bit inside, filling up our urinal a little bit more. And we feel better when we share it and someone else throws up in our urinal.
Each day it ferments and gestates into something more disgusting that we hold onto until something triggers us and we pass it on, telling them “take a deep whiff.”
We’re trained like Pavlov’s dogs.
Our urinals are no longer obvious like they were then. They are anything that makes us feel worse about ourselves or our lives or our relationships, eroding our happiness.
So I’m not whiffing any more. I quit awhile ago.
I’m keeping my stomach acid where it belongs.
Digesting goodness into energy that I can use for my well being and the well being of my friends and family.
I whiff only the fruits and flowers of Maui, roses of Portland, autumn in Washington, Jasmine in Southern California, sharing it with those I love.
What would you rather whiff?