The feeling of being clobbered in the chest by a hasty gulp from a carbonated drink.
One day a few years ago, I’d taken my car in to the garage to have some expensive part re-expensived. After a mere five minutes I’d managed to annoy the mechanic, so when he offered to get me a ride back to my apartment (as it would take the day to re-expensive my car), I panicked and insisted that I could walk.
This was in August. In New Jersey. And the heat and humidity had already reached critical, mouth-like levels. This was also during the long chapter of my life when I refused to wear shorts (an almost Calvinist period of affected self-denial, courtesy of my 20s). So, leaving him my contact information, I trudged out the door and waded my way through a hundreds-degree swamp of blinding sunlight, and choking humidity.
For about four or five miles.
By the time I made it home, I was quite near death. I shambled into my apartment groaning like a madman. I unbuckled my jeans which, being completely soaked-through with sweat, dropped to the floor and pooled around my feet. I needed hydration desperately, so I flung open my refrigerator and grabbed a frigid bottle of seltzer water, which I downed in one sloppy, guzzling swig.
All was slaked and satisfied. All was crisp and cool. And in an instant… regret pierced relief like a knife in the heart.
The carbonation, all jazzed up by its whitewater splashing down my gullet, went full supernova in my esophagus. It felt like I’d swallowed a hot rock, or a fistfull of bees. My eyes watered, my ears rang. I listed about the kitchen like a drunkard, too dazed to be still, too beset to adequately flail. I pounded my hand on the countertop once, twice, the pressure building and building in my chest… as if at any moment a fount of seltzer would burst, Xenomorphically, through my ribcage and redecorate my kitchen in Panebianco Red.
Ready to pop, I reeled back, opened my mouth wide, groaned the guttural groan of the over-seltzered… and I burped. Burped a burp that was more than a burp – it was a kind of birth. A tearing, keening, muscle-knotting display of physiological theater. A kind of meat opera.
I coughed. I drooled. I dabbed tears from my eyes. And finally I laughed – alone, in my underwear, standing in my kitchen beside an open refrigerator, my pants piled about my ankles, an upended bottle of seltzer glugging its remaining contents onto the floor. And, as ever, my brainless cat standing sentinel, gawping at me in abject befuddlement.
In another few seconds, that moment would be gone. I would wipe my face and pull my pants up… pat my cat on his furry head, and move on with my day. I’d cancel my car-contingent plans. I’d clean my cat’s litter box. I’d make a sandwich, and watch an episode of Frasier (no doubt). I’d return to the ordinary stuff of days that right now I couldn’t possibly recall with any accuracy.
But that episode with the seltzer bottle – that I can’t possibly forget. Moreover, it acts in my memory like a lens – bringing into sharp focus the moments that proceeded and followed it. Amid all the things I’ve forgotten – important and inconsequential alike – this day I remember in vivid detail. Had it not been for that idiot spasm of seltzer-fueled grotesquerie, followed by the absurdity of me in my undies, drooling like a doofus and wiping my face on my forearm… I wouldn’t remember that day at all.
That’s what a moment of foolishness does – it sticks in your memory like a pushpin in a photograph. It holds fast that which time and nature seem dead-set to take away. And the only cost is a little bit of pride, and the reminder that your body is way more gross than you’d like to admit.
How lucky is that?