This is the story of how my father’s love of colorful phrases, like “Montezuma’s Revenge!” caused me to laugh in spite of the pain, many years after his passing…
The other day I had a meeting with a client at the funky and truly bohemian Tribal Cafe, just west of downtown Los Angeles. The food there is typically great and I always enjoy going there. Great people, low key atmosphere, and a fantastic selection of food that includes many vegan options for a particular chap like me. However on this day I only got a large chai tea. Something to keep my brain on its toes while we discussed code and web development and other things that can occasionally make one’s eyes glaze over.
Now I’m not sure what set my digestive system off, because I usually have a fairly strong stomach. It is incredibly rare for it to be upset, especially to the point of vomiting. I can probably count the number of times I’ve had to throw up on one or two hands’ worth of fingers. Perhaps what made me feel off on this day was the fact that I don’t do that much caffeine except the occasional cup of mild tea. I didn’t really have much to eat earlier in the day and their “pirate” chai tea tea was probably like rocket fuel to my system. What I do know is that one moment I’m feeling great and the next moment I was feeling like everything inside of me suddenly wanted to make a hasty exit, through any portal possible. I was having flashes of hot and cold, I broke into a sweat, the lovely taste of metal started watering up underneath my tongue… basically I was in real trouble.
That’s when the phrase “Montezuma’s Revenge” jumped into my head. It was a phrase my father was fond of using whenever anyone in the family had diarrhea or vomiting or, on those truly unfortunate occasions, both. “Ah, you’ve got a case of Montezuma’s Revenge, I see!” he would exclaim with a delivery that made it seem like the unfortunate victim had achieved something desirable. He seemed proud at this clever turn of a phrase, or at least delighted that he had an opportunity to use it. That is, of course, unless it was he himself who was the one suffering. Then the line was delivered with a touch of sadness and defeat. I’m not sure where he picked it up, but being a well-travelled military man he had an endless supply of wildly descriptive phrases for most any occasion. Apparently Montezuma’s Revenge was a catchall phrase with the early Spanish Conquistadors for dysentery and other tropical diseases.
I hurriedly weighed my options: make for the door that leads onto a very busy public sidewalk and street or to make a run for the bathroom that was at the very back of the cafe. The bathroom might seem logical, but what if it was already occupied? Besides that, it was also a little on the shabby side. There was a strong chance that it would put me over the top in the nausea department, then I was sure to violently spill out of the top of my head. Hmm… Did I happen to mention I am massively averse to vomiting and will do anything to avoid it? Even though I know that the sooner I get whatever wants out of my body out of my body, the sooner I will feel better. Sometimes the rational choice truly is to just let go. I’ve spent more than a few post-midnight hours pacing floors, doing breathing exercises, chewing gum, and going hours without sleep just to keep myself from vomiting. So I figured I might as well try those methods now. I blurted out to my client, “Not feeling well. Gotta take a walk.” Mercifully, I was with a perceptive person. He took one look at me and said, “By all means. Go!” So I packed up my case of Montezuma’s Revenge and made for the door. I’m sure my client knew I was serious when I left all of my personal belongings behind on the table without a second thought.
I hit the sunshine and the fresh air and start to briskly walk around the block, hoping I could make it to an alley before completely losing it. I staggered down a sidewalk that now seemed to be twisting and turning beneath my feet, feeling like the eyes of the world were upon me and everyone knew, just absolutely knew, I was about to throw up on myself. I turned down a side street that also acted as an on-ramp to the freeway and was wondering if I would be able to find a place where I could do my business privately. As I approached the back alley, I realized that throwing up in a dumpster might be a thousand times worse than the shabby bathroom option that I left behind. Just thinking of how especially nasty a restaurant dumpster can be made the bile rise even more. So I slowed my pace and stopped at the corner of the street and the alley, figuring that if I need the “full-release” option I’d be able to reach the alley in a few short steps. Furiously pacing back and forth and no longer giving a damn about any real or imagined curious looks from the passerby, my stomach slowly started to settle down. Finally feeling good enough to stop my pacing, I hunched over placing my hands on my knees. Still taking long, deep calming breaths and as the world slowly came back into focus, I started to survey my surroundings. Damn, this Montezuma’s Revenge! Chuckling at the phrase and the memory of my whacky but beloved father, I happened to glance up. And what did I see? What place had I come to in this world, what was the name of this random alley, some 3,000 miles from where my father raised me? The answer made me totally lose it… with laughter!
Thanks Dad. And Happy Father’s Day!