I’m in Miceli’s, an old italian restaurant in Hollywood, wedged into a charming booth on a hobbit-sized bench seat. My companions – three brothers and their wives – and I have just come from a screening of many short films, 95% of them involving guns and artfully splattered blood. This is the Tarantino generation. While my friends debate which meats to get on their pizza pies, I start to feel an internal tearing of sorts in my intestines. Earlier, at the apartment I am cat-sitting in, I went on a meal forage, wanting to save the last $5 in my wallet for a gourmet coffee, a chocolate bar, or valet parking. I’m always astounded by what other people consider food. First of all, it took a few rounds of reading ingredients to surmise the cat food was mixed in with the other food in the pantry. I dismissed anything dusty for fear of moths and the tiny eggs and worms they leave. (This fear stems from biting into several snack foods over the years at my Nana’s house only to find half a white, squirming little worm and a couple of eggs clinging to my lip. Nana is known for saving perishables that have been gifted so that you will often find jars labeled, “Mixed nuts from Erin, Christmas 1997,” or, “Homemade cookies from Lou, Birthday 1965.”) In this cupboard I found some green pasta that looked fresh enough and in a last ditch effort to get some protein in me before a night of 22 short films, I threw in a can of tuna and some Jack cheese. It is maybe the cheese, or perhaps the tuna was indeed cat food, or maybe the pasta was never supposed to be green, but my stomach feels like someone is slowly inflating a balloon from inside and my abdominal wall is ripping to make room.
On top of that, I have squeezed myself into a pair of jeans that have not fit me since before Crazy Diet #2. Crazy Diet #2 was a backlash to Crazy Diet #1. With the help of Google, I convinced myself during an acute bout of hypochondria that I had a particular condition that required I give up sugar, bread, alcohol, and dairy. Since these were the only things I was eating at the time, the transition was a little rough. I ate only salmon, brown rice, and steamed vegetables for four months and would often wake up having dreamed I was taking a giant bite of a cupcake, so sugary the glands behind your jaw actually tingle in protest. When, after months of deprivation and depression, I determined I did not have that condition after all, I rewarded my efforts with a five month binge of a pint and a half nightly of McConnell’s peppermint ice-cream or Ben and Jerry’s Everything ice-cream which solved the problem of choosing a flavor. With my ice-cream I might have pizza or a burrito and always about half a bottle of wine (sometimes a full one) to make up for lost time. I laughed to myself that I had the kind of genes that could handle this sort of sloth-like indulgence without gaining weight. And then overnight I gained 25 pounds and had to buy new jeans – thrift store jeans because I had spent my savings on vitamins and probiotics during Crazy Diet #1, and then on single-handedly keeping McConnell’s in business during Crazy Diet #2.
I manage to jam my thumb between my rapidly expanding abdomen and my waist band. This only relieves the pressure slightly, though, and I find myself trying not to breathe in too deeply because adding even extra air to my torso is excruciating. I look down at what could pass for a 5 months pregnant belly and silently swear off cheese and cat food forever. I look around weighing dignity versus discomfort, decide that everyone here is taken anyway, and announce (because it’s too obvious to conceal) that I am unbuttoning my pants. This gets a laugh. Thin people can always derive humor from over-eating, like a baby ripping a giant belch; it’s funny because it’s unexpected. I manage to pop the button open and then the zipper actually breaks apart. Fuck it, I will never wear these again after tonight. But it’s still not better. The pizza has not arrived yet. I am in the middle, against the wall, watching everyone eat, drink, and laugh and imagining a scenario in which the gas finally moves downward and I fart so long that I fly around Miceli’s like a punctured blow-up doll. I calculate how many bathroom excursions I can allow myself without rousing suspicion. I do not like other people imagining me farting, pooping, or having explosive diarrhea. When these things happen in public I try to pass off trips to the ladies room as an unusually small bladder, too much coffee, or even throwing up which seems more socially acceptable then anything coming out of the ass does.
I lift my pelvis, wrench the fly of my jeans back together and manage to get the button back in place. I have to slither out of the booth in this position because my pants are so tight at this point I can’t bend. I make my way through the dimly lit restaurant, dining couples engaged in romantic talks over candlelight, and find the bathroom. No one there. Thank God. In the stall, I unbutton once again and watch as my gut balloons out. I sit on the toilet and try to will my intestines to move. I place my hands on my extremely hard abdomen in hopes of feeling the promising sensation of bubbles. Nothing. Limited time alone in a public restroom calls for no dilly dallying. I pull another seat protector out of the dispenser, place it on the toilet, then bend over and place my hands on the seat with my ass in the air, hoping that the change in gravity will get things moving. If someone were to peek through the crack in the stall they would see my spread ass and hear sad whimpering, as if I were being sexed against my will by an apparition. This is still not working.
I take yet another seat protector, place it on the floor, and kneel down on the tile with my elbows on the protector. I do not care about my pants at this point – they are being donated or burned tomorrow. Now I am in a position usually reserved for devout prayer, minus the bared ass and toilet seat protector. “Please, please, please,” I mumble to some God who clearly has better things to do. If God is everywhere, he is in some other section of Miceli’s because nothing happens and I feel at this point like my intestines have swollen to the size of fire hoses and are going to explode out of my stretched belly before any gas starts moving. I am now desperate. I have known this gravity shift to work in the past (oh, no, this is not my first encounter with a gas-engorged abdomen). I consider my yogic ability (none) and the odds of someone walking in (great) but am still considering a headstand in the Miceli’s stall. I figure I could put my head on the seat protector and fling myself up against the wall of the stall. Hopefully the sweat of my butt cheeks would adhere me slightly to the metal divider. If someone were to come in perhaps they would just see my upside down head and think I was passed out. Of course that would mean they would come in. The door opens and two women enter. I make it off the floor and back on the pot in time to avoid them seeing my head, hands, and knees under the stall. I figure I have a good 45 seconds before it becomes obvious I am having troubles. I sit, quietly trying to do lamaze breathing, while the women chat about something to do with appropriate RSVP time lines. I want to fucking murder them for invading what is a near life or death experience for me. I give up, stand, and painfully button my jeans. I wash my hands at an awkward, straight armed angle since I still can’t bend, and shoot a withering look at the women as I exit.
Back at the table I don’t bother with formalities. I am, at this point, actually concerned that abdominal bursting is a real possibility. I unbutton my fly before sliding – well, more like grunting and lurching – into the booth and sitting there, propped against the red vinyl like an overgrown Cabbage Patch doll, my eyes wide in terror, answering questions with the little breath I am allowing myself. In a last ditch effort to make by bowels emit anything at all, I try a few bites of pizza but quickly determine this is only adding to the problem. I hate my stupid self right now because it was my idea to ride with the group over to the restaurant, leaving my car in the lot that will cost me triple in overdraft fees. All I can do is breathe slow and shallow and remind myself that at least if I die tonight, the last thing I tasted will have been pizza and there is some small comfort in that. Even if I am pretty sure I consumed cat food earlier.
Finally we are in the cold, nighttime air, walking back to the car. I have not bothered to rebutton my jeans because honestly I don’t know if it is physically possible. A short, agonizing ride later and I am dropped off at my dirt-crusted Toyota Echo. As I step into it I gasp out loud in pain as I feel what I am certain is a rupture from within. On the drive home I am behind every mentally challenged, bullet-to-the-brain damaged, moron bred by morons, what-are-these-pedals-for? fuck wad, old confused lady in Los Angeles. I scream things like, “Ok, God!? I get it! I am being punished! Just make it stop!” and then in a sudden change of tactic, “But murderers are way worse than me and their stomachs are fine!!!” At a long red light I moan and cry, “Oh my God I am going to die, my stomach is going to burst like that tyrant in the 1700’s whose bladder burst and killed him!” and then, “Really, God? Anatomically this makes no sense. Why would you not design the body to RELEASE gas? What is the point of making it SIT there?” As I near the apartment where I am cat-sitting I whisper with as little torso-flexing as possible, “Please, God, let me not tear wide open, please let me not die of a burst intestine.” God, if he exists, must be aware by now that I am an atheist everywhere except planes, the doctor, and now in situations involving trapped gas. Well, fuck him for choosing such a petty way to seek revenge. And fuck me for eating cat food.
In the apartment I kick off my clothes, manage to pull on pajamas with as little bending as possible, feed the cats (hey, look guys, we had the same thing for dinner), and crawl into bed. I try out several positions before figuring out none are good but all are better than being in a booth or a car. After a moment, I feel first one bounce and thump and then another as the cats join me on the bed. Bug, the brown tabby, nestles herself between my knees and falls asleep. Butterscotch, a giant long-haired calico, crawls up next to my face and licks my nose for a while before curling up like a cocktail shrimp, paws over nose, and snoozing with his forehead against mine. As I fall asleep I am already amending my ‘no cheese ever again,’ vow to allow for certain cheeses at times when I will not be carless and jammed like a plump sardine into designer denim and a vinyl booth all night.