I can tell you when I decided to make the fees for my performances so expensive that no one wanted to use my services anymore. I was curled up on the tile floor of that bathroom, naked, shivering and shaking, as I profusely sweat until I was drenched in a pool of my own salty leavings. That was the end of my era.
I was that guy, the guy who took bets. It started out innocently years ago. I remember when it first happened. My friend found a Chiclet on the floor of a fast-food restaurant. There was rat poison sprinkled near it, and you could tell some mice had run over it, leaving tiny black pellets close by. Picking up that white, intact, hard candy shelled piece of gum between his forefinger and thumb, it was as if he were holding up the One Ring, examining it in the crappy winking fluorescent lighting. Five bucks was the bet. Snatching that from his fingers before he had the chance to renege, I was masticating a chiclet of unknown age or origin.
Over the years, the bets became more extreme, but there seemed to be nothing that could stop me. I had snorted red pepper, eaten a whole magazine, consumed napkins used to wipe down the bar…the list goes on. And then the onion. This was not the worst—that would come later—but the onion was an endeavor. Fifteen seconds to eat a whole raw onion. That was the requirement. I held onto that white onion like it was a life preserver after my ship sunk. I knew it would be bad. I don’t eat them raw. Ever! I pick them off my salads, I don’t like them on my burgers, I can’t stand them in meatloaf. Now saute them, caramelize, deep fry, I’ll eat them heartily, but, raw, that is my bane. So here I was, knowing I was going to lose, but refusing to back down. And…go!
I chomped into that onion like I had been part of the Donner party after the long winter. I ferociously chewed, champed, salivated. Open mouth gnawing and gnashing, until, the bile built. It was defeating me. Fifteen seconds passed, but I refused to give in, let it defeat me. Tears welled up in my eyes, and for the first time, they saw I could be defeated. I was vulnerable, and I was done. The onion went in the trash, and then the rest of it was regurgitated in the toilet. That was a brutal night.
That allium bulb did not have lasting effect on my psyche though, and I was back at it in short time. I am not sure what runs through the minds of men that makes them think, hey, this guy could accomplish this disgusting feat. For that matter, why they would want to? In the end, it is entertainment. Jackass would not have been a television show if people didn’t watch it. I’ve never really understood it, or encouraged it. They just come to me with these challenges and I accept or decline. Whatever I consumed was usually dead.
I had eaten bugs before. I received my bachelors in Anthropology and to prove the point of different food sources and cultures, we ate bugs in class one day. They were dried and prepared by a company out in California, but it put the point across, there is more than one source of food that is culturally acceptable. Because of this, and my father’s penchant to always note that a bug in our food was extra protein, I had no problem eating an insect. Some, though, are more palatable than others.
Stink bugs, well, they stink, especially when being eaten. And what makes them stink does not taste good. The request for a performance of mine is very nonchalant. When I am first approached by a friend, it normally go like this: “Hey Jester, five bucks if you eat (insert object, food, bug here).” Then negotiations start. We might go up a few, but usually, for something small, it stays around five. So, five it was. I popped that bug in my mouth, and it crunched like a hard pretzel, but filled my oropharynx with a viscous goo. It wasn’t a big bug, and didn’t take long to finish, but my tongue instantly went numb. So, for the rest of the day, I had no feeling or taste in my mouth. Worth every cent.
More bets came and went. Some were never followed through on. Cooler heads prevailed in those instances, and because of that I was not impaled with a letter opener, or rubbed red pepper in my eyes, or drop my testicles into a metal fan, nor did a matchbox sized school bus become lodged in my rectum to have been removed by my good friend’s wife for a cut of the profit. The school bus had collected serious money amongst my clutch, and the retraction of this bet was blamed on the sudden recession of our economy—we were up over $400. Either way, for whatever reason these bets did not come to fruition, I am glad. It is nice not to have a perforated intestine or lacerated liver.
So there I was, older, years later and the bet that made me gun shy, put me on alert of my own mortality, made me realize I was being childish, was generic, grocery store brand, worcestershire sauce. I had drank, or attempted, pints of thick, mucilaginous, Bisquick mix and pints of schmeg. These consisted of various random liquids and solutions mixed together to create one potion of revolting proportions. But this normal seasoning and food enhancer was the one that ended my days of bets.
It was poured into a pint, and my strategy of “go high on price” didn’t work. Just a little under a hundred, the price was negotiated, and I drank that pint of salty, onion and garlic flavored water, much to my chagrin. To the last drop finished, I collected my bounty, drank two pints of water, and began to sweat. Profusely. I did the only thing a proud man could do, leave the room and suffer in silence away from the crowd. Finding a clean and empty bathroom, I locked the door behind me, stripped stark naked as the sweat stuck my clothes to my body like I had jumped into the roiling ocean, and lay on the tile floor. The cold felt good on my skin. I laid in a puddle of my own perspiration as my body rejected the dangerous amount of sodium I had consumed. If only I could have been hooked up to an EKG, it would have been intense and frightening to see what the rhythm looked like.
So I laid there, in a pool of my own sweat, on the cleanest dirty tile floor I’ve ever been nude on, and thought, this is the end, the end of my bets. Twenty minutes later, I wiped my body clean of sweat with paper towels, put my clothes back on, and adjourned from that space. I can only imagine the next person coming in there, to see this large, human shaped puddle on the floor, a slick wetness stretched across the grey tile. I am now too expensive for my friends; no one can afford my fees for the acts I perform.
That was the end of an era. We all have to grow up. Really though, it has nothing to do with growing up, becoming wiser as we grow older, instead, it is about finding yourself, and knowing why you do things, and what drives you. So, I put the baton down, and walked away from it. From time to time, I get asked, but the offers have diminished. Occasionally, old stories will come up, and we will all reminisce. Someone might try and negotiate. My response, “You can’t afford me.”