Many years ago, inspired by the stellar example of the Buddha, and a bizarre association with one Wild Bill Periwinkle, an American New Age writer I’d met in the backwoods of New Brunswick, I decided to become a vegetarian.
It was a sensible thing to do, although desperation played a part. After years of struggling to make it as a writer, I was ready to emulate the virtues of any good role model, and since Wild Bill had already carved a niche for himself in the publishing world, I figured that if it worked for him, it might also work for me. According to Wild Bill, if only I’d free my body from the bad karma of all those hapless animals sacrificed for my dining pleasure, my luck would turn, and I too could soon see my name on a book jacket. Equally important, Wild Bill explained, there were also significant health benefits.
“After years of eating meat, the heavy mucus coating in the colon thickens to the consistency of truck tire rubber, becoming a host of putrefaction. As noxious debris seeps through the bowel wall, the capillaries to the colon suck up these toxins and distribute them freely among the organs and tissues of the body.”
Wild Bill took a long draw on a skinny joint and passed it to me. He was a normally reticent fellow, but as soon as he had a lungful of ganja smoke inside him, he became as gabby as a talk-show host on amphetamines.
“Thanks to years of encrusted fecal buildup, some colons under autopsy have measured nine inches in diameter, with channels no bigger than a pencil through which one can barely pass a rabbit pellet, never mind the super-sized leftovers of yesterday’s fast food meal. I’ll bet you didn’t know, Elvis had 60 pounds of this crap jamming up his exit route.”
“Is that why he died on the john?” I said.
“To rid your body of all that intestinal gunk, and pave the way for a better life, both now and in your next incarnation, you’ve got to undergo a cleansing diet,” Wild Bill told me in his most seriously spiritual tone.
It seemed like a worthy goal, and although I’d followed Wild Bill’s advice on any number of other quasi-mystical regimens that had failed to manifest any noteworthy benefit, I was always game for another adventure in consciousness-raising. According to Wild Bill, it was simply a matter of faith and perseverance before my colon would be running as clean as a mountain stream.
The program was deceptively simple, as outlined in The Canadian Whole Earth Almanac, a copy of which Wild Bill loaned me as proof this wasn’t just another of his crazy ideas, but was in fact endorsed by one of the flagship publications of the counter-culture. In the best New Age tradition, with a strong bias for all things cosmic, the diet would start on the New Moon and finish on the Full Moon. Fifteen days, in which I should eat no more nor less than nine bananas a day. To wash it down, I could drink all the orange juice I wanted. And if I needed to suppress any gas resulting from the consumption of enough bananas to feed a small tribe of monkeys, I should add three cardamom seeds to this daily regimen. That’s it, that’s all.
This being my first diet, I decided to keep it simple. I’d never been one to suffer from gas, so I didn’t trouble myself with hunting down the exotic cardamom seed at a natural foods emporium. Instead, I went to the nearest supermarket and bought a case of almost-ripe bananas, and a gallon of orange juice. The checkout girl looked at me kind of funny.
“Yes, but he’s a naughty little primate, and I frequently have to spank him. Do you love animals? Maybe you could help. What time do you get off work?”
She hurriedly gave me change and turned her attention to the next shopper in line. I shouldered my case of bananas and headed home.
My first day went something like this: two bananas for breakfast, three bananas for lunch, three bananas for dinner and one banana for a late-night snack. The first couple of days went fine. I liked bananas and they seemed to like me. I noticed, however, that despite all this volume, my bowels seemed to have gone on strike. Maybe they were just trying to adjust to this pH-neutral food that was so good for them that they didn’t know how to deal with it, somewhat like the aboriginal peoples who didn’t get it at first that the arriving colonists would, contrary to all the initial evidence, eventually improve their quality of life, turning them from itinerant hunter-gatherers into business-savvy casino operators.
Finally, on day three I had a bowel movement that should have prompted me to get a photo and/or a witness to register it for the Guinness Book of World Records. It was the size of a banana-colored anaconda, and took several flushes of the toilet to banish it to the netherworld of the sewage system. My inner monkey got quite a primal fright in seeing this snake-like phenomenon so up close and personal, but after it was gone, I felt distinctly lighter in all respects. Maybe I was now on my way to cleanliness of body, soul and spirit, just as Wild Bill in a temporary lucid state had prophesied.
Around day five, I began to suffer gas attacks the like of which World War One trench soldiers had never experienced. At first it was just a minor thing, a bit of intestinal bloating, followed by a relieving wind that smelled distinctly of bananas. It had quite a sweetish odor, actually, and in the volumes being emitted, quickly precluded the need in my apartment for incense to mask the odor of stale kitty litter or the catnip my feline friends were fond of smoking day and night.
I rushed out to the nearest health food store and bought a hundred grams of cardamom seeds. I didn’t have anything with which to grind the seeds to a powder, so I just gobbled a handful. An hour later, I lay doubled up on my bed, nearly paralyzed by terrible stomach cramps.
Meanwhile, it was obvious that the cardamom seeds had none of their desired effect, and by day’s end I was discharging gas almost continuously, at an industrial rate of production. My lower bowel had been transformed into a banana methane factory.
I called my girlfriend and cancelled our usual Friday night date. She was miffed but I preferred not to explain. On Saturday night I skipped a movie I’d planned to see with some buddies. I didn’t go to church on Sunday morning. I missed classes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, however, I had a test in American Lit 409 that was so important I couldn’t avoid it, so by hissing wind all the way to the class, and then completing a multiple choice questionnaire in record time, I made a beeline to the washroom where I cut loose a wicked one that nearly blew the door off the stalls. Temporarily deflated, I retreated to self-imposed solitary confinement in my apartment. Ironically, my reading assignment for the weekend was Gone With the Wind.
Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, Nietzsche said, but he never had to go through this. Suffering in the name of a good cause, however, I maintained a stiff upper lip and a flaccid sphincter. Four more days and my colon would be ollie-ollie-toxin-free. Although I desperately craved pizza, beer, potato chips, pork rinds, salted peanuts – anything but the sweet mush of another banana – I hung tough. God in his wisdom had something good for me at the end of all this, I believed, my faith as unshakeable as those Kamikaze pilots who rode their planes down to destruction with what they called a divine wind at their backs. Trouble is, when I looked over my shoulder, the wind at my back was nothing short of diabolic.
The hiss of gas was a constant background noise. My upstairs neighbors called the utility company to complain about a leak. When a technician arrived with his gas monitor, I told him to go ahead and check the place, I was just going out for a walk. I hurried across the street and into a cemetery where I hunched behind a gravestone and liberated some bowel steam. Squirrels in the trees above swooned like canaries and hung from the branches with sick expressions on their furry little mugs. When I returned to my apartment half an hour later I found a note from the utility man saying everything was fine with the gas lines, but maybe I should empty my garbage can, which was overflowing with rotten banana skins and empty orange juice cartons.
On the afternoon of day 15, the Full Moon, I was down to the short strokes on this inhuman diet, which by now I was convinced must have been dreamed up by Hanuman, the fierce monkey god of Hindu cosmology, as some bizarre rite of evolutionary progress. No dessert until you eat your vegetables, and no rebirth until you eat your fruit. I was counting, if not the hours, then certainly the bananas. 131 down, only four more to go. I could do it. Before me lay only dinner and a bedtime snack, and then one last night’s restless sleep, during which I would toss and turn and billow the bed sheets with enough banana methane to heat a house.
The doorbell rang. It was Wild Bill, come to town for his once-a-week grocery run, during which he invariably dropped his wife off at the local health food store while he popped around the corner to shoot the breeze and share a joint with me. As was his custom, it was already dangling from his mouth, his lighter cocked in his right hand ready for ignition. As he ambled in, he said, “Whew, that’s some funky-smelling shit, man, you need to open a window and vent this place out.” But before I could say, wait, don’t light that up in here, he flicked his lighter and a tiny flame erupted in a fiery cloud of gas.
They said the blast was heard a dozen blocks away. A fire truck was there in minutes, followed shortly thereafter by a hazardous materials unit and an ambulance, and later by the police and the arson squad. Wild Bill and I were released from the hospital that evening, after criminal intentions had been ruled out, suffering only minor burns incurred at ground-zero of what the haz-mat team called a low-concentration methane explosion of organic origins. I returned to my apartment, whose broken windows had been temporarily sealed with sheets of plastic. I opened two of the windows to create a cross-draught and set a place for dinner at the kitchen table. I pureed one banana in the blender to make soup, ate two more normally as the main dish, and diced the last one to eat for dessert. Exhausted but full, I went to bed.
Aside from the diabolic wind, I slept well, and on awakening to the smell of rotten banana skins, I emptied the garbage and swore that occult vegetarian diets would no longer be a part of this writer’s lifestyle. From this day forth, I resolved to revert to my omnivorous ways. With the dawning of a new day and a new lease on life, I hastened off to my favorite breakfast joint and ordered one of everything on the menu – eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, grits, beans, cereal, muffin, hash browns, toast, and a big pot of coffee.
Recognizing a ravenous man when she saw one, the waitress asked me, “Do you want a fruit cup with that?”
After a moment’s hesitation I said, “Yes, but hold the bananas.”