Zuma’s Revenge, or, Triumph of the Euphemism (Failure of the Analogy?).


i have said before, perhaps too often and too glibly, that i live my life in avoidance of the stomach ache (however little i modify my behaviour to the achievement of this end, aside from excluding from my diet expired meat and psychedelic mushrooms). it is too fearsome, it suffuses and poisons the being, wrenches the soul a little from its seat (or wrenches the seat and so jars the soul a little) and makes an enemy of the whole world. one can enjoy nothing when one has a stomach ache.

but i have of late had much occasion to think on and about dyspepsia, as gastrointestinal distress-unto-terror has proven to be a nigh-constant companion in Mexico (it loves me, walks beside me, to chide me, perhaps to guide me?): from an uneasy bloat, perpetual and inconsistent with one’s recent intake, to the weakness, tremor and indisposition of diarrhea*, to a general exhaustion and hyper-vigilance for anything that might seek to liberate itself from the rosy confines of the gut under pretense of gas. i wonder at the word itself. dyspepsia it turns out is no common stomach ache, but the medicalization of indigestion, if you will. derangement of the bowels, pain upon palpation, that sort of thing. it also has the dubious honour of being for me a word around which has collected thickly the coagula of memory, more viscous for it being the memory of embarrassment. by this i do not mean an embarrassing memory of dyspepsia itself (for who among us has not eaten a kilogram of dried apricots at some time or another?), but of the very word, dyspepsia, specifically.

i cannot recall the grade (sixth?), but i remember the desk at which it was written (the back bedroom of our Edward St. house, whose closet emptied into the passageway leading to the attic, which passageway featured somewhat unexpectedly a set of monkey bars, upon which i and whatever young friend spent many hours monkeying around, lounging and scheming, aloft): a story for school about an invasion of small crab-like aliens. seeking a word to convey, what? fear? horror? trepidation? i alighted with the aid of a thesaurus upon dyspepsia, which i took at face value as an appropriate synonym, but was later called out by my teacher for failing to realize actually meant indigestion. i don’t recall the context of the embarrassment. was it a private humiliation? one performed in the margin notes and felt in the cleft between reader and text (i, the reader of the margin notes, not they, the reader of the text. although, maybe so? could they have been embarrassed for my sake?)? i can’t imagine it was a public shaming; i should remember such an event. but i remember it as the first taste of shame of that sort: the stark not-knowing-of-a-word, finding myself exposed by either my own over-reaching or the misapprehension by others of the extent of my knowledge (the second time, many years later, a university professor who called on me quite unexpectedly to apprise the rest of the class of the meaning of bathetic [we were reading David French’s Leaving Home], of which i had no idea, but you’d best believe have since made a point of remembering, for all the -never- that i am called upon to demonstrate it). it is a peculiar embarrassment, in which one manages to disappoint both others and oneself.

there’s a the funny biographical recursion to this: the child known for his precocious vocabulary, shown up by its inadequacy, mortified by its and his failure, by the cipher of “dyspepsia.” years later the man, known for his food fixation, makes a maxim of his desire to avoid at all costs the upset stomach. the man who never knows quite how to answer the question “Where does your interest in words come from?”

perhaps, after all, i am just trying to avoid dyspepsia?

* diarrhea is also pretty interesting. perhaps because, like vomiting, it is one of those (hopefully) rare experiences of a total lack of control over the body, an alienation from the flesh at the moment of its greatest excess. one really does feel invaded in a way, or impregnated, become host to a stomach that has turned against the rest of the organism, although i suppose in many (bacterial, parasitic) cases it is more a matter of the digestive tract taking extreme measures to expel some other unwelcome presence. “A disorder consisting of too frequent evacuation of too fluid feces, sometimes attended with griping pains.” (would you imagine that the entries for gripe and griping occupy 2 full pages? it is all grasping, gripping, clutching tenaciously, that which can be held in a hand, then “The ‘clutch’ or ‘pinch’ of something painful. Spasms of pain, pangs of grief or affliction . . . An intermittent spasmodic pain in the lower bowls.” or a vulture. or a griffin.)


2 thoughts on “Zuma’s Revenge, or, Triumph of the Euphemism (Failure of the Analogy?).

  1. me says:

    Hmmmmm my monkey bars, yes

    and maybe this love for words,
    and meaning,
    and leaving a dictionary
    as the only bathroom reading.

    in this mix maybe

  2. stillcrapulent says:

    i realize now that the title of this only made sense when in the original picture i was wearing a homemade Neil Young shirt, eating street food.

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