By John McCabe
Editor’s Note: When John McCabe e-mailed me, wondering if I ‘d like to publish an excerpt from his book about his son’s vomiting problem on a family trip to Washington, DC, I thought, “No. On a newly launched website, that is not a topic that endears itself to readers. Besides, people might be eating breakfast.” But I reconsidered when the author informed me he is donating his book profits to the Haitian Health Foundation. Besides, it actually is a funny story.
If you are currently waking up, and munching on a Krispy Kreme doughnut, you might prefer to read something else. But if humorous tales of family vacations with sick teenagers are your kind of thing, this’ll probably make you laugh. If you like what you see here, you can read more of John McCabe’s family vacation woes in his book, Guess When I’ll Puke.
Getting information out of a 13-year-old boy is like removing a splinter. It’s painful and you don’t get everything out you want. So when JJ complained on the way to the Library of Congress that he wasn’t feeling well, my wife and I had no clue if he had typhoid or a hangnail. We decided the best course of action would be to stop for some Krispy Kreme donuts and some sort of neon-orange-colored drink. Nothing like donuts to cure a case of typhoid.
When we got to the Library of Congress, we were early for the next tour, so we walked around, checking out the architecture and art. It was in the middle of the grand foyer, surrounded by precious historical artifacts, I heard the sound of projectile vomiting behind me.
Fortunately, we had many years of training for such a scenario. We had given JJ a Krispy Kreme bag to carry. He has a history of puking in magnificent places. He threw up on a volcano in Hawaii, atop the Sierra Nevadas in Yosemite, amid the rugged hills of Appalachia, and, most notably, all over me in a waterfront villa in the Virgin Islands. So when JJ says he’s feeling sick, we reflexively hand him a bag.
Our past experience had been that his motion sickness would result in a single puke session and then he’d be fine. He found a bathroom and cleaned up.
A few minutes into our tour, JJ started to emanate moans. I didn’t pay attention at first. Even when he’s healthy, he’s been known to moan during tours. But while our guide was showing off the Gutenberg Bible as the first “great book printed in Western Europe,” JJ bent over and grabbed his stomach.
I had visions of him throwing up orange donut vomit all over this treasure of humanity, and an army of librarians hunting us for the rest of our lives. And while I found the notion of librarians chasing after me with rulers strangely intriguing, I decided to save humanity the loss of a great relic. I ushered JJ to the bathroom.
People gave me strange looks as I waited outside his stall for something to happen. Trying to explain things didn’t help.
“I’m not a pervert or anything, I’m just waiting for someone. By someone, I mean my son. Really, you don’t need to call the cops.”
It was only a matter of time before a Park Police officer arrived.
He knocked on JJ’s stall. “You OK in there?”
JJ mumbled back, “MFFPHHH.”
Since the police officer wasn’t bilingual and couldn’t speak “teenage boy,” I interpreted.
“He says he’s feeling sick and he needs to hurl.”
The officer seemed content with my explanation. He left the bathroom. Meanwhile, Helene bought a tote bag in the gift shop so we’d have a future barf receptacle, if necessary.
I wasn’t in the mood to spend the night in the basement bathroom of the Library of Congress, so after 30 minutes, I asked JJ to come out and sit on a nearby bench. We sat with him, trying to assess how sick he was. He said he wasn’t feeling well, but didn’t know if he’d puke again. Caring parents that we are, we assured him he was up for a tour of the US Capitol. We walked through the tunnel from the Library of Congress. As soon as we got past Capitol security, I heard that sound again.
The site of a teenage boy slumped in a chair, puking into a Library of Congress tote bag threw security guards into a frenzied state of alert. Just as they were about to take action, the officer from the bathroom arrived and recognized JJ. Being recognized by the police as “the boy from the bathroom” is not something you generally want your child to aspire to.
“You again?!! Do you all need an ambulance or other medical assistance?”
We replied we were okay, and just needed to get back to the hotel.
As we left, I poured the contents of JJ’s bag into a drain in front of the Capitol. I’m sure between vomiting in the Library of Congress, my “I’m not a pervert” bathroom speech, JJ puking at the US Capitol security station, and my pouring toxic liquids into government drains, we are now on every government watch list out there.