2. The Time I Ate a Sprouted Potato
The interesting thing about the time I vomited from eating a sprouted potato was not only the immediacy and violence of the vomiting, but also the complete relief the vomiting brought on.
It was 1997 and I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in a Latvian country town called Cesis. Because part of the Peace Corps mission is to have volunteers live in the same economic circumstances as the people they’re working with, I was being paid $300 a month. This was not a lot of money, even in Latvia. In fact, every two weeks, when my grandmother would send me a letter and a $20 bill, it had a serious impact on what I was able to eat and drink and where I was able to go.
I will admit my dire financial situation was partly my own doing because, being a 22-year-old guy, I was going into the capitol city of Riga every weekend to party. And to make matters worse, I was running with a group of young, expatriated American businessmen who made Western money and spent it freely. So, in order to stake my Riga life, my Cesis life had to be quite abstemious.
Basically, when I was home during the week, I did nothing but teach English, play basketball, work out and read. When I think now about what my daily schedule was like back then, I simply cannot fathom how I survived.
You know how your grandpa used to tell you he walked two miles to school everyday uphill through the snow? That’s the school I worked at.
My daily routine went like this: I’d hike two steep miles to school then teach a full day of classes. When my classes ended, I played basketball with a bunch of students until seven. At seven, I’d hike into town for… basketball practice! Then, after practice, I’d walk the two miles back home and do situps and read until dinner was ready.
To save money during this halcyon period, I’d settled on the brilliant strategy of eating only once a day. This, I did right before bed so that hunger wouldn’t keep me up. I wasn’t a huge fan of the meat market in our town—it was a dingy square with a roof that was 100% covered in bird shit where people displayed whatever they’d killed and chopped up on blankets on the ground—so my diet consisted mainly of beans, vegetables, rice, the occasional sausage (when Grandma had dropped her bi-weekly 20 on me) and that ubiquitous Latvian staple, the potato. When I was being smart, I’d buy these things in bulk at the start of every month to safeguard against blowing my food money on Russian girls at the Pepsi Forums Nightclub in Riga.
Whenever it was possible to go outside without freezing my face off, I’d cook the vegetables on a little grill on my balcony—heady days!—but most of the time I was just eating a big ol’ pot of boiled rice or potatoes with veggies sautéed in oil.
While it may sound weird that I ate this way, even stranger was how excited I got about my nightly bowl of food. During about the second hour of my first basketball practice I’d start taking a mental inventory of what I had in the house, what I could buy on the way home and how I was going to cook everything. I suppose when you’re burning about 1,000 more calories than you’re taking in every day, you can get quite excited about even mild offerings. When I arrived in Latvia I weighed about 230 pounds. By the end of my first year, I had leveled out at 165. I never got much below 165 in the other year and a half I lived there, but I think that’s probably because my skin, hair and bones weigh 160.
Regardless of what it was I had to eat, the chewing and swallowing of food was a pretty big deal around my apartment. I’d stand over my pot or pan or grill salivating, barely able to bang out 12 more chinups in my eagerness to dine.
The time I ate the sprouted potato must have been a particularly bad month, financially, because I knew you weren’t supposed to eat sprouted potatoes. I remember finding the thing in the bottom of a bowl where I kept my produce and thinking, “Man, this is one gnarly little guy.” But I was, of course, starving, so I peeled it and tossed it into the pot and hoped for the best.
The best was not what I got. But it was at least interesting.
Often, in the half hour or so preceding a big barf, there’s some kind of internal debate going on. It’s like your body has to figure out if this is a real code red emergency and whether it’s worth all the trouble to rally the troops and void the stomach of its contents. Not so with the sprouted potato.
The reason I rank this my second most incredible vomit experience was the savagery and conviction of the vomiting. There was no bargaining to be done with my body in this case. No “lying down for a minute” or “getting some fresh air.” Like a basketball bouncing, the very instant the sprouted potato hit my stomach it started heading back up.
I remember I was sitting on the couch reading with the bowl in my lap when I suddenly knew with utter certainty I was going to vomit. I got sick so fast I didn’t even have time to say, “I think I’m going to…” I just sprinted to the bathroom, sending the bowl careening under a planter, and heaved heavily for about 90 seconds.
And then.. it was over. Everything that had been in, was out. I was completely spent and my stomach felt like a rolled up tube of toothpaste.
While the violence and alacrity of the sprouted potato vomit experience qualifies this as one of my most outstanding barfs, it was not one of the most unpleasant. Once the thick column of spew had stopped issuing from my face, I felt perfectly fine. In fact, I remember that I was even hungry enough to walk all the way back up to town where there was a store that stayed open late. I used the emergency credit card my mother gave me to buy beer, Danish Krisprolls, mustard and a hunk of cheese. It must have seemed like Christmas.
Next time on this Very Special Episode of FTF’s Top Four Amazing Vomit Experiences: Seasick in the Drake Passage!