This is where you get to hear the non-fun parts of what it’s like to have a portion of your body progressively cooked. I’m lucky- so far I’ve experienced Barbecue Lite. God knows there are people in this building who are experiencing far worse.
1. I feel tired. A deep tiredness that overtakes around 10 or 11. Sometimes noon. When it hits, if I can, I just need to lie down and sleep. Usually two hours. It’s hitting right now in fact so I’m thumbing on autopilot as I ride BART down to SFO to meet Anna. The tiredness feels as if my bodily reserves are all being enlisting to help repair the damage being inflicted on my neck.
2. Hunger. I need to eat constantly – every 3 to 4 hours, I crave protein and fat. In the mirror today my body was beginning to appear ever so slightly withered as if it was beginning to consume itself. Which it is. CatsM lost 35 pounds and would spend a day nursing a milkshake that killed her to swallow. Losing 10% of your body weight leads to a feeding tube. You don’t want the feeding tube. For me the Maginot line is 135 pounds.
3. Taste. And here’s the rub: I’m hungry as hell, but food tastes like clay. Over the last week it’s felt as if layers of my taste buds have been peeled back resulting in a uniform deadening of taste. I began to lose salt first (soy sauce now tastes sweet. Salami tastes like sweet meat), then some of the more nuanced flavors – cocoa, aromatic herbs – and now I’m even losing the taste of sugar. I had a bowl of grapenuts with milk and bananas this morning and each of the elements tasted the same: clay in three forms – hard, soft, and liquid. Yesterday I had an italian hoagie from the Philly Cheesesteak shop. I’d had one the week before, and truly it was one of the best I’d ever had – these guys really really know what they’re doing. But this time round there was little of it. The textures were all the same, but as for flavor I had to summon it from my memory and imagination. I think of that story from the intense famine of wartime japan. Once a day the members of a particular village would gather in a room and each would be given a few grains of rice. They would place the rice on their tongues and a village member would slowly describe a delectable multi-course meal. Their eyes shut, they would listen to this bountiful feast.
Of paticular interest is water: it tastes like metal. As does butter. As do a lot of things. And I still have sour. And I still have bitter. Which makes me wonder if pleasurable sensations are the gratuitous ones and are hence the ones to leave us first. What remains are the foundational sensory nerves and corresponding pathways – the warning bells and flashing red lights that tell us DANGER DANGER something is going wrong. It prevents us from licking lead (though isn’t lead paint suppose to be sweet? I can’t recall from when I use to eat it as a kid. And antifreeze is suppose to taste kind of nice – that’s why condors go for it) and chowing on arsenic and cadmium. At the very least our tongues need to work well enough to prevent us from killing us. That’s what drove the evolution of taste in the first place – it’s job was to steer us clear of the bad stuff and – as in sex – incent us to steer toward the good. So you peel away the pleasure. And then there’s pain. When all is said and gone, isn’t that usually what we’re left with?