Warning: the following anecdote may not be for the weak of stomach or faint of heart.
In early November of 1998, I made my first trip away from the West Coast, a two-week trip to New York City. I was accompanied on this trip by my close friend Max, who had spent some time there before. We quickly settled into a regular routine of exploration and drinking, a lot of drinking. New York's lax attitude towards carding in bars, along with my recent aquision of a fake ID, made it a wonderful atmosphere to go bar hopping. Each night we would scan the listings of Time Out New York for three or four clubs that advertised as having no cover, and we would hit them, dropping quickly any bar that had too much attitude or charged too much for drinks.
Not having the cash or the inclination to stay in a hotel, we were shacking up with Godzilla (real name Nathan, but for reasons that escape me, the nickname was ubiquitous) a philosophy grad student at NYU with whom I'd done some work at Evergreen. He was a crazy kid; conversations with him tended to be pretty much completely one sided. He talked a lot, he talked fast, and he usually said things that were half incomprehensible. He lived in Brooklyn, with three or four other students, in a huge warehouse that had just enough walls to be an apartment. The place was near the water, a couple blocks from the first Brooklyn stop of the F train, making access to Manhattan quick and easy. The arrangement was good, though more by virtue of our drinking habits than anything else -- we were sleeping on a few thin pads on a concrete floor in an unheated warehouse in New York in November, so coming home drunk every night meant passing out without noticing how cold we were.
Towards the end of our first week in the city, we were following our usual routine: wake, take the subway into Manhattan, wander around all day, go drinking, return at 3-4 in the morning, sleep, repeat. We spent most of the day in the Village, and for some reason decided to return to our home base before the evening's drinking started. We arrived at around 5 PM. Shortly afterwards, Godzilla awoke, apparently for the first time that day. He quickly made it known that he had an intense and aggressive hangover. We pressed him for details.
Apparently, the previous night had been spent celebrating a friend's birthday, and celebrate they did. Starting at midnight, they quickly set into a pattern which would be repeated for 9 or 10 hours: drink until no one in the party could manage to stand up or locomote, then insufflate cocaine until every member of the party was fully mobile again. Repeat. He'd staggered home sometime around 9 or 10 and probably shouldn't have arisen as early as he did. He limped off for a bath.
We determined a bit later that eating was in order and asked the clean-but-still-hurting Godzilla for neighborhood recommendations. He decided to show us to a part of Brooklyn Heights where there were lots of choices. We headed out.
On the way out, he grabbed a Sprite, and probably every third sentence he uttered was either "I feel like a monster" or "Geez, I feel terrible" or some variation thereof. We probably should have taken this as a warning sign, but... hindsight. It was just another hangover to us.
After a short walk, we arrive in a small shopping neighborhood, where, as promised, there are many food options. After bit of the usual "I dunno, what do you want?" conversation, we settled on Godzilla's suggestion, a quiet sushi joint. Little did I know that this was to be my last attempt at eating sushi for over a year.
The restaurant was quiet; there were four or five tables of diners but none especially close to us. We ordered a fair amount of assorted nigiri and maki; Godzilla asked for miso and I started off with some kind of light fish-based soup, which i promised to share with Max. The soups arrived fairly quickly, fresh and hot. We dug in, hungry and ready.
I worked on my soup for a bit before passing it to Max. As she went for her first bit, I saw Godzilla frown, out of the corner of my eye. He looked directly down at his soup, opened his mouth, and a torrent of vomit shot out of his mouth. As it hit the bowl it splashed out in a massive fountain of bile, covering a good portion of the table in his vincinity. I discovered that I had jumped up and was half standing. Max had done the same. Godzilla looked up at us, a blank look of incomprehension on his face.
"I threw up," he said simply, and putting his head back down he did it again.
The force and intensity with which these columns of effluvia were leaving his body was incredible; I have never seen anything like it. In two shots he managed to tag everything on the table. Perhaps even more shocking was the reaction of the staff: nothing. Max grabbed a waitress and demanded to know where the bathroom was. The woman clearly didn't understand what was being asked, which baffled all of us. Max tried again:
"Where is your bathroom? My friend is very sick!"
The woman looked a bit confused and gestured to a hallway behind her. Max dragged Godzilla down the hallway and returned after a moment. She wanted to leave as soon as possible. I agreed that we should attempt to pay for the food that we'd recieved and get out. She felt that was the best course of action, but wanted to wait outside -- the events had left her queasy and she felt it would be in the best interests of all of us if we didn't have another puker on our hands.
I explained to the waitress that we needed to leave and thrust some money into her hands. She brought me change. Still no visible reaction from any of the staff to the fact that a customer had just visibly and loudly covered a table with vomit. Fuck it, I thought. If they're going to pretend that nothing happened, so will I. I grabbed Max's hat and gloves and went to make sure she was okay, which she was.
When I returned inside a busboy was cleaning the table off. He gingerly handed me Max's scarf, which had taken a bit more collateral damage than the other items of clothing. I thanked him and retrieved Godzilla from the bathroom, where he had clearly further evacuated the contents of his stomach. We beat a hasty retreat out and back to his house, where we put him to bed before heading into the city.
For the next few hours, the image of Nathan vomiting played over and over in my head. It was a scene straight out of Dead Alive or some such horror flick. I had a very hard time eating that night, and as I mentioned earlier, it would be over a year before I could bring myself to face sushi again.