As it turns out, my grade school bullies were right. I do eat worms and drink pee.
It's fair to suggest their twisted little minds planted the idea in my head. As a squeamish child, I'd never have come up with that on my own – not unless one of those stones they threw knocked me in the worms-and-pee section of my brain. It's possible.
To my credit, the acts didn't manifest quite as my bullies imagined. The worm was Mexican and travelled via souvenir mezcal to a Friday night in Montreal. The bottle housed only one worm, so, to my horror my friend Cathy sliced through its middle and offered me first choice of ends – a version of Heads-or-Tails impossible to win.
"Aaaaaaarghaaawwwaaawwwaaaaarrrrrrrgh!" I retched with the wrinkled grub in my mouth.
Though equal in size to two aspirin, it hadn't occurred to me not to grind its tiny leathery, jelly-filled body into a putrid alcoholic pulp before swallowing – not until I did just that. I feared I'd see that worm again.
It's a matter of perspective whether that's the most disgusting thing I've ever had in my mouth. I'd argue the virus (which has still has control of my sinuses) tops the list, but you might suggest pee as a fairly strong contender.
As I've explained to many a revolted family member and friend, I didn't actually drink pee – not intentionally – though a few drops inevitably escaped down my throat when I swallowed as reflex. It was the more palpable alternative to vomiting. The only way to avoid swallowing a little pee would be to not gargle it at all, which is what most have suggested.
Come to think of it, only two people have ever suggested otherwise, and neither was my friend. Still, they seemed to have my best interests in mind. Suffering the onset of strep throat while travelling solo through rural El Salvador, I was ill and desperate enough to try nearly anything – even pee.
"Do YOU gargle YOUR pee?" I croaked at my hostel-mate, an Austrian kiteboarder, from the nest I'd made in my hammock with all the blankets I could find. Over tea and sniffles, he'd spoken of pee's healing properties and I was positively scandalized.
"It really works," he answered, looking anywhere but back at me.
"Ewwwwwwwww!" I taunted. "You're a pee drinker!"
"It really works," he said again.
"Well, I could never do it," I announced, not realizing "never" would only last until the next morning, when I was sufficiently desperate.
I was still miserable in my hammock when a young Korean couple arrived later that night and, hearing me complain of an ever-worsening sore throat, suggested their grandparents' cure-all: gargling pee. No way, I thought and headed to bed, only to wake up, swallow some razor blades and think, Maybe way. Beside my bed was a plastic cup.
If I was going to do it, I intended to do it right, so I'd never have to do it again. The pee, as it was explained to me, should be the first of the day, so the vitamins and minerals it contains are as concentrated as possible. Knowing this, I procrastinated in bed for a long, long time that morning. When I could hold it no more, my decision was made: I would pee in the cup and think about it.
Battling three decades of cultural conditioning, social convention and a general aversion to pee in my mouth, I managed to rationalize the remedy, and cleared my head enough to bring the glass to my lips. Pretend it's tea, I told myself. It won't be so bad. But it was.
It was so bad, in fact, that sipping pee and vomiting in the sink seemed to happen in the very same moment. I don't think I expected it to be quite so hot, and it tasted nothing like tea at all. There was no turning back, though; I'd already crossed a line and there was plenty more pee for another try. And another. And another, until I finally managed to gargle.
"This better be worth it," I said to the new pee-mouth me in the mirror. I reloaded my toothbrush with minty-fresh paste a few times while I brushed and brushed and brushed and brushed, and pondered having lost my pee-ginity. Back in my hammock, I fell asleep to my newest mantra: "I am so hardcore."
Hours later, my throat was better. All better. "Shhhhhhhit!" I yelled, suddenly aware of the curse in the cure. Now the keeper of a terrible secret, with every instance of a sore throat, I'd forever be forced to consciously choose to suffer, or to gargle pee. The line of separation between the options is arguably blurry.
While I don't regret my decision to buck convention concerning pee remedies (and join the ranks of Madonna, Gandhi and British actress, Sarah Miles), at the end of the day, there's one convention I'd have been better of to heed. You know the saying: "What happens in *holiday destination*
Thankfully, half of you won't believe me.