all of the selves we Have ever been
I heave a bag of raw chicken bones, skin, and fat into the open dumpster.
The heat and humidity are oppressive cooking up a stench that permeates the air around the metal bin. As the bag lands atop the mountain of trash, a strong stink-bomb composed of the dumpster’s decaying contents explodes and shoots odiferous shrapnel up my nose bringing tears to my eyes.
Another of my mother’s colorful expressions comes to mind: “That’s enough to gag a maggot.”
But gross is in the nose of the beholder. The definition changes with each new stage of life.
To a preschooler, bodily functions are gross no matter how many sweet or amusing names their parents give to urination, defecation, and human waste. Some little children master their fears and repulsion with potty talk. There is nothing like the four year old who cracks herself up as she works the words “pass gas” into every conversation or the kindergartner who makes farting noises with his hands at the lunch table leading to raucous behavior and time-out. Gross can be funny. However pleased with themselves, children know the management of gross is best left to grown-ups.
By the time a person becomes a parent, the training wheels are off. It’s a master’s class starting with childbirth. With that behind us, we change diapers, empty basins full of vomit, hold gaping wounds together with one hand and steer the car to the emergency room with the other. We can forage through a teenager’s room that looks like a crime scene, empty the gym bag that contains the putrid remains, and go straight to the dinner table, appetite undiminished.
Even adults without childcare duties face a not-so-handsome share of the disgusting. It is impossible to make it to mid-life without some experience with soft and furry compost mutating in the back of the refrigerator, clogged pipes in the bathroom, backed-up garbage disposals in the kitchen, volcanic sewer lines in the basement, road kill on the sidewalk, or pet droppings in the yard.
By the time we round the bend toward retirement, we’ve seen stuff. Smelled stuff. HANDLED stuff. Our definition of gross has changed. We’ve kept company with the maggots. They might be gagging, but we’re not. At this stage, revulsion has nothing to do with smell or consistency. It has everything to do with embarrassment and shame. While we had our hands on the plungers and our eyes on the flies, social mores changed. It happens to every generation. It is part of the cycle of life, like maggots becoming flies.
My grandparents were offended by pot smokers, free love, and men with long hair. Sorry, grandma, but weed is legal, love is easily found on the internet, and a man is likely to be sitting in the chair next to you at the beauty salon.
Young people think older adults are prudes in decaying bodies. Old folks think young people are puppets in a decaying society.
Topping my list of gross—the things that make me close my eyes and turn away, that make my heart fall and my stomach lurch:
#1 – butts, thighs, side-boobs and other revealing selfies posted on social media accounts (Why?)
#2 – far left or far right anything (What?)
#3 - episodes of The Bachelor (Who, what, when, where, how, and WHY?)
Once I catch even a glimpse of these things, it is hard to get them out of my head.
And that stinks!