Corporate partner Stu has this thing where he will be eating something, usually on the order of steak or hamburger, and will suddenly seize up and be unable to swallow. Be barely able to breathe. A chunk of meat will be lodged in his throat and cannot be moved, up or down, and while it can pass in a matter of minutes it can also be stuck like that for hours.
The first time I witnessed it was some years ago when we were at lunch in a local joint, known far and wide for their beef tips. After two bites he made a beeline for the bathroom and spent the next hour in there trying to hurl up the offending morsel, while I casually finished and had another beer. When he finally emerged he explained it away as being too excited about eating and not chewing the stuff properly.
But subsequent events brought out the full horror. The hot dogs, the steaks, even a potato had the ability to bring this choking, hacking, spasmodic condition to the fore. Purely by accident we found that by drinking a sip of cold Sprite he had a chance of dislodging whatever was blocking his windpipe. It involved holding the Sprite in his throat for a few seconds since nothing liquid can pass by the obstruction once it gets in there.
And if there was no Sprite handy, it was a matter of watching him writhe around and stumble to the bathroom and basically look like near death for a while. He's been through it enough times to know that it's not necessarily life threatening, that there is little to be gained by going to a hospital. I suppose it embarrasses him as much as anything, since it usually happens when there's a crowd of people over at his house and the grill is sizzling with worthy fare.
So with that as background - the latest event. This time it was with assorted citizenry of the Watering Hole in attendance. After a day of beers out by the pool and hamburgers and general riotous living, Stu made the face I've come to recognize, bolted for the john and began making random hacking noises. Loudly.
Watering Hole Regular: "What the hell's wrong with Stu?"
Outfoxed: "Aww, he's fine. Just yakking up a hairball or something."
(It's my assumed duty to keep the uninformed at bay, fetch the can of Sprite and resume the party as quickly as possible.)
Being the inquisitive crowd that they are, the Watering Hole gang would not be satisfied until a medical explanation was brought to bear. It so happened that we had opportunity to do so the very next day, at our regular afternoon stop at the Hole itself. The usual suspects were perched on stools and demanded a full accounting. So Stu regaled them with the symptoms - occasional choking due to a chunk of food in the throat, couldn't drink anything while it was in there, increased saliva production, etc.
From out of the corner of the bar a gravelly voice piped up. "I know what it is, my friend. It's called Barrios Esophagus."
The voice belonged to a white haired gent, wearing a fishing hat and huge wrap around sunglasses. He was hunched over a beer and never looked up as he continued. "Yep. Caused by drinkin' lot of liquor. Gets the throat all bunched up, sorta. Helluva thing, not much you can do about it, except give up the beer."
Stu laughed nervously. "Well, I dunno about all that. You mean beer is the only thing that causes it?"
The old man shook his head. "Nope. Sometimes cigar's have something to do with it, too."
The whole bar laughed now. Stu's main obsessions in life are Coors Lite and 5 dollar Macanudo's.
"Boy, he sure pegged you, Stu. All you gotta do is give up the beer and the stogie's and you'll never choke again. How about long limbed women? Pizza with bell peppers? Four letter words?" And on and on they went.
The old gent drained his draft, laid a fiver on the bar and slid off the stool. "Laugh all you want. I'm tellin' ye, I'm a medical guy, look it up if you want. Barrios Esophagus. Remember that."
And with that he ambled out the door and was gone.
For once, the Regulars were quiet. In the way that children are after being admonished by an adult. That old guy had at least thirty years on any one of us.
I looked at the barmaid and inquired, "Let me guess. That old fella came in here and got his beer and never said anything to anybody until this esophagus stuff came up, right? And I'll bet nobody has ever seen him in here before today."
She nodded, "Yeah. How'd you know? He's been sitting there for the last couple hours nursing a beer or two. Never said a word."
I got all solemn on them. "Well it's pretty clear. That was Stu's guardian angel. Why else would he be wearing wrap around sunglasses in here? And a fishing hat. He looks just like Stu might look in a few decades. All hunched over and white haired. Did anybody see him get in a car?"
A quick survey revealed that indeed, no one had, which is curious because the Watering Hole is situated with large windows looking out onto the parking lot, and arrivals and departures are easily noted. The Regulars were looking more and more serious.
Stu looked thoughtful for a minute before turning to me. "You mean to say that guy was trying to save me from myself? A guardian angel? And he wanted me to give up the beer and the cigars?"
"Right, that's what I'm saying, bro."
He gazed at the bar top for a moment before rendering an opinion. "Nah. I think it was my wife in drag. Barmaid, set us up another round. And fetch me a stogie from that case over there, would you? Thanks ever so much."
So we settled that one, at least.
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