April 12th, 2008
Strident, dissonant chords played by a string quartet. They grow in intensity and the tempo increases.
A twenty year-old boy enters the practice room. He beholds the signs of a mighty struggle — sheet music, rosin, broken cellos, violas, and violins litter the floor.
String quartet music stops abruptly.
His gaze falls beneath the 1934 Welte-Mignon studio grand piano. There lies his sweetheart, strangled by the hairs of her violin bow.
Does he rush to her, kneel, and take her head in his hands? Does he rair back and curse the gods through the skylight?. Does he rend his clothes? Does he even break down in tears? No, he rushes into the hallway and vomits.
The vomit take — or Vomit Take, as I call it — is to movie cliche as tooth loss is to meth. (My use of an unlikely and probably inept simile underlines my hatred of cliches).
My own research on vomit inducers reveals these, in descending order: overdrinking, flu, and food poisoning. It goes no deeper.
I knew a guy named Tony who died skydiving in Florida. It was a night jump. Heâ€™s drunk and he just doesnâ€™t pull. The pins are still in place in his backpack. A likely suicide.
Tonyâ€™s body isnâ€™t discovered until next morning. The news gets around the drop zone early and a bunch of us make the trek trhough low dry brush to check out the scene. Not a soul vomits. Not even the girls. This is forty years ago and Hollywood obviously hasnâ€™t produced enough Vomit Takes to shape our behavior.
The morgue people arrive and take the body away. The depression becomes know as Tonyâ€™s Hole. A darkly humorous response to death. Not so nice, but realer than any upchuck.
I wouldnâ€™t be so fired up about this issue except that early in the wonderful book, â€œWater for Elephantsâ€, the hero, Jacob, as a young man, has to identify his parents who die when their car is forced off a bridge.
The undertaker pulls the sheet away and Jacob vomits.
Okay, now I have to reevaluate. Sara Gruen is a terrific writer. If she thinks a 23 year-old boy is going to turn away and vomit into a tin kidney dish, sheâ€™s probably got a great reason.
But dammit, again on page 320, near the otherwise satisfying ending, Jacob witnesses the circus roustabouts as they unroll a tarp. The body of the universally hated circus owner flops into view. Heâ€™s been garroted with his whip. Why do they not jump for joy? Because their delicate guts canâ€™t take it. Not just one, but many of these dirt and beast-hardened workers blow lunch.
It didnâ€™t really mar the book, but itâ€™â€™s a convention, like the 555 phone numbers in movies, that can peel back a brilliantly crafted reality and show you the writer or director behind it.
Possibly my real-life research has been haphazard, irresponsible, and just plain stupid. If you have a different take on the vomit take, please let me know. Spare nothing.
Make me feel bad enough to spew.