That's Disgusting
Unraveling the Mysteries
Of Repulsion

Rachel Herz
It could have been subtitled Repulsive, Vile, Vomit-Inducing Things in Our Lives for Ms. Herz has scared together enough barfy scenarios that you might find yourself on edge from the get-go. We learn, for instance, that
  • Casu marzu is a cheese much beloved of the natives of Sardinia ... and it moves. They take sheep cheese and add fly larvæ and let it age until its loaded up with hundreds of gleep maggots. You have to cover it with your hands while eating, because these buggers can leap up to six inches in the air. Up your nose, for instance.
  • Author Herz participates in the annual National Rotten Sneakers Contest in Vermont. It's just what it says. Youngsters, age six to sixteen, bring their stinky shoes and the judges designate one smelly pair the winner, to be placed, possibly forever, in the "Hall of Fumes." Democracy in traction.
  • Nose-picking while driving "has been deemed to be more dangerous than using your cell phone." The fine in Canada is now $850. As the old saw has it, "You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you can't pick your friend's nose." Perhaps there's a corollary misdemeanor for driving and simultaneously picking your friend's nose.
  • In Egypt, live spiders are seeded in the beds of newly-weds for luck. Presumably, good luck.
  • They are also eaten (fried) as a delicacy in the Caribbean.
  • Lobsters were considered to be vermin in Colonial New England, and the shores and bays were so filled with them that they were fed to the poor, orphans, prisoners and slaves. The latter went into open rebellion at this indignity, demanding that they not be made to eat them more than three times a week. (Lobsters by the way are directly related to the common wood louse, what we used to call "pill-bugs." Which, as any kid will explain to you, you don't want to be eating. Ever.)
  • There is an on-line body shop where you can buy "plastinated bodies" --- once real live people, now fortunately defunct, treated with some stuff that encases them in plastic permanently. The going price for one of these trophies is $99,463 ... although you can get a head in the world for less.
There are some asides here on what pregnant women don't like (foreigners), something called chicha (spit soup) from Peru, a medical item known as "fecal transplantation," and the "Glutton Bowl" which I will not go into at this time ... but it is all here, and I assure you I have only scratched the surface in this somewhat revolting book. If you are into gackery, this'll be your meat.

It does occasionally slip over the line, though: some of the experiments of Jeffrey Dahmer on his prisoners did give me a rotten chill ... as did the spit soup. Interestingly, in the revolting food department, Herz doesn't mention the durian, a fruit favored in the Southern tier Asian countries. It looks like a fat squash with small-pox --- or better, with protruding pimples --- and it does have a tremendous aroma. But the flavor (a rich, creamy chocolate) is sensational.

Some of the gross-out experiments reported here seem pretty dumb, like a woman (as part of the experiment) sits down next to you and me in the park and spills out a new wrapped tampon on the table from her purse. You are later asked what you think of her.

Or another out of the University of Colorado where you are asked to think about death, or television, and then you are tested on something called your "disgust-sensitivity," which evidently soars after thinking about death (but not with television) even though as I read this my reaction was just the opposite.

There are some felicitous insights here. That the sole one of our "bodily fluids" that does not create feelings of disgust is ... sob ... tears. That the reason that the grade school I went to back in 1945 had such spacious floor-to-ceiling windows had little to do with the late-spring hot days and much to do with the "open air school movement." this was designed "to clean the air of tuberculosis germs that immigrant schoolchildren, predominantly Italians and Jews, were suspected of spreading." That if you are worried about germs, forget the toilet seat: it is far cleaner than the keyboards on public telephones, lunchroom computers, or at your local ATM.

And money, as our mums always warned us, is indeed filthy --- and the worst germ count comes from change handed back to you by food handlers, especially butchers.

Finally, your B.O. is peculiar to you (unless you have an identical twin), for it is "the external blueprint for the genes of our immune system." That's howcum the sheriff's dog "locates you, and not the mailman, when you've escaped from jail."

--- Richard Saturday
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