Phillip’s Coming To Dinner (A Cautionary Tale)

In the years since our time working together in retail hell, Phillip* and I had kept in sporadic contact. Just when I’d start to wonder how he was doing, the phone would ring or an email would arrive. This time, it had been somewhere in the neighborhood of a year without contact when I received a call from him. As usual, Phillip’s voice was its upbeat self (monotone, except for the upward intonation always on the last syllable). He talked of his new job, new house, new car, all of the good turns his life had taken. Phillip was a good guy, but a good guy hounded by demons of which his dominance over waxed and waned like an AA member who is forever re-achieving that 30-day sobriety coin. This is why hearing about the good things in his life was reason to rejoice. So, before hanging up, I invited Phillip to the house for dinner. We’d make gnocchi, it’d be a good time.

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It’s just dinner. What could possibly go wrong?

Phillip arrived, had found my directions clear enough, had hit no traffic, etc. Waiting for our guest was a 4-pack of his drink of choice, Guinness. I told him to take home whatever he didn’t finish because neither myself nor my wife are big beer drinkers. “I’ll probably finish ‘em,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t like to leave a Guinness unopened. It’s a crime, Mike. I can’t do it.” And with a click-fwwish, he opened his first can.

While waiting for my wife to get home from work, I probably told some story that was, in reality, far less charming or entertaining than I thought it was. As I yammered on, Phillip held the Guinness to his lips as though it were his only source of oxygen on an alien planet. He nodded and uh-huh’d as the Irish-brewed life blood flowed into his belly. Never breaking eye contact, he set the empty can aside, picked up another and, click-fwwish, remained my captive audience.

As the second empty hit the counter, I asked if he was going to be okay to drive home after dinner. “Yeah, I’ll be fine, Mike.  It takes five or six Guinness’ before I even feel anything. It doesn’t even affect me like it used to. I’ve built up a good tolerance.  I actually had two before I came over and there was no problem.”

“Five or six?” I asked. “Building a tolerance to poison ivy is a good thing, but five or six Guinness’…”

guinness

Margaret, Phillip’s dutiful and hard-working liver, gets ready to filter another round of Guinness and hopes to earn her cirrhosis badge by summer.

“Yeah, I need to cut back, Mike. It’s true. Once I get into shape, I think I’ll probably only be able to handle three or four.”

In an attempt to hinder what I imagined was an immediate danger in the depletion of the world’s Guinness supply, I offered Phillip a cocktail. We had gin, rum, something brown-ish that I wasn’t totally sure about and tequila. Rum sounded good. I gave Phillip a tumbler and let him break the seal on a bottle of Jamaican rum. He filled his glass the same way a person might if the only way they can swallow an aspirin is with a torrent of tap water. And, just as though he were trying to push back a pill, his glass of rum was emptied in a short series of gulps. A few minutes later, click-fwwish.

Later, my wife and I sat across from Phillip and Guinness #4 at our table set for three. We encouraged Phillip to eat some of the gnocchi we’d made, even just a few bites, in hopes that it would absorb some of the alcohol in his system. We watched trying not to laugh as Phillip, whose head was only upright thanks to a well-positioned hand, had to move his head to the food because the fork in hand was either incapable or simply unwilling to budge. When a single gnocchi had successfully made its way into Phillip’s mouth, we encouraged him to chew with the same enthusiasm we might show a toddler attempting its first Graham Cracker. Then, with an ‘ahhh’ of disappointment, we watched the food fall from his open mouth and onto the table.

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“Come on, Evelyn! You can do it! You’re so close!”

“Phillip?” we kept repeating with humored grins. “You okay?”

It was at about this moment that Phillip’s face lost its battle with gravity and landed in the plate of gnocchi. This was a scene from so many black and white films, a gag almost Stooge-esque, playing itself out in our dining room. My wife and I couldn’t help but laugh.

After making sure his face was marinara free, I lead the not-quite-dead weight of Phillip to the nearest chair. Obviously, he wasn’t going to be driving home, so we decided to make up the guest bed. After this, my wife and I sat down to watch a movie, while Phillip lay mouth agape in the chair, making occasional sounds: gurgle, choke, glump-umph. These noises amused us and became a source of tilted head curiosity for our pets.

Just as we’d settled on what to watch, there came a rapid series of glump-umph‘s from Phillip that were cause for concern. Before we could say the words ‘lay down a towel’, one final glump-umph introduced the fabric of our new furniture to gnocchi, Guinness, and Jamaican rum. With quick-under-pressure reflexes, I was already back from the bathroom with a towel to lay down on Phillip’s lap. Unfortunately, one towel was about three towels too few as the foul mixture of death maliciously spewing from Phillip’s mouth seemed to be being pumped from some well-stocked reserve. It just wouldn’t stop!

mwah

“Trust me, Andy. Not only is it delicious, but it’s gonna look great all over the furniture.”

My guest was puking violently, my wife was now fighting back her own vomiting, my pets were scared and I was just pissed. Pissed because it was up to me, the guy whose one and only phobia is throwing up, to clean up both the vomit and the vomituer. What choice did I have but to look past my own fears, ignore the overwhelming stench of marinara and rum and focus on remaining calm?

Within about 15 minutes, I had accomplished what needed to be done. Phillip was in the bathroom with his newest bestie Toilet-y, the cushions were washed and hanging on the back porch, the carpet treated and scrubbed.

When my wife returned from her exodus of self-preservation, she apologized for leaving me to deal with the chaos alone, then added that she really had to use the bathroom. “You can check with Phillip,” I told her, “but I think he’s leasing it for the night.”

"I'm not gonna get off th-the table. You're a table! Oh, yeah? Oh, yeah? Well, I'm not as think as you drunk I am, so... *gurgle* Table!"

“I’m not gonna get off th-the table. You’re a table! Yeah? Oh, yeah? Well, you’re not as think as I drunk I am, so… *gurgle* Table!”

We both knocked on the door and called his name, but there was no answer. We tried to open the door, but it wouldn’t budge. The mass of flesh and bone that once was Phillip had laid to rest on the other side of the door. We were able to open the door just enough to peek inside, confirming that he was, if nothing else, still alive. Flicking his head a few times in order to get his attention, I told… no, I ordered Phillip to get up and open the door.

Not long afterwards, I stood in the front yard with a slightly less catatonic Phillip who was now wearing one of my old shirts. Fortunately for Phillip, his waking blackout didn’t include any sense of self-consciousness because the shirt that comfortably fit my 150lb. frame looked more like a tube top with sleeves on Phillip’s 200-plus, girthy body. On the plus side, had any of my neighbors been curious if Phillip’s bellybutton was an inny, an outty or simply a navigational marker on a bloated globe, this shirt allowed them the perfect moment to settle that debate.

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“The globe I’m leaning on was his stomach and this tennis ball here, well, that would be his belly button. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

The cold, night air seemed to bring Phillip that much closer to a semblance of lucidity. He was fumbling around in his pockets just as my wife joined us outside. He took his keys out and held them in his mouth as he searched for his cigarettes. “I hope you don’t think you’re driving home,” my wife told him. He explained/mumbled that he was looking for his lighter and… Ah, success! The lighter was found at about the same moment we heard a nearby monk-monk.

Just as Phillip tried to light his cigarette, the monk-monk sound came again. What the hell was that? As Phillip grew frustrated with his lighter, the monk-monk sound continued and I saw a flash of lights in our driveway. “Your keys are in your mouth,” my wife pointed out. “You’re trying to light your keys.”

“My lighter doesn’t work,” Phillip said, more concerned with having a working lighter than having an actual cigarette in his mouth.

Taking his lighter, I held it up for him to look at very closely. “It’s not working because it’s a flash drive.” Granted, the word ‘flash’ suggests light or blast of heat, but a usb port cannot generate any actual fire. Who knew?! This is a good lesson for any cavemen (sorry, cavepeople) who happen to be reading this.

"Og discover flash drive! Og do good!"

“Og discover flash drive! Og do good!”

Phillip dug around in his pockets until he found a cigarette. Then, with crumpled cigarette set backwards in his mouth, he looked toward me, opened his arms to receive a phantom hug, then fell over sideways, into the bougainvillea with its thorns like Nosferatu’s fingernails.

Sleep tight, sweet prince. May the branches be your pillow and the thorns kisses to your cheek.

In the morning, Phillip was surprised to find himself still in our house. My explanation attempted to pair this with why I had to take my chair cushions to get dry cleaned, but it didn’t seem to reach Phillip. He apologized if he was an inconvenience (oh, memory loss, how I envy you), then left with a friendly smile and a plastic bag of his soiled clothing.

To this day, I still cannot eat what food we had that night. Gnocchi? Gno thank you!

***

*The name Phillip was given to protect the identity of the actual person, per their request. So, don’t you worry, Jeffrey. Your identity is safe with me and stored securely in my vault of secrets!

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Categories: Every Day Episodes, The Day (Back In) | Tags: , , , , , | 80 Comments

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80 thoughts on “Phillip’s Coming To Dinner (A Cautionary Tale)

  1. Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic! Hahaha I didn’t think things like this happened after the age of 30. Ohhh, good stuff.

  2. Wow! This was a spectacular post. I love it. Will you be inviting Jeffrey back for dinner again?

  3. I assume the next get-together will be out somewhere in public where the police can give him a ride home. Or it’s warm enough for him to sleep it off on a park bench. Or take a tip from the 1950s – plastic slipcovers on everything!

    • They’re ugly, but I get why people used them. I did wish that I had invested in several gallons of Scotchguard, though. “Scotchguard. Watch the vomit just slide off.”

  4. Some people are all talk and no action. Unfortunately in this case you got both.
    Great writing.

  5. Oh my. Sounds like a good time for all. Or at least for Phillip/Jeffrey since he doesn’t recall anything.

    I once had a party and one of my guests had a few too many drinks called Strip and Go Naked. I hid his keys and he passed out on my sofa bed. I stumbled into my living room the next morning and found him spread-eagle and naked as a newborn baby. At the same moment, my mom popped over for a visit and got an eyeful before I could dig another blanket out of the closet. It was hilarious.

    Ah… my youth. Good times.

    • Sounds like a successful party. Um, thanks for inviting me. Jeez….

      • Now I feel bad. I will travel back to 1994 right now and mail an invitation to you. But I’ll warn you, this could change everything. You could end up as the naked guy on my sofa sleeper.

        • Trust me, that’s nothing anyone wants to see. Maybe it’s best for you and your poor mother if my invite gets lost in the mail.

  6. I’m guessing he no longer works in retail?

  7. This is my favorite Butterfly Legs Over Gnocci (I don’t even really know what that is except that I now for some reason associate it with nausea) post yet. What makes it so great is that it’s undoubtedly hilariously funny. It’s also heartbreaking.

    I can really identify with this story, and unfortunately, I don’t mean with the role played by you and your wife. Poor Phillip. I would have laughed too–you can’t help it, but it would be that achey laughter. Where you’re not sure you should be laughing but you do anyway. I think there was a time, many years ago now, fortunately, that a lot of my friends thought I would be Phillip today.

    I have had a similar experience from the “responsible person’s side” though, and it was terribly sad. Several years ago, I was at a house party in Washington. At the beginning of the evening, I met a girl (I was single at the time). She was attractive, but the thing that really got my interest was how smart and funny she was. I really dug her. Well, as the evening went on, she proceeded to get more and more drunk. A friend of mine who knew her quite well explained that this was how she lived her life. She’d go to work, come home and get incredibly, embarrassingly drunk. By 11:00, she was a mess. She was dropping glasses, stumbling down stairs, and starting to attract predators like flies–those kind of people can smell a vulnerable drunk girl (we took care of her). The thing that really broke my heart though is that everybody there just laughed about her drunkenness. “I didn’t think Michelle would break her first glass until midnight!” or after she’d taken a (not particularly bad, fortunately) tumble down the stairs, “Oh! There goes Michelle.” They all knew each other, and they weren’t trying to be cruel. Michelle would laugh along with them, or act like she was too drunk to know what they were saying, but I could tell that she got it and that it hurt.

    I was really moved and upset by what I saw. I had adored this girl on first meeting her, and all I felt for her at the end of the night was pity.

    • I’ve always been highly sensitive to tragic side of the drunk person. I’ve also been kind of dumbfounded and annoyed when the chronic “fun drunk” like Michelle is egged on and their inevitable passing out is met with humored shrugs by friends. Friends who then take no responsibility for that person’s well-being. Make sure they’re safe, that they’re not choking or getting molested. Once they’re safe, once you know their vulnerable state is not a dangerous one, then make fun of them and draw on them with a marker.

  8. Poor Phillip. Did he at least offer to pay for your dry cleaning? That’s the least he could do for ruining gnocchi for you.

  9. Wow. You are a saint, sir. You’re like the mother theresa of drunkard caretaking.
    As an Emetophobic myself, I think a good spray from the hose would have been the only option.

  10. What a hoot that Phillip converted your home into a vomitorium for the evening — plus you got to play medic cleaning crew and wardrobe stylist! Did you also cook the gnocchi you’ll never be able to eat again without suffering an olfactory flashback? Has he visited you since and if so, did the dog howl, the cat hiss and your wife decide it was the perfect time to visit Great Aunt Ida in the old folks home?

  11. That’s what friends are puking on the floor. I’ve always found that dealing with drunk compadres provides me a new respect for gravity.

    Well told.

  12. Phillip/Jeffrey sounds like a great guy to have around. If you’re into puke.
    Great story, Calahan, although it left me feeling a little…queasy. =p

    • Sorry about that, Stacie. Try eating some dry toast and a cup of tea, then let me know how you’re feeling in the morning.

  13. Gross story. Loved it though. I’m a total puke phobic person as well. Having kids has eliminated it a little, but not entirely.

    Poor Phillip/Jeffrey. Is he sober now?

    • My wife and I were once babysitting a kid who started throwing up in Toys R Us and, again, it was up to me to deal with. Yuck.
      Sober? No. I think he drinks less, though. I’m hoping so, anyway.

  14. Oh dear! Poor Philip. Friend of mine recently got lit up like this while we were out – so bad I had to take her to sleep it off at my place because there was no way she was making the taxi journey home alone without vomiting exorcist style all over the taxi driver (who was very nice about her inebriated state). She holds the record for most times falling down flights of stairs for one evening (it got to, like, seven and I stopped counting). It wasn’t pretty – oh the things we do for friendship! :-)

  15. Haha! I don’t know how you managed to get everything cleaned up. Can you still look directly at the cushions without thinking of the…um, incident?

    • If a shadow hits the cushion just right, then I get drawn back into that moment. Otherwise, it’s just the chair that we can sometimes use if the cat isn’t sleeping on.

  16. No way. This story can’t be true…
    Really?

    I thought bougainvillea was made up.
    Christ on a vomit cracker, wot a story.

  17. Gno thank you… Haha. This is why it can be so entertaining to stay sober whilst others around you get stupid dunk, although not sure cleaning vomit is quite what I would have considered as entertaining. I hope he reads this! Ps thank god you said cave person… Now this post is also feminist friendly

    • That’s a good point and I would like for any cave feminists to make note of that inclusion because we are not cavemen or cavewomen, we are cave people.

  18. Yikes. And I love gnocchi, too. I’m not sure I’ll be able to look at them again without thinking of Phillip/Jeffrey and his epic imbibing. Was this a wake-up call at all for him, or did he think of it as “just another Tuesday”?

  19. * at the end = laughter.

    Luckily for me, any vomit I’ve ever had to clean up never resulted after something I cooked – so no food avoidances, phew!

  20. I ws laughing at the story, wondering if it was me,until you got to the part where he tried to light his cigarettes with his thumb drive
    Smoke my keys? Possibly.
    Light them with a usb key? No. Never been that drunk.
    (And I’ve been “What time is it, what day is it and where are my pants?” drunk.).

    • It’s a rare level of drunkenness that allows the usb drive to be confused with a lighter, but an even higher level to not recognize the difference between the taste of car keys vs. cigarette. Glad you’ve never been that drunk, Guap.

  21. Was it interesting for your pets to see someone else vomiting on the floors for once?

    • They pointed and were wondering, “Um, I hope he gets yelled at. Aren’t you going to yell at him? He threw up on the carpet, you should totally yell at him.”

      (we don’t actually yell at the pets, by the way)

  22. Your one and only phobia is throwing up? Really? That’s it?

    • The only one I would consider an actual phobia, yeah. Phobia in the sense that it was a traumatic experience each of the three times it’s ever happened. Should I have more? Should I have a phobia of not having enough phobias?

      • No, probably the less phobias the better. I was just thinking about the messy hair thing, I guess that’s not a true phobia though, just a no-no for anxiety and style purposes. But wait, you have only ever thrown up three times in your entire life? Impressive

  23. Doesn’t matter how friendly the drunk, when the vomit starts Mr Fun leaves quickly. Great story well written.

    Jim

  24. I’m not sure if it makes it more amusing or more horrific that I’m 99% sure I know who Phillip really is. And the thought of you cleaning up vomit? Priceless. I can’t believe you did it!

    • What choice was there but to clean it up? We did have some emergency dry cleaning of chair fabric the following day, though.

  25. Damnit, I was drinking a smoothie when I read this.

  26. Gnocchi is one of my favorite foods. This is truly a sad day.

  27. What a trip! I think we all have a “Phillip” in our cliques…

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