If you’d prefer not to be subjected to a visual of my revolting condition, skip this post. Don’t scroll down. Just close the browser or click on something else.
Went to lunch with my handlers after the Austin morning show. Figured we should get some barbecue before we left. Our cab driver took us to a place we could smell before we pulled into the lot. Their beverage options were Dr. Pepper and RC Cola. The walls were adorned with used human-outline target sheets from a gun range.
If it wasn’t for that stop, I don’t think we could say we’d been to Texas.
Quick layover at George Bush airport in Houston. Didn’t have time to visit Haliburton’s main office and hurl feces at the sign.
Landed in Miami. Took the most expensive cab ride of my life up to the hotel in Miramar. Spent all night reading email again.
The next morning I went on a talk show. Can’t remember the name. It was either "Good Morning South Florida" or "Wake Up South Florida" or "Hello? South Florida? Call the Nurse!"
The interviewer was very nice, but had only the vaguest familiarity with what I do and was more interested in talking about Stride Gum, which is a-okay with me. I handed her a pack. She held it up to the camera and said "Stride gum, just a dollar a pack, available everywhere gum is sold."
Emily, the brand manager from Stride, was standing off-camera trying to maintain her composure. The poor woman is in her second trimester.
"That was every brand manager’s dream," she said.
Bought Guitar Hero for the DS on the way to the airport. Was hoping for a perfunctory dose of Rock Band while I’m on the road, but it can’t even deliver at the basic level. It’s a fundamentally unworkable concept and another testament to Activision’s determination to milk every buck from the franchise until all the fun is gone. I’d like to think their competitors, the Rock Band folks, considered the notion of handheld guitar simulation and decided it couldn’t be done right. They’d have been right about that.
Landed in Chicago and checked email. Over a hundred emails while I was in flight. Took a cab to the hotel. Sixty more emails in that half hour.
It was around that time that my body gave up. Mentally and emotionally I’m doing fine, but I think the stress of all this and the weeks of little-to-no sleep are catching up with me. First it was the travel, racing around to get those last few clips. Then it was round-the-clock editing, getting everything ready for release. Then it was trying to absorb the overwhelming response.
Anyway, I started itching while I was reading. It kept getting worse. Finally I took my shirt off and had a look in the mirror.
The blisters ran up my back and onto both shoulders, down to my elbows and onto my wrists, with a few scattered bumps on my legs, face, and neck.
Sent the picture to my sister and she did a phone diagnosis. We decided it was shingles.
Shingles is a resurgence of the chicken pox virus. I had it a few years ago. It’s potentially contagious to anyone who hasn’t had chicken pox before, but not very likely. They would have to come into direct contact with an open blister, and as fun as it is to rub my open blisters against people, they’re rarely willing to indulge me.
I went wandering the suburb of Des Plaines, Illinois at midnight on foot, looking for a convenience store or giant everything store that was open and could sell me some hydrocortizone. No luck.
Too itchy to sleep, I read more email for a while and got back to as many as I could. I still have 30 flagged in my inbox since Friday; many urgent, and hundreds more I haven’t read.
Lying in bed, exhausted but restless, it occurred to me that I still hadn’t had a chance to watch the finished video. I mean, like, really watch it.
I put it on loop, pushed everything else out of my head, and let it sink in.
I watched it for an hour, maybe more. And I forgot about the audio mix and the colors and all the other fiddly bits I’ve been obsessing over. At the end of each viewing, I had to watch it again. Each time I felt more absorbed, but at the same time removed from the guy on the screen and all the experiences he’d been through. Subject became object, you might say. And I suppose, since so many others have made this confession willingly, I can admit I had tears running down my face for the first time.
And I was reminded of a quote, with some degree of irony:
"The moral of the story is we’re here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don’t realize, or they don’t care, is we’re dancing animals. You know, we love to move around."
– Kurt Vonnegut
Mr. Vonnegut died a couple weeks after I started making this video.
Told the Stride folks about my situation. They said "go home and get healthy," so the media tour is cut short.
Carlos, my Chicago PR rep, gave me info for the hospital, but going would’ve required me to miss my flight home. And I really just want to get home.
Airline personnel really freak out when you tell them you may have an infectious disease, especially when you’re drenched in sweat from sprinting across the terminal.
I asked if I could get an empty seat next to me, but of course, this is America. We don’t have empty seats anymore.
I explained my situation and they let me board, but asked me not to share details with anyone and potentially cause a panic.
I don’t think I’m being terribly irresponsible by boarding this plane. I don’t think they’re being terribly irresponsible by letting me board.
Squeezed into the middle seat between an elderly man and woman. I asked if they were together.
"Oh, yes. But he enjoys the window seat because he likes to take pictures and I like to sit near the aisle."
"Really? Well, that’s just fantastic. Oh, go right ahead and reach across my screen to tap your deaf husband on the shoulder. No, that’s fine. I don’t mind if you yell back and forth at each other. Sure, go ahead and open that can of tuna from your purse. The smell doesn’t bother me at all!"
The flight attendant came by offering a selection of chips and cookies for $5. I asked her if they had anything that was actually food. She scowled at me and walked away.
All I want is a turkey wrap or maybe an apple. Something life-sustaining that is not processed and sealed in air-tight plastic. I actually love airplane food when it’s food — those sensibly-portioned warm meal units they still give everywhere else in the world, complete with salad and dessert. But then United decided to charge for Pringles, Oreos, cheese spread, and beef jerky.
I reclined my seat so I could wedge my arms between the cushions and just barely manage to type this. The lady behind me protested by banging on my seat repeatedly for half an hour (full disclosure: I’ve done this). When the banging failed to deter me, she started commiserating noisily with her neighbor about the rudeness of seat reclining.
I finally got a look at her and realized she could stand to lose a few bowling balls, hence the discomfort.
I’m not going to feel guilty about that.
Saw the doctor. It’s not shingles. It’s not fungal. It’s probably not an insect or spider bite. It’s probably not stress-related either. All that said, he’s never seen anything like it before.
His best guess: an allergic reaction to something I was lying in. He ruled out the plane, so it pretty much has to be the bed at the hotel. That’s all that’s left. I’m not gonna say the name of the chain, but you’ve probably stayed at one of them.
And I am left with a mental image of the microbiological contents of those sheets…
Hundreds of beds in dozens of countries and I am sidelined in the suburbs of Miami…also with some degree of irony.
Post Script: Taking the tip-off from comments and emails, I’ve started reading about bed bugs and the more I read, the more this seems to be the culprit. Apparently they are common in tropical areas (Florida is named specifically), they feed at dawn (I was only in bed from about 5am to 9am), and their bites first become apparent with intense itching that can start hours after the fact (in my case, twelve).