Through A Vaseline Jar, Darkly
Landing at San Diego's Lindberg Field is always a thrill. The approach brings me right over North Park and the house in which I grew up. Then, just before dropping onto the runway, the jet's wheels skim the tops of downtown's tallest buildings and power lines. At one moment I'm reminiscing about my life's beginnings; the very next, I'm contemplating its ending.
Touching down in the spring of 1983 after an eight-hour flight from the east coast, I was in a particularly reflective mood. It had been a while since my last visit, and in those intervening years my life had unraveled. I'd divorced, I'd left the faith in which I'd been raised, and I was close to getting booted out of the graduate program in which I'd invested the last seven years. To top it off, Ronald "McDonald" Reagan had been elected president and delivered his Evil Empire speech, and I along with much of the country was believing we all might soon die. Coming home while so raw only heightened my anxiety and crystallized the ontological questions with which I'd been indulging myself: where was I headed, and had some part of my core died?
And so it was that by the time I cautiously opened the overhead bin lest my luggage shifted in flight, I had come to see this visit home as a quest. The first challenge was tracking down my old self. Perhaps in those places where I'd last felt anchored, I'd find clues that could help guide me through the shoals.
I drove out to the campus of San Diego State University where I'd been a student in the early 70s, and there stumbled on something of significance: a massive sculpture of rotating disks in the library. As a student I'd spent hours watching it being assembled. I now stood at its base trying to discern what it was about it that had so intrigued me. As I turned to leave, I encountered a display case which included a photo history of the sculpture's design and installation. It was its tenth anniversary. A tingle shot up my spine when, in one of the photos, I spotted my younger, more confident self on the second floor, hovering over the installation like a ghost. Given the improbability of this eerie encounter with myself, I interpreted it as message from the god I then believed in -- a sign that I would be shown how to get my ass back in gear. (The pulse of seasoned PoopReporters will quicken reading this last line.)
From campus I drove directly to the second challenge --- to the home of an older brother who, when I was young, had taken me under his wing. He knew me before I was even conscious, and thus had a source of insight unavailable to me. We talked for several hours despite the fact that he was battling the flu complete with a wicked case of the runs. Every half hour he'd roll himself off the sofa and ass-dash to the nearest toilet. Before excusing himself for one of these trips, he confessed that his asshole was getting mighty tender. In a reversal of roles, I gave my older brother some sage advice: that he treat his imploding star to a little Vaseline.
On his return, he reported that he'd followed my recommendation, but in the process had nearly made a fatal error. Rifling through the medicine cabinet, he'd first grabbed the jar of Vicks VapoRub. He had a nice dollop on his finger ready to go when he happened to catch a whiff of it -- thereby saving himself an unimaginable jolt. The rest of the evening, we'd occasionally break into groans and laughter just thinking what Vicks on a corroded asshole would feel like. With the danger of confusing these two now clearly apparent to us, we invented a little mnemonic for future reference: "Nix the Vicks. It's Vas for your ass."
Three days later, I developed the very flu symptoms my brother had, including the diarrhea. Now, all diarrheas are not created equal. There are mild forms that are basically gazpacho with a hint of cilantro. It streams out so softly that I feel as I imagine a woman feels when peeing. But what I had now was no gazpacho. I am more familiar than I care to be with the vile form of diarrhea that I call "butt vomit." Its odor can snap back the head like an uppercut and its bite can be nasty as a dog's.
But nor was this butt vomit. Never have I experienced anything as potent as the fetid fluid that issued from my ass for these two days. Within seconds of making its first appearance, this poison had me feeling like my ass had just been reamed with the sculpture at SDSU. This, friends, was liquid death.
I was staying at my parent's home in North Park, and I was painting the very toilet I'd first shat in with this toxic solution. Present and past together again -- clearly I had entered the third stage of my quest.
My mother has always kept a little hand mirror in the bathroom. After the first flow had abated, I set this mirror on the lowered toilet lid, straddled it, and spread my cheeks to assess the damage. There was considerable pucker, and it didn't look good. But it had been so many years since I'd peeked down there that I had no idea what it normally looked like. Knowing what was in store for me, I decided that before it got any worse, I'd get some Vaseline on it.
My parents had been in this same house for forty years by then, and they had stuff crammed in their medicine cabinet that went back that many years and more. But Vaseline has always been a staple, and I had no problems locating it.
Oh, I know what you're thinking -- that I accidentally grabbed the jar of Vicks. Get real. With my brother's near miss fresh in my mind, I proceeded with the same extreme caution I use when crossing a street in downtown Boston. First, I repeated the mnemonic we'd invented to make sure I knew which I wanted: "Nix the Vicks. It's Vas for your ass." Then I grabbed the jar clearly labeled Vaseline, brought it right up to my face, and carefully read each letter. Then I imagined what a jar of Vicks would look like, and assured myself that the letters V-a-s-e-l-i-n-e did not spell out "Vicks VapoRub." Only after establishing beyond a doubt that this was Vaseline, and Vaseline was what I wanted, did I pop the lid, dip my finger down into it, and proceed to baby my asshole.
There's that moment of bewilderment when you take a drink of what you think is water but is really Coke. Your urge is to spit it out not because it tastes bad, but because it isn't what you expected. Well, there was no moment of bewilderment this day when something hit my ass that clearly wasn't Vaseline. This was because what I was expecting was a caress -- and what I got was a blowtorch. I instantly leapt into the air, my legs churning like a cartoon character trying to run back to the ledge. Never had I experienced anything like this, but I knew exactly what I wanted: a row of low hedges I could straddle and run naked down to remove as quickly possible whatever it was that was saut�ing my bung hole.
With few options, I removed as much of the napalm as I could with toilet paper. Each time I went to wipe, I'd experience a fresh stab of pain. After I'd got most of it off and my wind had returned, I sniffed the contents of the jar, inhaling a sinus-clearing load of Eucalyptus vapors. I then inspected the jar more carefully.
When I was back home this past year, twenty-three years after the incident, I checked and found the jar still there in the parents' bathroom. I snapped this photo of it. Vaseline, right?
Wrong. I took a second picture after tilting the jar so you could see the lid. There you will notice what I missed on my first inspection: a piece of aged masking tape on which my mother had written "Chest Rub." Technically, it was not Vicks VapoRub she'd put in there. Rather, it was a concoction she'd learn to make from her mother -- a brew much more potent, she claimed, than Vicks. I'll take her word for it.
A couple days later, the flu had run its course, and so had my quest. The powers that I'd beseeched had replied in a language that couldn't be misconstrued: "Don't bother us with your trifling identity crisis, asswipe. Get a job and get to work so you can afford your child support payments. We know where you live."
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Vaseline Poop Story