Rarely do these moments come in threes.
There was a point in middle school when I would watch The Jerry Springer Show. The fascination started, as I imagine it did for many fans of the day, as a grotesque manifestation of an impulse toward voyeurism, not so different from attending a freak show or many first encounters with pornography.
One of the dangers of such encounters is that they have the potential to become routine. Gawking at a “the other” can be a mode of escapism, not so different from a vacation. But stare long enough the exception becomes the rule.
I say all of this to get at the point that when I first watched Jerry Springer, I was in on the joke. That the guest cretins were desperate for attention and the audience was fixated on whatever scandal or abnormality might arise, hoping for violence or nudity if for no other purpose than the opportunity to pump their fists and chant “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” But when I watched long enough, a conversion happened. I was no longer the critical outsider, judging the natives. I was chanting along with them.
I grew up on bologna. In a household in which so many of the culinary decisions came down to the least expensive choice, lunchtime often called for two-to-four slabs of the slippery pork-beef combo meat, piled between two pieces of white bread, the top one slathered in mayonnaise.
And I ate it.
Unlike a handful of foods in childhood that I found disgusting from the get-go (mushrooms, raisins, mac and cheese, au gratin potatoes—really anything that involved cheese in a liquefied state), I did not love bologna but was perfectly prepared to tolerate it, and thus I ingested on average two-to-four times per week for about a decade.
I never loved the band Gwar, but in a time when I was becoming acclimated to acts like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, AC/DC and even a brief fascination with Marilyn Manson, liking Gwar did not seem like such a leap, and I was transfixed by their cameo appearance on Empire Records.
The Turning Point
I rarely watched Jerry Springer at home, leery of a family that would have judged me, and cognizant, even then, that a show of this ilk is best enjoyed with the company of friends. And yet there came a long weekend when my family went out of town. So, that Friday morning, I fixed myself a towering bologna sandwich, far exceeding the recommended serving size of the package or my portion-conscious father. I turned on the TV and sat down to watch some Jerry.
Ten minutes into show, halfway through my sandwich, I arrived at a turning point. The bread had grown softer, absorbing the slimy moisture of the bologna on one side, bearing the weight of my fingers pressing inward from the outside. It grew pockmarked and mushy where I had held it.
And there was Gwar, making a special appearance on account of the “Shock Rock!” theme of the episode, centered on the band, its enthusiasts, and the messages they took from the music, and more specifically their live shows.
I grew nauseous.
The taste of the bologna. The people of Jerry. The band. I wouldn’t take these pleasures from anyone who enjoys them, but whether one source of disgust overwhelmed and caused my distaste for the other stimuli, or it was the gestalt of the three that turned my stomach, that singular Friday morning changed the course of my preferences, my aesthetics, and my eating habits. That’s not to say I gave up all things low brow, rock music, or unhealthy foods. But in these small, specific ways that visceral experience revealed three things that I could no longer appreciate, consume, or truly understand.
I turned off the TV. I finished the sandwich because food wasn’t wasted in my childhood home. But I can say that from that point forward, I never watched Jerry Springer, listened to Gwar, or ate bologna again.