A lot of times when people bring up the Gross Jar with somebody from the magazine, they think they’re being super clever by saying stuff like, “Man, what if something’s alive in there” all sarcastically. Um, hello? We’ve basically got the bacterial United Nations on our roof. Do you think the things inside rot just ’cause they feel like it?
Anyways, in order to put an end to this long-enraging “joke,” we decided it was high time we broke with tradition and introduced something identifiably living into the mix. Since we needed an organism that could not only survive submersion in the most toxic of toxics but actually make something of its situation—and any sort of animal would just die right away and leave us feeling like grade-school sociopaths—we went a few links down the food chain to distiller’s yeast.
In the month it’s had since our last deposit, the Jar has settled into its usual off-schedule routine of building up a glutinous yellow mountain of sediment at its bottom and a slimy white crust at its top. The main body of water has used the interim to turn from kind of tannish-amber to a brown of such depth and richness it’s like staring into God’s own asshole.
While it’s been warm enough lately to keep the liquid part liquid and the smell moderately overwhelming, the winter heat hasn’t been quite absurd enough to bring the stew in our little brown buddy to the hundred-degree simmer needed for brewing. So, we brought in an old electric blanket to split the difference and had one of our more maternal interns give it a good and proper swaddling. After a full day and a half of electric mother-love, our guy was piping hot and ready for action.
If you’ve ever woken up the morning after with a bad case of “bum thumb” and absently run it under hot water, you have experienced maybe 0.1 percent of the intensity of stench gently steaming out of the Jar and into the world at large. The second the window was opened, one would-be distiller let out the loudest authentic gasp any of us has ever heard and fled coughing to the mailroom. (He told us later, when he’d come down off Spaz Mountain, “At that point I didn’t care what anybody here thought; I seriously felt like I had been hit in the face with a fucking board.”)
Once a suitable replacement had been deputized and outfitted with a bandana soaked in vodka, our yeast guy and photographer made their way into the stink cloud and unwrapped the Jar. The heat had apparently broken up the coagulated mass, turning the innards into a uniformly thick gray sludge that looked like pudding probably would if you were colorblind.
The first guy opened up the pouch of distiller’s yeast and poured it into the mess just like it was a little sugar in his morning coffee, then casually walked to the edge of the roof and puked straight down the front of his shirt. While he futilely tried to sop up the remainder of his dignity with a saturated handkerchief, our photographer put down his camera and stepped up to the plate, capping the Jar then giving it a vigorous shake to make sure all those granulated little yellow buggers really got in there.
Here, tragedy struck again. As it was being set back on the ground, the Jar did that thing bowls of soup do where you slightly move them and they slop up for no fucking reason. A thin gray plume squirted out of one of the ventilation holes, hovered above the Jar long enough for everybody watching to realize in horror what was about to happen, then crashed to the ground and spattered itself straight up the leg of our photographer’s jeans.
The next week, he brought the shit-spangled pants back in to show us what two separate dry cleanings had left him. Not only were the flecks still clearly visible, where they occurred the denim was thin enough to puncture with a pencil eraser, leading us to one of two possible conclusions: Either our photographer’s cleaning women were so ramped up trying to get out the stain they nearly sanded his jeans out of existence, or in the course of the past month the Jar has gone from stomach-acid corrosive to alien-blood corrosive.
The yeast bubbled a little bit when it first went in, then just rose to the surface and formed a sticky yellow paste. Pretty lame. Then again, it was sort of a cop-out to begin with, so easy come easy go. Next month is Vice magazine’s first ever Food Issue, and we’re already nervous about what we’re going to come up with for the Gross Jar.