Don R. McGlintock IV is a senior profile writer at Bourbon: The Magazine_, a contributing editor at_ Poetry for Men_, and the author of_ Size: Men Talk About How Their Penises Make Them Feel_. His latest book, coming out in May from Cigar Aficionado Press, is titled_ My America: One Man's Nationwide Search for the Forgotten Manly Heart of the Good Ol' US of A_, and it is about Americans who are discovering innovative ways to form communities and bonds while facing the challenges of the 21st century. What follows is an excerpt from chapter three, "Puketown."_
It's around seven o'clock in the evening and the sun is making its tired way down past the Cracker Barrel sign. From this angle, that majestic sign-bearing pole and the ones around it—Arby's, Comfort Inn, Marriott Courtyard—look like the masts of ships, the telephone wire like rigging. My own vessel is a rented Honda Civic, currently navigating the tricky currents of the highways that stretch north of Dayton, Ohio, like the webs of a spider, or like the branches of a tree, or like the varicose veins of a middle-aged hooker. My GPS is kaput, or I can't figure out how to work it—either way I've been left to steer by the stars as those ancient mariners of yore.
Face facts, old man: I'm lost. At the moment, my hotel room—and the half-empty bottle of Antebellum Reserve that I have stupidly left under my bed—seems very far away.
I roll down the window and what I've come to think of as the smell of Ohio hits me: tar baked in sunshine over the course of a long day, diesel fumes rising up toward heaven, a little tang of fear and rust buried under all of that. Then I hear it, the sound of my destination.
Someone is throwing up in a strip-mall parking lot.
That someone, I'll find out five minutes and two dangerous and probably illegal left turns across traffic later, is my host, Danny Boffer. Danny is what I would call a True American. He is someone who has been knocked down over and over again, but he not only climbs back up on his feet, he also plants his feet firmly on the ground and sets to building something that will stand the test of time, which in Danny's case is April Puke.
April Puke started, like everything that's good about this country, as an accident. Danny had recently been laid off from his gig as a sandwich artist due to his choosing to exercise his Second Amendment rights into the sky after a night of fairly heavy revelry. To celebrate the beginning of a new, post-employment chapter in the Book of Danny, on an April 1 some years ago he and some of his fellow Americans took to a parking lot with some domestic macrobrews and exercised their Freedom to Assemble until the aftereffects of some perhaps undercooked Chinese food hit them and, to quote Danny, "We fuckin' blew chunks all over each other."
Some words need to be said about "puking," "tossing your cookies," "ralphing," "barfing," "upchucking," "pulling a Hendrix," or whatever you want to call the manly art of expelling food from one's stomach. It gets a bad rap because it's so often associated with sickness or overindulgence, but in truth puking can be a healing ritual, a boot before a rally, a refreshing cleanse—like they used to say about Coca-Cola, it's the pause that refreshes. Who among us has not vomited in a toilet, back seat, or telephone booth and felt immediately better, as if a veil had been lifted from our eyes and a heavy wad of pad Thai had been removed from our guts? I have vomited more times than I can count, and I regret very few of them—indeed, one of my most cherished sexual encounters came not five minutes after losing most of a five-course meal in the cemetery at Dartmouth College. (But that's another story.)
Danny and his friends came to realize the healing power of puke gradually, in fits and starts. After that first April 1 group upchuck, they were embarrassed and ashamed, as men often are when they've shared something unexpected. Exactly a year later, though, they had another occasion to gather in the same manner—as Americans, as men—in that same parking lot, and once again found themselves becoming suddenly ill on one another. As they stood in the slippery pile of their former stomach contents, they all began laughing, in the same way that they had begun throwing up just minutes before—first one at a time, then all at once. They were laughing because there were discovering that there is no better feeling than to be with your friends, drunk and young and powerful and empty of stomach and standing in a strip mall parking lot.
Hey, Danny and his sultans of sick thought to themselves, we should do this again.
The vomit, ideally, soars through the air in an arc and makes an impressive splash upon contact with the ground; some men now stand on ladders to achieve this effect.
And so April Puke was born. The basic idea, as you may have gathered, is to throw up a whole lot on April Fools' Day, but there is more to it than that. You must throw up in a group of men, and throw up loudly, turning what is normally an act of private shame into a public declaration of pride. The vomit, ideally, soars through the air in an arc and makes an impressive splash upon contact with the ground; some men now stand on ladders to achieve this effect. You should be drunk during April Puke, but you do not need to resort to chugging bottom-shelf swill to make yourself retch—common aids include ipecac, mustard water, the old-fashioned finger-in-the-throat, bloodroot herb, hair from an extremely old and sick goat, and the spines from a toxic cactus. After the act, April Pukers dance in their sick. They slip and slide and roll about in it. There is yelling, there is singing, there is hugging and sometimes kissing and even more, though Danny would rather I not go into all that. The point is to put out what is usually kept inside, to express what is unexpressed, to pour your American soul all over the street and let it mingle with the souls of other men.
The April Puke celebrations—for that is what they are, celebrations—have been going on for over a decade, and though there is no April Puke website, no April Puke bylaws or newsletter or gospel, the tradition has spread from Dayton to Akron to Jacksonville to Mobile to Newark to Bridgeport. It's caught on in the in-between places, the lands where men are lost, searching, no longer the backbone of society but some other body part, like one of the less useful fingers. Puking with other men gives them something that bowling leagues and bathhouses gave their fathers and grandfathers: community, a sense of belonging, a space where they can simply live. On Facebook groups and beer review forums across the country these men share tips for turning puke fluorescent colors, stories of April Pukes gone past, and, sometimes, their darkest hopes and dreams and fears.
"I didn't know what I was doing," says Danny, who has spent his time lately writing a memoir/self-help book titled April Puke: A Mission, mentoring other men, and "just being, man." In fact, he didn't even know what he had until just before the third April Puke, the first official one, when his buddies called him up and asked him if he was going to hold another "puke party." That's when he realized how much he hungered for something, and that something was to spew all over a parking lot with his best friends.
There's something else driving the April Puke craze, which is that April Fools' has become a joke. We can all remember the days when our mothers would spend all day coating with mayonnaise and then braising the traditional hams; back then we would frolic in the street in our pope hats and hear our fathers moaning the traditional dirges as they strolled down the street in their traditional masks. Then there would be the vigil in front of the bonfire, the all-night cat hunts, the hallucinations, the rap battles, the moments in the traditional cave when no one knew or asked whose hands were whose.
Now? April Fools' is nothing but yet another occasion to exchange greeting cards and get fucked up, a commercialized celebration in a country that doesn't need another. What we need is a way back to what used to be. What we need is April Puke.