[Garrett County Press]

Excerpt from
Even A Daughter Is Better Than Nothing

by Mykel Board

From the chapter: "These Buz Are Made For Walking"

... The host brings out the snuff bottle, and the other males in the room bring out theirs. Snuff is traded and sniffed. I get to sample all kinds. After the snuff comes the vodka. Fill up those glasses. Drink to the New Year! Have another.

Out of the corner of my eye I catch the movement, a young woman carrying something, a stack of plates. While we drink an older man begins to cut the lamb. Oh yes, meat for all ... more lamb. Sliced thickly. And for me -- as the special guest from a foreign country -- a huge chunk of pure fat.

I'm trying to think of a proper metaphor for how I felt putting that into my mouth. Stuffing too many leaves into a weak-seamed garbage bag is close. Trying to operate a trash compactor filled with concrete might also give you a better idea. But there I am, big smile on my face, a hunk of pure lamb fat in my mouth. And I chew.

Buddhists say you should chew each mouthful at least a hundred times. I would make a super Buddhist. The food just rests in my mouth. Will not be swallowed. I try washing it down with the vodka that still sits in the glass next to my plate. Now I have both fat AND vodka swirling helplessly in my mouth.

Eventually, somehow, it goes down. Lamb, fat, vodka, and even a tablespoonful of salad. Every time I empty the plate, it's filled again. Every time I empty the vodka glass, it too, is filled. If I'm too slow, my hosts motion to me to eat and drink up.

I surreptitiously unhook the top button on my pants and let out my belt a couple of notches. It's a struggle to catch my breath. Then comes the buz. Hundreds of them, all from a steaming pot. Another set of dishes. Buz for everyone. "Only three? Whatsamatter you don't like 'em? We worked all day making 'em. They're different from others -- fried, not boiled. Here, take some more."

I scoop two more buz out onto my plate. The hostess shakes her head and makes a slight "tsk tsk" sound, her tongue sucking against the roof of her mouth. She adds another four.

"Care for any more salad?" asks the man to my left in near-perfect English.

Relaxing my stomach muscles, I manage to expand to near pregnant size. The four buz, well dissolved in vodka, slowly make their way as far down as they can. There they sit, somewhere between my throat and my stomach, digesting in the wrong place like a tubal pregnancy. I need an abortion!

I no longer want to go home and lie down to let the food digest. I want to go home and stick my fingers down my throat. It is the dream that gets me through the meal. Seven, six, five, four more buz, a half hour or so and I'll be home, hugging the toilet, joyously letting out my over-intake.

A half hour passes, and we do indeed leave. I slowly pull myself to my feet and waddle over to where I put my coat. The host hands me a bottle of Chinese liquor as a present. I thank him. Our driver isn't outside. I don't mind. It's only about a mile for me to go home. I need to walk off enough for the vomiting to really make me comfortable. Together we walk, my friends and I ... to the next meal.

Am I kidding?

No.

On the way Ulaanzul says, "Mykel, I need to tell you something. You're not supposed to kiss. When you touch your lips to people's necks ... they think it's strange. It's only for families. Just put your nose next to them and do this..."

She sniffs in loudly, as if trying to hold back dripping snot.

"That's the way. No kissing, okay?"

I nod, the bloating in my stomach making speech impossible.

"And don't forget," she says, "this meal is important to these people. Refusing food is like doing this."

She spits hard on the ground.

We arrive at an apartment near the old Russian section of town. It's a large family. A picture of a stern official-looking Mongol hangs from the livingroom wall.

Cheek sniffing, money giving, snuff snorting, vodka drinking, fat slurping, yum yum. The soft white mass sits on my tongue. I chew, but it's useless. Like chewing mucous. Sipping vodka, I manage to make it slide to the back of my throat. I tense in a gag, fighting to keep from vomiting over the rest of the white jiggly slice.

Then comes the buz! The THIRD time! Served by a young woman, who I'd normally be flirting with. Now I sit like a slug, barely able to force a smile.

I can't! I just can't. I'm going to die. I'm going to be buzzed to death, lamb choked. I already have more lamb stuck between my teeth than I've eaten in the past ten years. When the buz plate comes around I look plaintively at Ulaanzul. I can't do it. Rude or not rude, there has to be a limit and I'm there.

I try shaking my head no. The rest of the dinner party thinks this is very funny. Hilarious. They pour some vodka as a toast. To my health. To the new year. To me. To the buz ... now being piled up on my plate.

Ulaanzul whispers in my ear. "Remember, they will be very insulted if you don't eat it."

"But I'll die," I whisper back.

"It doesn't matter," she says.

So I eat them. Every one. Don't ask how, I don't know. There is something amazing in the capacity of the human body to endure things it was not meant to endure. Every second I spend at that table, I spend fighting the gag reflex. My shirt is now untucked and over my opened pants. The fly is completely open to allow ever more swelling.

When the doorbell rings, we know it's time to go. I press my hands against the table top to help me stand. I can't. I'm fixed to the seat, weighed down by the churning mass in my belly. I try to stand again, but it's no use. The new guests are already entering the livingroom, but I can't get up to let them take over.

Ulaanzul and the host, a jolly man with a stomach apparently used to large meals, each take me under an arm.

"Neg, hoyer, gurav!" they say simultaneously as they lift me to my feet.

I totter to the door. The host hands me another pair of socks. Ulaanzul opens the door. We're on our way ... to another meal -- two more.

By the time I'm finished, besides stomach difficulties and the Chinese wine, I have two packs of cigarettes, a datebook, two chocolate bars, and five pair of socks.

Between the fourth and fifth meal, we get in another short walk. We need to stop to change dollars into tugriks to pay the hosts of the last families. I blank out, go on automatic pilot. I don't remember the last two meals, except that the last thing I'm offered before leaving is the traditional Mongolian drink, Airag -- fermented mare's milk. I don't remember drinking it. I don't even remember the trip home.

I do remember how good that toilet looked. That brilliant white porcelain. That beautiful bowl waiting for me to give my all -- and I do. And more.

The next day I don't feel so good. During the short time I'm on my feet, I meet Zolzaya, a Mongolian friend. She invites me to dinner to celebrate the New Year. I wonder what they're going to have to eat.

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