This column is dedicated to my brother-in-law, Keith, who passed on this week. He was, without a doubt, one of the brightest, funniest, and most creative men I've ever met. Even though he's gone, the stories of his exploits will long survive him.
One of my favorite memories was his idea for a TV show that would feature stomach-churning home movies. He would be the MC, of course, and after each clip the audience would shout:
“THAT'S GROSS, GILBERTSON.”
Then they'd vote on which item was the most disgusting.
He initially proposed this more than 32 years ago—he was a man ahead of his time—back when I first met him. He thought this was a great concept, and he never tired of discussing it. Over many years we talked and explored the “science of gross-ology.”
Since both of us were guys, we were of the same mind on many sanitation-related subjects. But I found that Keith had a much, much higher threshold than I did for the uncouth.
Karin frequently had to leave the room when it come to these gross-out get-togethers.
Once such time Keith and I were discussing the infamous five-second rule.
“I've eaten food that I dropped on the floor,” I boasted.
“That's nothing,” he countered, “I've eaten food I found on the floor.”
“So,” I said, “what does that prove?”
“It could have been there for days,” he countered.
“Ok, but I've eaten food that I've stepped on.” I smiled, trying to top him.
“And you washed it, right?” he said.
“Well, yeah,” I admitted.
“Sissy. Bet you've never eaten food that you've taken away from the dog,” he said.
“No way,” I said. “Why would you do that?”
“Because, dude, I'm the alpha-dog in my house,” he said, growling at me.
“Ewww,” I groaned.
“Why not? You've let your dog lick you on the face, right?”
“And you know where that tongue has been?”
“Exactly.” He nodded and flashed his Chesire-cat grin. “So what's the difference in swiping a steak scrap from a spaniel?”
I grimaced, and he laughed. At the time I thought he was putting me on, but as I got to know him better I became less sure.
On another occasion, Keith and I were doing a gross-out story list, and I pitched an idea at him.
“Did you hear the about the girls who were kissing mirrors in their school bathroom, leaving lipstick marks?”
“Yeah, I did.” he said. “They stopped when they saw the janitor dip a brush in the toilet and then scrub the mirror.”
We both laughed, and then began discussing toilet-centric topics.
“Have you ever dropped your toothbrush in the toilet?” he asked.
“Not lately,” I said. “Why?”
“Would you still use it?”
“Maybe if I ran it through the dishwasher,” I said. I glanced over and saw Karin looking at me, horrified.
“You'd better never do such a thing in my dishwasher,” Karin said.
Keith grinned wickedly at me.
“Do you know,” he said, “that your commode has fewer germs than your kitchen sink?”
“No way,” I said, “where'd you get that?”
“Heard it on TV,” Keith said. “They did a test with Petri dishes.”
“Yep,” he said, “that's why I let my dog drink out of the toilet.”
Karin shook her head, and Keith smiled.
“Do you, really?” I said.
“Yep. Checked with my vet, and he said it was OK.”
“So long as you flush after each use, right?”
“Didn't ask him that,” Keith said.
“That's really gross, Gilbertson,” Karin said, and left the room.
But the most “educational” conversation I had occurred one day when we were eating lunch together. I noticed a piece of dog-hair floating in the air, grabbed it, and offered it to him.
“Want some extra protein?” I asked.
He took it, and rolled it in his fingers. For a moment I thought he might actually put it on his sandwich.
“Did you know,” Keith said, “the government allows rat hair in your food?”
“No way.” I said.
“Yep,” he replied, “so don't worry about a few pieces of pooch-fuzz.”
I made a mental note never to put him in charge of cooking dinner.
“How comforting,” I said.
“That's not the half of it,” he said, “they also allow mold, mildew, insect parts, insect filth, rodent filth, cysts, pus, shit, aphids, mites, thrips, and fly eggs.”
I shook my head and studied my turkey sandwich.
“I think the only thing full of BS around here is you,” I said.
“Oh, and I left out maggots,” Keith said. “There's an allowable level of maggots.”
“Right,” I said, suddenly feeling a bit queasy. I pushed my plate away.
“Well, that's what the magazine article said.” He took a big bite of his meal. “But don't let it ruin your day.”
So Keith did managed to take away my appetite, but for the longest time I thought he was pulling my leg. After all, this was the guy who'd take you camping and then ask if you'd ever hunted snipe, or when he ran out of coffee filters, use TP.
And God only knows where he got the water.
Then, one day, I had the chance to double-check him by doing my own research on the Internet.
And he wasn't kidding. Look at this.
“Title 21, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 110.110 allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to establish maximum levels of natural or unavoidable defects in foods for human use that present no health hazard. ... The FDA set these action levels because it is economically impractical to grow, harvest, or process raw products that are totally free of non-hazardous, naturally occurring, unavoidable defects....”
Brace yourself—here's a link to the FDA's list of allowable amounts of insect parts and rodent filth and other Keith-like disgusting stuff. But before you turn green, take heart—at least they don't suggest you drink from your toilet. Scroll down to see the juicy stuff.
So there you have it, in addition to making me laugh and occasionally feel nauseated, it turns out that my wise-guy brother-in-law knew a thing or two about food safety. Not surprising from a guy who was smart enough to be a nuclear engineer in the Navy and just crazy enough to think it was funny to knock out all his teeth while roller skating. I'll miss Keith, but every time I see something disgusting, I'll think of him and wish he were here so I could laugh, point and shout:
“THAT'S GROSS GILBERTSON.”
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe - "Or So it Seems™" - Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County. He can be reached at email@example.com.