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Life's Rich Pageant

Give It Up For The Heroic Barf-Cleaner

North Carolina sixth-man Puff Johnson performed valiantly in Monday’s NCAA men’s championship game, chipping in 11 points in 18 minutes and contributing to the enormous rebounding advantage that very nearly lifted a cold-shooting UNC team to its seventh national championship. Unfortunately, everyone who is not named “Puff Johnson”—and possibly even those named “Puff Johnson”—will remember his performance Monday night not for his efficient scoring but for the time when he barfed on the court during the National Championship Game.

The big moment came late in the second half, when a sequence of chaotic semi-transition possessions was brought to a sudden halt after referees spotted Johnson going to his knees and yakking slimy ejecta onto the hardwood. CBS Sports reporter Tracy Wolfson, working the sideline for the TBS broadcast, reported that Johnson took a blow to the midsection that knocked the wind out of him and eventually led to the barfing. Johnson confirmed this after the game, telling reporters he “got hit in the stomach, and just didn’t go well” from there. Johnson was subbed out but eventually returned to the action and was on the court in the game’s final stages. He’s fine.

The person I would like to talk about is this fellow right here:

The barf-wiper.

Though Johnson’s barf was a minor one—more of an egregious spitting incident than a true barf, probably did not even have much of The Barf Smell—it remains an awful injustice whenever a person must, in the course of performing their job duties, wipe up another person’s barf. Unfortunately this is often just how it goes when a person pukes inside a building in which they do not also live. If you barf on the zinc bar-top of your local watering hole, for example, it will become the miserable responsibility of some poor underpaid barback to soak up your reeking shame. In some buildings—hospitals, schools, anyplace with full-time janitorial staff—there exists a formalized protocol for barf-management. In many others, there is an unspoken understanding that it will fall to a certain individual, someone occupying a certain position in that workplace’s hierarchy, to handle all barf incidents.

I once occupied such a position, when I was a middle-manager at a book store. Our janitor crew came once per day, in the mornings, and was gone before the store opened. From that point onward each day it was the job of the “manager on duty” to clean up the barves of strangers. I have cleaned up some serious barf in my day, and more than a couple poops as well. One time a harried mother rushed her small gut-sick child to the back of the store, on the theory that having a drink of water from our water fountain would help to calm his stomach. Why she did not think to instead take him into the bathroom so that he might spew into a sink or toilet I will never understand, but instead of taking a drink of water and feeling better, the small child did a huge The Exorcist-sized projectile barf all over the water fountain, and wall, and floor. As the store’s only restroom area was now spectacularly befouled, I had to rush down there with towels and a mop and sop up what seemed like at least a gallon of slimy orange childbarf. That was not a fun time.

Another time a guest in the store’s cafe had to puke and panicked and turned her head to the side in order to avoid puking on her friend; this meant that she barfed all over an exterior window, after which she stood up to run to the bathroom and barfed into her hands, leaving a horrific barf trail along a solid 20 feet of tiled and then carpeted floor. The barf was once again situated in such a way that I could not be left alone to mutter and curse and sob to myself while cleaning it up. Instead I had to crawl around on the floor in the middle of a crowded bookstore, searching for and soaking up fresh barf, with my face forcefully screwed into a hell-smile nightmare rictus of good cheer. Awful. Awful!

College basketball games have protocols for the cleaning of bodily fluids from the floor, and the towel boys and mop girls with those responsibilities have enough work on their hands wiping up big glistening slicks of sweat, without also having to kneel down and sop up the regurgitated contents of someone’s stomach. Nevertheless, as it was a wet spot on the basketball court, Johnson’s unexpected barf was supposed to be cleaned up by this poor fellow right here, who was prepared to run out onto a court with nothing more than a hand towel, in front of tens of thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers, to see to this very task:

It was this person’s job to clean up a stranger’s fresh barf.

But when he got to the spot of the barf, what did he find? Did he find barf? He did not. He instead found a mostly clean floor that required nothing more than a cursory wipe with his coworker’s big towel mop. The vomit itself was long gone. The unknown blue-shirted barf-cleaner (possibly a team doctor) who stepped in front of the bullet that had this poor jamoke’s name on it, and discreetly and efficiently soaked up Puff Johnson’s barf and carried it away, is a hero.

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