A Surfeit of Lampreys
Eel-based guidance for societal reintegration
For extremely normal reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about Medieval deaths. Not the grim, torture-y ones—your flensings, your quarterings—but highly specific deaths of aristocratic excess and gluttony.
1135: King Henry I gorges himself on eels at a hunting lodge and dies a few days later. The cause of death is recorded as a “surfeit of lampreys.”
1216: King John dies on the toilet after consuming “a surfeit of peaches” and cider.
1276: Osbert le Wuayl of Elstow dies from a spate of “falling sickness” after a night of excessive drinking and eating.
[This one’s not Medieval, but I’m including it anyway] 1771: King Adolf Fredrick of Sweden dies after eating 14 cream buns.
In unrelated news, I got a vaccine and a stimulus check this week.
Right now, it feels like we’re in an existential shoulder season—peering into an “orgastic future” with our feet stuck in last year’s cement. The pandemic has been one long dearth of surfeits, and I’m worried about what will happen when the Bacchanalia ban ends. I’m worried about the cream buns.
I know I’m going to be a problem, because I went to watch a soccer game on the patio at Johnny’s for the first time in months and completely forgot how to behave. I intended to nurse a beer and quietly bask in the (relative) proximity of others. Instead, I drank about 120 ounces of Boulevard Irish Ale, invited myself on someone else’s camping trip, slept for four hours, and puked up some quiche.
I think there’s a couple (related) things going on here:
Sustained deprivation has a way of throwing off one’s sense of proportion. In some cases, it literally changes the way the body works. There’s a reason doctors don’t treat malnourished patients by taking them to an Old Country Buffet.1 It's difficult to practice restraint when one’s whole body is vibrating with excitement and terror like a baby rabbit in a clover field.
I’ve been trained to expect and accept bad news for so long, I’m suspicious of durable happiness. I hoard whatever scraps I can. What if this one patio beer, family visit, cookout with friends is all I get before the trap snaps shut? I know this mindset is both irrational and unhelpful, but there’s still a tiny voice in my head that screams “GET THOSE LAMPREYS WHILE THE GETTINS’ GOOD.”
If you think I’m about to advocate will power and moderation—well, you probably haven’t read most of these newsletters. I’m unlikely to change my personal prime directive, which is to spend as much of my life as possible bouncing off the guard rails between “mischief monster” and “benevolent weirdo.”
What I can change is the shock to my system from going from 0 to surfeit in 60 seconds.
Fellow weirdos, hear my dare: we don’t need temperance, we need practice. We need to build up the party muscle. We need party calisthenics.
The specific exercises will depend on your post-integration plans. You might:
Warm half a bag of tortilla chips in the oven and down them on the couch while listening to Avicii’s “Levels”
Shotgun a LaCroix
Back that ass up 50 percent of the way
Space out your 14 cream buns by eating two each day
Hug a vaccinated friend without licking them
The goal is to excise surfeits; to tare the scale a little higher and eliminate extremes. The goal is to be less King John and more King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty, who is said to have paddled regularly around an Olympic-sized pool of wine, ladling up his bathwater and plucking sausages and skewers from meat-bedecked trees.
Sure, he died setting fire to his palace in a literal blaze of glory. But he didn’t die on the john.
Drop your personal party workouts in the comments. And try to keep the faith. I’ll try, too. We’re almost there, and “there” is anywhere but here.
Hunger is obviously an inelegant comparison to staying indoors with an iPhone for a few months, but “treatment by way of gradual reintegration” seems useful.