Rick Paulas and The Art of Choking

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Paulas recounts his many encounters with the Heimlich Maneuver @ The Morning News.
I. Rolled HamThe specific event is unclear. It may have been one of my two sisters’ First Communion parties. Or a celebration following someone’s First Confession, which takes place a year before First Communion and, in retrospect, is an odd reason to throw a party. Or a get-together for my own Confirmation, a sacrament in which the eighth grader is “confirmed” to choose Catholicism’s God as his chosen deity, of his own accord, which even at the time felt like a pretty big decision for someone so young to make. Or some other random festivity, maybe a birthday. A Catholic upbringing is full of parties; maybe you haven’t heard that before. I was not yet out of grammar school, a term I still get lightly ridiculed for using and that, to me, denotes a combination of grade school and junior high, because there was not a strong distinction between the two at St. Damian. Kindergarten had its own building, but grades one through eight were mixed together. 

This allowed fifth graders to have crushes on eighth graders, though they were never reciprocal. At the party, someone brought rolled slices of ham with something white and creamy inside. An option free of the filling was also made available. I chose the latter. The empty middle allowed me to get short puffs of air in the middle of my choking episode. As I told people afterward, I felt like I could breathe in but couldn’t breathe out. I panicked and located the nearest adult, who ushered me to Mrs. Eggert, family friend and registered nurse. She administered the Heimlich and I spat up the ham on a thin slice of grass that acted as passageway from front yard to back, well traversed since few chose to go through the rigmarole of taking off one’s shoes and then putting them back on if you wanted to cut through the house. After the ham was cleaned up and discarded, I was taught the International Sign for Choking, which is placing two hands around your own throat as if you’re trying to strangle yourself.
II. Sourdough BreadAfter my freshman year of high school, the five-person Paulas family piled into the station wagon and drove 4,000 round-trip miles on a three-week cross-country odyssey from Chicago to the West Coast. I brought with me a 64-disc CD storage wallet, but I listened exclusively to The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness on my Discman; I had to go without listening to The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails because my only copy was an unlabeled cassette, dubbed clandestinely in the 12-hour period between my mother learning the album was affixed with a “Parental Advisory: Explicit Content” sticker and my father driving me to Discount Records to return it. While listening to Mellon Collie, I alternated between (1) reading and re-reading an interview with Billy Corgan in Guitar World or Guitar or Spin or some other magazine where the interviewer mentioned the massive amount of guitar overdubs (like, 82 or something) in the song “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans,” causing me to try and aurally locate each one; and (2) trying to compose enough songs to create my own double album...
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