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June 25, 2008

Chicago, Illinois

If you'd prefer not to be subjected to a visual of my revolting condition, skip this post. Don't scroll down. Just close the browser or click on something else.

Went to lunch with my handlers after the Austin morning show. Figured we should get some barbecue before we left. Our cab driver took us to a place we could smell before we pulled into the lot. Their beverage options were Dr. Pepper and RC Cola. The walls were adorned with used human-outline target sheets from a gun range.

If it wasn't for that stop, I don't think we could say we'd been to Texas.

Quick layover at George Bush airport in Houston. Didn't have time to visit Haliburton's main office and hurl feces at the sign.

Landed in Miami. Took the most expensive cab ride of my life up to the hotel in Miramar. Spent all night reading email again.

The next morning I went on a talk show. Can't remember the name. It was either "Good Morning South Florida" or "Wake Up South Florida" or "Hello? South Florida? Call the Nurse!"

The interviewer was very nice, but had only the vaguest familiarity with what I do and was more interested in talking about Stride Gum, which is a-okay with me. I handed her a pack. She held it up to the camera and said "Stride gum, just a dollar a pack, available everywhere gum is sold."

Emily, the brand manager from Stride, was standing off-camera trying to maintain her composure. The poor woman is in her second trimester.

"That was every brand manager's dream," she said.

Bought Guitar Hero for the DS on the way to the airport. Was hoping for a perfunctory dose of Rock Band while I'm on the road, but it can't even deliver at the basic level. It's a fundamentally unworkable concept and another testament to Activision's determination to milk every buck from the franchise until all the fun is gone. I'd like to think their competitors, the Rock Band folks, considered the notion of handheld guitar simulation and decided it couldn't be done right. They'd have been right about that.

Landed in Chicago and checked email. Over a hundred emails while I was in flight. Took a cab to the hotel. Sixty more emails in that half hour.

It was around that time that my body gave up. Mentally and emotionally I'm doing fine, but I think the stress of all this and the weeks of little-to-no sleep are catching up with me. First it was the travel, racing around to get those last few clips. Then it was round-the-clock editing, getting everything ready for release. Then it was trying to absorb the overwhelming response.

Anyway, I started itching while I was reading. It kept getting worse. Finally I took my shirt off and had a look in the mirror.


The blisters ran up my back and onto both shoulders, down to my elbows and onto my wrists, with a few scattered bumps on my legs, face, and neck.

Sent the picture to my sister and she did a phone diagnosis. We decided it was shingles.

Shingles is a resurgence of the chicken pox virus. I had it a few years ago. It's potentially contagious to anyone who hasn't had chicken pox before, but not very likely. They would have to come into direct contact with an open blister, and as fun as it is to rub my open blisters against people, they're rarely willing to indulge me.

I went wandering the suburb of Des Plaines, Illinois at midnight on foot, looking for a convenience store or giant everything store that was open and could sell me some hydrocortizone. No luck.

Too itchy to sleep, I read more email for a while and got back to as many as I could. I still have 30 flagged in my inbox since Friday; many urgent, and hundreds more I haven't read.

Lying in bed, exhausted but restless, it occurred to me that I still hadn't had a chance to watch the finished video. I mean, like, really watch it.

I put it on loop, pushed everything else out of my head, and let it sink in.

I watched it for an hour, maybe more. And I forgot about the audio mix and the colors and all the other fiddly bits I've been obsessing over. At the end of each viewing, I had to watch it again. Each time I felt more absorbed, but at the same time removed from the guy on the screen and all the experiences he'd been through. Subject became object, you might say. And I suppose, since so many others have made this confession willingly, I can admit I had tears running down my face for the first time.

And I was reminded of a quote, with some degree of irony:

"The moral of the story is we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. And, what the computer people don't realize, or they don't care, is we're dancing animals. You know, we love to move around."
                                                               - Kurt Vonnegut

Mr. Vonnegut died a couple weeks after I started making this video.

Told the Stride folks about my situation. They said "go home and get healthy," so the media tour is cut short.

Carlos, my Chicago PR rep, gave me info for the hospital, but going would've required me to miss my flight home. And I really just want to get home.

Airline personnel really freak out when you tell them you may have an infectious disease, especially when you're drenched in sweat from sprinting across the terminal.

I asked if I could get an empty seat next to me, but of course, this is America. We don't have empty seats anymore.

I explained my situation and they let me board, but asked me not to share details with anyone and potentially cause a panic.

I don't think I'm being terribly irresponsible by boarding this plane. I don't think they're being terribly irresponsible by letting me board.

Squeezed into the middle seat between an elderly man and woman. I asked if they were together.

"Oh, yes. But he enjoys the window seat because he likes to take pictures and I like to sit near the aisle."
"Really? Well, that's just fantastic. Oh, go right ahead and reach across my screen to tap your deaf husband on the shoulder. No, that's fine. I don't mind if you yell back and forth at each other. Sure, go ahead and open that can of tuna from your purse. The smell doesn't bother me at all!"

The flight attendant came by offering a selection of chips and cookies for $5. I asked her if they had anything that was actually food. She scowled at me and walked away.

All I want is a turkey wrap or maybe an apple. Something life-sustaining that is not processed and sealed in air-tight plastic. I actually love airplane food when it's food -- those sensibly-portioned warm meal units they still give everywhere else in the world, complete with salad and dessert. But then United decided to charge for Pringles, Oreos, cheese spread, and beef jerky.

I reclined my seat so I could wedge my arms between the cushions and just barely manage to type this. The lady behind me protested by banging on my seat repeatedly for half an hour (full disclosure: I've done this). When the banging failed to deter me, she started commiserating noisily with her neighbor about the rudeness of seat reclining.

I finally got a look at her and realized she could stand to lose a few bowling balls, hence the discomfort.

I'm not going to feel guilty about that.

Saw the doctor. It's not shingles. It's not fungal. It's probably not an insect or spider bite. It's probably not stress-related either. All that said, he's never seen anything like it before.

His best guess: an allergic reaction to something I was lying in. He ruled out the plane, so it pretty much has to be the bed at the hotel. That's all that's left. I'm not gonna say the name of the chain, but you've probably stayed at one of them.

And I am left with a mental image of the microbiological contents of those sheets...

Hundreds of beds in dozens of countries and I am sidelined in the suburbs of Miami...also with some degree of irony.

Post Script: Taking the tip-off from comments and emails, I've started reading about bed bugs and the more I read, the more this seems to be the culprit. Apparently they are common in tropical areas (Florida is named specifically), they feed at dawn (I was only in bed from about 5am to 9am), and their bites first become apparent with intense itching that can start hours after the fact (in my case, twelve).


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hi this is my first time here :D
someone send me this link of Dancing around the world.
i lived in Taipei, Taiwan.
so when i saw you we're dancing there.
i felt Reallly Happpy :DDDD

hope the itchy thingy goes away soon :P
have an AWESOME day !!

Love Asya*

This video is an inspiration. Thank you. I hope the spotty things have cleared up.
Sharon Haslam

Bed bugs? I hear Chicago has a big problem with them...

Best wishes to a speedy recovery.

I wish I would have known, I could have offered you a free, clean futon, with a very snuggly puggle to cuddle.

Very nice video.
Thanks for having been in Brussels ;-)
Hope you'll recover soon.


My 10 yr old is sick with a sore throat and fever. For the last three days I've brought drinks and food to her in bed or on the couch, patted cool compresses to her head and neck, read books to her, sat with her while she played her favorite online RPG game and fussed over her so she doesn't feel lonely and miserable.

I've determined that that is what you need, some TLC and mothering. If I could help you I would. I hope you're near a nurturing soul who can take care of you until you've recouped some of your health and energy. You've brought so much joy to so many people and now it's time for you to just focus on YOU.
There, there, get some rest, sweety.

Amazing video, Matt. And Stride gum really is good; it's my new favorite, but only peppermint flavor ;)

Hope you get to feeling better soon.

Pattie in ND

esperamos que pronto puedas estar mejor!!!
si necesitas pomadas magicas dilo!!!

I would like to introduce Dancingman to Signman. Signman is my alter-ego that was influenced by the Rainbow Hair/John 3:16 guy that showed up at lots of televised sporting events back in the late 70s and early 80s. That's what happens when your mother uses the television as a babysitter! Thanks mom!


Amazing video! I share your adventurous wanderlust. I am so jealous.


I'd love to see the airline employee's face when you began talking about infectious disease all drenched in sweat. Ha!

Nice story. Hope you're all recovered by now.

Dear Matt,

I just wanted to let you know that your video, which I think I've watched 5 times since you unveiled it, has made me smile in a time that has been rather un-smiley for me.

Thank you. You have brought so much joy to me and many others, I hope you know that you're changing the world in your own funny-badly-dancing way...and I'm so appreciative.

I hope that the itchy-ness goes away, you *do* need to take this time to take care of yourself! How can you dance badly or otherwise if you feel crappy? =)

much belief,

Your blisters look like bed bug bites to me...

It sounds like you had a crazy whirlwind of a time in Chicaco.

Sure hope you get well. It really is ironic that of all the places you've been you were stopped by something "wierd" in Chicago.

Quick question: In all your travels have you ever been hit by something like this? (Not common cold type stuff but wierd like those bumps)

Dear Matt:

When I saw that you had a new dancing video, I got so excited. Your first video brought SO much joy to our little family, and touched us on a very deep level.

The new one is even more amazing. Your spirit is so bright, and you clearly have a giant heart of good. (Ha, I first typed "heart of goof," which is ALSO true.)

FWIW, I could have told you those are bug bites. I just hope you're resting and decompressing, and letting the love billowing your way buoy you up.

Good job, Matt. Thank you for everything.

Cheers from foggy and cool Soquel, CA


It makes sense that you distanced yourself from your actual video. As a creator, it's common to be alientated from your creation, espedcially when it required the amount of effort, planning and time yours did. I am glad to see that, despite it all, you realised what a beautiful creation you had made.

Looks like bed bugs to me. I hope they don't decide to stay with you, otherwise you might have to shoot a video of yourself itching across the world...

That's the way she goes sometimes Matt. When I was traveling through central america I was staying in pretty sketchy places and eating sketched out food from street vendors. However, one night we decided to splurge and we went to a fancy restaurant in Guatemala. Insta-food poisoning. From the only expensive meal I ate on the whole trip. Go figure.

Get well!

All the girls that wanted to see you shirtless finally got their wish. Unfortunately, I don't think they wanted it to be like this.

My wife came down with an allergic reaction very similar to the one you are experiencing. Some red dye had given her hives. They lasted for 6 weeks. It was Hell to her because of the itchiness and bearing the humility of going out in public like that (it spread to her face, arms, legs, back... you name it, it was there). The only things that seemed to relieve anything were oatmeal baths and taking allergy pills. What you have sounds similar, but I wouldn't know unless I saw it up close and I'm not in a big hurry to do that.

I hope you get better fast.

Hi Matt.
Im from Mexico City and first I tought u were just a crazy guy...... well i stil think that.... but ur videos are so great. Im a graphic design and this could be a very good idea to make a peace campaigne.......
BTW, Hope u make more videos, and hope u come again to Mexico so i can go to dance with u.


Hi Matt,

Just saw your work for the first time today. I'm now addicted and you're going into my favorites..glad you enjoyed some good Texas BBQ while you were here. I live in Houston and if you're ever back this way, stay and visit!

The itchy rash...yikes I hate to say it but that looks like the work of Bed Bugs...they bite in a line like that. Hotels are notorious for them. Wash everything you have had in a hotel setting in HOT HOT water!! Hope you feel better!

hey matt - absolutely love your video. i watch it like 5 times a day! i think it's funny how the person in the middle of it all can be shielded from the monumental-ness of it.

you've definitely inspired me to go out and see more of the world. i'm from seattle too - i hope someday i can shake your hand and buy you a beer!

I so enjoyed your video! What fun! Thank you for the smiles! I am so sorry about your illness. I agree with the bedbug diagnosis. Some people are allegic to their bites. I have also seen similar reactions to spider bites. I hope that you have a good ointment for the itching. I have found that soaking in a warm tub of baking soda helps some patients. Get well soon!

Aw Bummer! You were here and didn't tell us =(

Hope you get better soon! Take as much rest and relaxation that you can. You deserve it!

I believe the medical explanation is cooties.

I've had shingles...gah, they suck! I'm glad that's not the problem. Whatever it is, hope it clears up quickly.
Your newest video is great. Thanks, for giving us something so entertaining. :) If you're ever dancing around in the SC area, I'll buy you a beer!

I've had shingles...gah, they suck! I'm glad that's not the problem. Whatever it is, hope it clears up quickly.
Your newest video is great. Thanks, for giving us something so entertaining. :) If you're ever dancing around in the SC area, I'll buy you a beer!

Thanks so much for sharing your 2008 video. I loved the dancing in India. I thought the synchronicity at the end was inspired! Music was perfect. I know you visited Austin, but if you are ever back Texas way stop by Houston for more than feces tossing, we would love to dance with you.

Thank you for making my day and making me smile. Take a break but don't stop bringing the world together.

I am so happy you are not spreading "Jesus" or any other fantasy.
Just fun and happiness.
Great stuff. Love it.

also, can i just say that i love how you put tel aviv and west bank right next to each other. take that, haters!!!

Dear Matt,

You make me smile. I am almost 60 and read about you a few years back and thought how fun. You just make me smile-please let me know if you plan to be in the Tampa, FL area as I would love to see you in person. Please keep up being our American ambassador to the world spreading sunshine and smiles. I wish there were more people like you in this world.

God bless you,

Hi Matt,

I just saw your video today. Its very inspiring. I know you don't like people telling to visit where they live. I've been living in Portland, OR since 2005. But that's not the place I'd request you to visit. Its my homeland - Bangladesh; a small country near India is where I'd request you to visit. It'll mean a lot to see my country's name and picture on your video. I Know its not a well known place at all. When I tell someone I come from Bangladesh most of the times they would ask me which part of India it is. In fact the only time world hears about it is when there is a cyclone or flood and people are dying without food and shelter. These are true but its still a beautiful country with people whose hearts are filled with love and passion. I still feel guilty sometimes for leaving my country and my parents back there for a better future of mine. Now I always get emotional whenever I hear its name being mentioned any occasion whether good or bad. It would be great if you can ever make my beautiful Bangladesh a part of your video.



I was so touched by your video. I showed my sons and can't wait to show them again when they are older and can better understand how big and wonderful the world and its people are. Amazing.

Did you do any looking about bedbugs?
You can bring them home in your luggage. Bedbugs in your home is no good at all. Please look into it so that you don't wind up with an infestation. It happens...from nice hotels.

Wow, you really do have quite the assortment of fans don't you? ;)

Holy Cow, I hope by now you have gotten rid of that creepin crud you got., and glad to hear you finally watched the viedo and felt it......tears and all.......we love it!

Not 2 months ago, I had an experience with a Hampton Inn in Oklahoma that left me with those exact same lesions on my back. I'm a nurse and I concluded they were bedbugs.

I hope you emailed the Marriott in question and told them about it so they could do something about the problem. Maybe there's a traveling saleman carrying the things around with him.

Please join the worldnewsletter group in Yahoo! Groups because I cannot get in touch with you by using your email.

What an awesome idea!! You are the smartest guy I've seen in a long time--travel is the greatest adventure and DANCING is always the "bomb" as my g-daughter would say! I had a horrific rash that lasted for way too long last year, thought I'd do myself in--but with enough anti-itch meds from an allergy doc, the itch was arrested and the whole thing started disappearing from that point...so take heart!! Keep us posted...you rock!!

how wonderful of you to come to Brunei! gotta say, i love your work.
hope you all the best, and good luck with those itches.

Brunei Darussalam

Why don't you come to Switzerland to dance with Heidi?

Speedy recovery, Matt!

I hope it is not as painful as the sunburn you got in Antarctica.

Thanks again for the wonderful video.

Can I send you this gift...?

This is your best video!!! The music was great and uplifting. Seeing all the people (esp the kids) shows us we're all just the same (very few good dancers in the bunch).
Life's to short, enjoy. You with the ladies of India was beautiful and the DMZ was funny.
How did you get into the DMZ and dance with the officer? Yes, I believe he was dancing in his own way.

Hope you feel better soon, Matt. And thanks for the videos. I too weep when watching them.

Hope to have the chance to dance with you somewhere, sometime.

Hey Matt have you ever thought about trying out for the t.v. show "So you think you can dance?" Your moves are special and unique-you get my vote. The insightful people at Stride knew a good thing when they saw it. Keep on dancing dear. If it makes people smile where ever you go, (look at all the joyful faces) than it's a good thing. :-D

Yep, looks/sounds like bedbugs. Sorry. You need to keep an eye on yourself... bloodsucking insects are carrying nasty diseases like Lyme & co. So, should you start to display subtle and not subtle al-over-the-map symptoms in the coming months, get yourself to an LLMD (Lyme literate MD) by getting a referral through www.ilads.org. We want to keep you dancing!

OMG I thought of bedbugs right away when I saw those bites (and I knew they were bites and not shingles, my poor grandma had shingles for almost a year). I live in horror of bedbugs in hotels/motels, and in more horror of accidentally bringing some home with me to live :( You have my sympathies Matt :(

Also, if you ever swing by Indiana, would you mind a skinny, graying middle-aged lady going on your travels with you? I will dance to anything, anywhere!

I immediately thought bed bugs. On my first and only trip to London, I stayed a pretty cheap hotel near Victoria Station. Middle of the night itching showed big red splotches all over and a consequent search under the mattress revealed an army of gross little bugs!!! I feel for you man. That's one of the coolest videos, makes me happy, wish I could have been dancing too in all those places--dancing is the great healer!

First off, amazing video!!!! it made me smile so wide..and then i teared up a bit. In a happy way. I've spent the last 2 hours perusing your site. Amazing! I too have the wanderlust...oh how i miss traveling.

Your bites look like either bed bugs (because of the lines of bites) or could they maybe be stress related hives? I've had hives pop up like that before...but they usually end up moving around a bit. I'd hope for bed bugs over stress related hives. If it really is bed bugs..way to be in the "best country in the world" at a "fancy hotel" when you got them. ugh. I'd call an complain to the hotel as well.

take care, safe travels!

i watched your video. according to all these people, you really have changed the lives of THOUSANDS. You have been an inspiration to all.

thank you for changing my way of living



I am sorry for your recent ailment and am not at all excusing the Courtyard Marriott (as they are "professionals"), but have to differ with your portrayal of places with bedbugs as unsanitary. I'd like to think that my home is fairly sanitary, but my friend got bedbugs at our house when he visited (sorry again, Kyle). We live in the Caribbean, it's hot, and those little bastards are tenacious and really, really good at hiding. We've since had to get a new mattress for the guest room, but I'm still not making any promises.

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