The Whites, the Robertsons, and the Parhams had become good friends. That was about to be tested.
Jeanne convinced Margaret that if Margaret could convince me, then she could convince “Left Brain”, a.k.a. “Junior” on an eight-day river rafting trip down the Colorado (“Color-Red”) River through the glorious Grand Canyon. The majority of the group (26 people) were professional speakers, part of a national “union” of speakers. Jeanne was the Matriarch.
“OK,” I said, “if Junior can do it, I can.” Margaret and I were “fillers” as the twenty-six number had not made. Really it was half and half, pro’s and “Tali-baptists.” While some of the speakers bolted (Evidently they had a “scouting report JR and I didn’t have), another speaker filled the boat with “happy clappers” about to become “happy crappers.” I was outnumbered immediately. Their “circle of love” included morning devotionals, prayer, and testimony. I tolerated that throughout my Baptist youth and remained fairly civil and fairly quiet.
Some of it got political. The combination put me over the edge. I needed Russell or Ed Perkins. The only thing worse than a neo-conservative Republican is a She-Publican, think Ann Coulter. My seat in the raft stationed me by Dana Carvey’s “Church Lady.” One off colored joke and I got the “aren’t you special” look. I figured we’re in this for eight days, how do I get past the “stare?” I found out she was a choir director. I challenged her to a “hymn” contest. You mention a Baptist hymn, I’ll tell you the words. Then it’s your turn. She wouldn’t even do that. Pissed, I sang the Doxology, “Bless be the Tie”, “There is a Fountain,” and on and on and on, yodeling my monotone floating down the Colorado.
Actually that week it was the “color-muddy” river, or “color-cucka” river. Looked like “Yoo Hoo Chocolate Milk.” And it was cold, then hot, scary as hell and then all work. Put up your tent. Take it down. Go find rocks to hold your tent down, haul in the cooking gear. I’d just retired. Plus Junior and I looked at the tent like a Rubik cube. No clue. Screw it, I ratcheted it up a level or two. I sang the Dog Song, bashed “little George Bush,” or “Shrub,” and questioned “Sparky.”
Tour Guide, “Sparky” first addressed some “omissions” from the brochure: rattlesnakes, scorpions, fractures, giardia, sand spurs, hypothermia, getting lost, slippery rocks, and on.
Then the real kicker. Elimination. We were about to get real familiar. Particularly for Baptists. Now nomenclature becomes important. Defecation and urinating? #1 and #2? Poop and Pee? Lots of names for the potty process. Actually they named it “Oscar.”
I haven’t seen Jeanne’s DVD that includes her side of this story. I limited my comments and scenario into the “Elimination Monologues.” Given that daily we were in a life or death situation you tend to resort to child- hood type fears. Mix this with “Sparky’s” pooping rules and the imagination runs wild.
Pooping at someone else’s house? Trying to fool them by silent fart? Clogging their toilet and having to ask for a plunger? Which way does the lid go? Aiming with special care?
The list goes on. Now at age 66 “Sparky” has some new rules:
1. Pee only in the river (the urine will cause fungus in the Canyon. Fungus? You could put North Carolina in this 286-mile valley.)
2. Poop only in Oscar. It is illegal to do so on land. No paper
3. Oscar rules: No “port-a-pot” luxury, it’s a simple “box with a hole.” Fire at will. Paper available, one hole for 26 rafters plus four staff. (People began to look at each other.) Take the sign with you. Return it to the line; we locate it at a “discreet” site at each different camp location. Each day we camped at different, (in a lot of ways) sites. There were some tricky variables. “The women go upstream, the men go downstream.” (Is that a pun, “Sparky”?) This alone caused confusion, sexual ani- mosity, and lost dignity. Many, myself included, abandoned protocol. Some were “tali-baptisits.”
Once, while whizzing where I thought proper, I heard a second and different “tinkle.” Looking down I saw the white ass of the “Church Lady” giving me that look from a lower position. I broke into “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, oh what a fore- taste of glory divine. Heir of salvation..” and carried on. Screw it. Peeing at night presented a fundamental problem. Where the hell is the river? Each location different. “Country” once advised me as to how to get up real early for a golf match. “Perm, you just as old as I am. ‘Bout the third or forth time you get up to piss, just stay up.” Simple.
It must be noted that post surgery my left leg never has worked well at all. In the middle of the night, I could barely get out of the friggin tent, then to find the river. Needless to say I got entirely lost. Couldn’t let go on the earth. Oh no, illegal pissing? I didn’t want to be the first one caught.
I wandered back though the tents, flashlight in had, having no idea which tent housed Margaret. One for sure didn’t. As I shone the light into my “best guess,” the “Church Lady”, plus curlers and sans makeup, gave me the “glare” again. 2:00 am. “You pervert.”
Finally I heard Margaret, “Tom, Tom, you idiot, over here.” She walked me to the edge of the river, where I upped the water level. Each afternoon our first official task was to help unload the two rafts. You found out quickly, though, you really needed to “fudge” and find your “tent rocks”. If you didn’t find the rocks your tent would blow away easily. Plus, if you waited, the other cheaters would scoff up all the accessible rocks.
About day two I noticed something peculiar. The “Church Lady” headed neither place, but to the cooks table. What for? I watched her while she watched the cooking guide can-opener the big Delmonte bean can. “Church Lady” grabbed it and left. Damn! A bedpan! Why didn’t they tell me to bring my urinal? I had several from all my surgeries.
Other women figured it out. Word of mouth, and the line grew.
As the cans grew smaller the women wondered about their volume and circumferences. I hadn’t watched a woman so concerned about the “bore” on something since Linda Lovelace stared down John Holmes in “Deep Throat.” I got me a can. Trouble was I had to wait till the end of the line. Baptist women stick together.
And it had a “corrugated edge” on it. Now picture a crippled, unstable old man peeing in a razor sharp can, probably too small for my potential. Stumble with your “member” in there, and your heart rate will go up. Soon the women sat in the muddy river in groups, some concentrating, some talking and peeing away. The men quickly adopted my attitude. Screw modesty. I’m just trying to get my ass home safely. Back to “Oscar” and “Sparky’s” rules:
4. Sparky said don’t pee and poop at the same time in Oscar. Huh? How I ask, can one’s most sacred moment of concentrative bliss be manipulated thusly? Can’t be done, I don’t care what you say. I questioned “Sparky’s credibility.
5. When “Sparky” said “if this system doesn’t work, we’d try another one.” Bullshit, “Sparky,” what other one is there?
In the military they give you a couple of minutes to crap. Women, especially older Baptist, wouldn’t make that dead line. While many were stymied by this process, I was doing well. One guy from Raleigh couldn’t make it work. Couldn’t do it. Seven days, “big cloud, no rain.” He was an angry man. Seven days sans movement will do that to anyone. What do you say standing in line to dump? Three ladies and me. I sang hymns, or told dirty jokes. I was gaining an audience. Now, when I farted in the “circle of love” several laughed. The “Church Lady” even smiled at me.
Another revelation with Oscar was you were often in open view of other boats coming down the river. They caught me every morning. They’d laugh and wave. I’d shoot ‘em the bird. I’d gotten it down pat. Not quite as effective or quick as Dan’s “straight,” but two minutes and I was gone. The night before we were to leave I felt good about crapping. One more morn- ing and I’m back to my “American Standard.” (Great name for a john).
Then….”Sparky’s” Revenge. TACOS. Spicy Tacos. As the twilight set in post meal rumblings became audible. “Escapee” poots from the ladies, even. Oscar’s line became lengthened with anxious ladies.
“Seven Days” was unmoved even by the tacos. I thought I was too, but then
I knew. There was gonna be some “Old Coach” action and soon. I wasn’t about to get in the back of that line of slow crappers. Seven women, maybe an hour’s wait. I had no underwear. We’d repacked at the trips start and I miscalculated. One pair of shorts left. I’d had to borrow a nice shirt from Jerry Robertson. JR said take it, but it was in for a traumatic evening. I was also wearing my black “Reebok” coaching shoes. I loved them. In fact, I’d worn them all week the year we’d won the NAIA National title in 1990. Sixteen years. Coaches are superstitious.
As darkness and bowel urgency mounted, I devised a plan. There were some “variables.” We’d selected our smallest landing area. “Seven Days” was nose to nose with our tent. We’d have to select a perfect site. There wasn’t one. Plus it was getting dark fast. Remember: Rattlesnakes and scorpions (and pooping). I’d convinced Margaret to go with me as “camouflage” for my secret deed. She’d even agreed to give me the last three “wipes” for the cleanup. We had run through a ton of wipes and we were still nasty.
Finally, I decided on the best cite option: a ditch about 8” wide. Someone said as a poker player I was “so lucky you could shit in a swinging jar.” This would test the quotation. Remember the limited balance, the impending darkness, and the sheer anger at ever electing to be in this predicament in the first place. The tension mounted. No doubt eminent action. I dropped my last pair of shorts. They hung on my “Reeboks” and I couldn’t shake them off my damaged left foot.
The ditch was on a hill; it tilted considerably, bringing into play, my aim. Almost dark, I drew a bead. Remember, too, we’re in the Grand goddamned Canyon, echo maximus. It startled even me. I couldn’t have hollered any louder. Viscosity quickly became an issue. Balance more so. Try as I may, my left foot wouldn’t hold. Blast that surgeon.
I not only shit on my foot, I shit on my shoes, my leg, my shorts, and Jerry Robertson’s new shirt. Then I fell in it. I covered it as best I could by hand. Margaret was shocked by my language. The smell got me. Then the thought: Will the “Shit Ranger” know? Will I be ticketed for illegal shitting? Would “Seven Days” hear, or smell, and turn me in as a “shit-felon?”
Next issue. What to do with me? Our space was a tent. I had no clothes. Margaret, a hardened nurse, was pushed to the max. No more so than the limited wipes. Saturation. Somehow she got my naked self semi-clean. Could we sleep a few hours one last night, after this trauma? About to doze off it became apparent, we’d missed something. Aha, the shoes. I couldn’t leave the tent. The “Church Lady” wouldn’t understand. Margaret buried the “Reeboks.”
All week “Sparky” had told us of the variations of rock strata throughout the vast, majestic canyon. The next day, as we sailed our final miles down the Colo- rado; I pictured a future archeologist discovering my Reeboks. They would hold them up to their fellow explorers and declare: “These shoes once won a National Championship, but they still smell like shit.”
I didn’t speak to Jeanne Robertson for a while after that. Margaret, bless her, loved the adventure and the canyons beauty. “Didn’t you love the sounds of the river and the natural beauty?” I replied, “We could have bought a CD and a coffee table book for fifty dollars.”