If I were to name the worst day I have ever had at camp, my mind would reel with images of MORE THAN ONE serious girlfriend who broke up with me while we were there. Or maybe I would think about that time I had a serious, albeit temporary existential crisis and threw a temper tantrum in front of my mom and several of her campers. Perhaps I would recall the day I sat on a horse in the rear of a horse procession when all of the horses in front of me had a sudden and coordinated attack of horse flatulence. But those experiences would be limiting the "worst day of camp" memories to things that had happened TO ME, and when examining the experiences of others, I can think of worse things such as the time the camper who was deathly afraid of bees got stung nine times in the same day. Or there's that time a kid fell down the hole of the outhouse into raw sewage. There's that.
It was the tail end of an already bad day at camp at the end of an already bad week at camp. As a ninth grade English teacher I have had to explain quite often the concept of "foreshadowing" as it pertains to kids' literature. In English class, these signs and symptoms of things to come are often quite transparent and readily identifiable. When the main character in your story notices a gun in the top drawer of his dad's armoire, it's fairly obvious that the author has mentioned this detail so that the character might use that gun later in the story. To kill Piggy perhaps. When painting an animal likeness onto the side of a baseball sized rock, it is fairly easy to predict what the artist might do if he becomes frustrated, as the assortment of half completed rock animals strewn all over camp would attest. All these literary predicts notwithstanding, when we hear things like "a really good hiding spot for hide and go seek would be at the bottom of the outhouse" we rarely see this as a sign of things to come. When I hear something like that, my reaction is to assume that no one would be that stupid. But there is never a time when the expression "to ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME" is more true than when you are assuming that people are not stupid. If you assumed that people can be held accountable for their own self preservation, you would be sued into next century.
Earlier that day I had witnessed several near drownings which proved the precise extent to which kids cannot be trusted with responsibility for their own lives. You gotta watch what you say. I had warned them about the dangers of standing up in fast moving water due to foot entrapment. It's best to point your feet down stream and float on your back until you reach safety, I said. So when I heard thrashing and yelling later on the river I abandoned my boat and rushed to save whoever might be drowning only to find a helpless and confused 10 year old having some kind of water squirming seizure in 14 inches of river. "Stand up!" I yelled. He did, and he stopped and the disaster was averted, but as he stood there whimpering, without shame he blamed the incident entirely on me, claiming "you told me not to stand up!" There's nothing "common" about common sense.
For instance, some kids have to be told that your body wants you to take a dump more than once a week. Upon arriving at camp, one 9 year old decided that he was just going to "hold it" for 6 whole days. I can understand, as the last time I was nervous to crap was on a big wall in Yosemite. On that occasion though, I was dangling from a rope on the side of a cliff and I would have had to crap in a bag. At times like these, I was telling my friend recently when asked "how do you crap on a wall?" that I usually just "hold it." She made a gross face and formed a cup shape with her hand and said "you HOLD it?" as if mortified. "I hold it in my rectum" I had to clarify, once again learning that lesson about assuming. The constipated kid who is now the focus of my story however had similarly decided to "hold it" for 6 days, which would explain his constant look of frustration and the comparison that others often made that he "looked just like an old man." I knew the secret, and hence understood the resemblance. He was probably frightened of the deep cavernous foul smelling abyss over which he would have had to dangle his nether-regions in order to complete said bowel evacuation. Some people at camp are too scared and others are not scared enough as we would soon discover.
In the novel Kite Runner by Khaleid Husseini, we read about a character who watches a loyal friend "losing his honor" at the hands of some evil older boys of dubious sexual orientation. The character of this novel is too scared to help his friend and harbors a secret guilt for the rest of his life. But what if instead of anal raping that book had been about falling down an out-house? For some reason, there are certain archetypal patterns of human experience that extend past cultural, ethnic, religious, and geographical boundaries into experience that is common to all of mankind. For some reason equally mysterious, it would seem that the reaction of a young person to seeing a friend in trouble is to slowly back away and tell no one.
No one would admit what happened to give this kid the bright idea to dangle his legs down the toilet as a friend looked on, but the conversation after he started to fall in sounded something like this, sources say. "Help me... I'm falling down in!" (silence) "Aren't you going to help me?" (more silence) "I'll give you all the money I have!" (sobs followed by silence followed by a loud splash followed by the tiny pitter-patter of tiny feet running far away followed by the agonized wail of the newly shit covered 9 year old).
"I remember how the Jews had to hide in the toilets to avoid the Nazis in that movie Schindler's List." someone would comment later. I suppose that would be one of the few instances in which it would be logical to hide in human waste. It's been said about climbing that men play at drama because they do not believe in the drama that is happening in real life. I suppose in a Nazi free world, wherein there is no enemy at the gates from whom we must hide in piles of steaming shit it is necessary nonetheless to hide in the steaming shit of our own meaningless existence. Wait.... I'm sorry but there's really no metaphor here. There's just a stinky little kid.
I rushed up to the out-house fearing the worst when I heard the screams which bespoke an agony far deeper than that of a bee sting. I opened the door to the outhouse and found it empty. Where was this screamer? I looked around from one corner of the outhouse to the next. Still no one. I opened the lid and seat of the toilet and there he was, arms outstretched toward the bowl down which I peered, sobbing and sobbing and wailing "get me out of herrrrreee!-uuhhhhhh." I reached my arms down in and grabbed him out. I pulled him up at the expense of my back only to find that his surplus flesh caused him to get stuck mid-way with his legs still dangling into the abyss. This childhood chunkiness didn't help him on the way down I thought, also thinking how he looked covered in that blue toxic germ killer substance they put down the outhouse to prevent the spread of pestilence--I remembered smurfette and Papa Smurf and some of the other blue people whose names ended with "y" like "fatty" and "dweeby" maybe, but was there one called "shitty?" That's what he looked like. He was blue and short and roundish like a smurf and he had a white shirt which was stained blue so he looked like a smurf for that reason too. And he was covered in turd, which detracted somewhat from what would have otherwise been a good smurf suit.
We hosed him off and laughed at him at a safe distance, and then my mother called my brother. I'm not sure why she she did this other than to say that she knew Matty would have some funny response to it. When she put me on the phone I told him how it was funny how he needed help getting out since he couldn't reach the toilet bowl to pull himself up and out. Matty said "yeah too bad for that kid that he doesn't have a 3 foot vertical jump out of shit. Maybe he can jump high normally, but out of shit? There's a reason basketball is not played on courts of shit."
This kid would console himself later by telling us "well at least the poop was all liquefied." My response to this was to inform him that liquefied shit is still shit, as much as he would have liked to believe otherwise. The constipated kid would remark that "[he] did [his] part by not going in there all week!" as if expecting some sort of congratulations or thanks. Ironically, the outhouse victim was worried that his parents would be angered saying "my parents are going to kill me!" I attempted to come up with something to console him, but all that came out was "the kids at school are going to be pretty mean too."
I suppose things like this would be good entries into the famous Darwin Awards. Somehow it's tragic and not funny though when the victim is only 9. Or so they say.
I still think it's funny. On the advice of several friends I have opted to create a business card to help me in my job search in Taiwan. On the online business card creator it asks for "name" and "company name" and "business slogan." I had to think about that last one. I think "keeping your kids shit free since July 2009" would be a good mission statement deserving consideration.
*jokes courtesy of Brant Wilkinson