Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter Bunny Gets Pummeled at Shopping Mall

Now, I am by no means condoning random acts of senseless violence against that segment of the American workforce that dons colorful holiday-appropriate attire for the amusement of our society’s youngest denizens. I do however understand the phenomena and, like other people who may have wreaked havoc upon their synapses while experimenting with hallucinogenic substances during their youth, sympathize a little with those who, when cornered by what essentially amounts to a six foot tall glorified rodent in a local shopping center, feel the need to lash out. To most an act like this may seem like little more than barbaric thuggery but to others, it may very well be an act of preemption. Is it socially unacceptable? Certainly, but in this post-9/11 world that we now inhabit, it also happens to be national policy.

Frankly, I have no problem with preemptive action. A good defense is a better offense and that premise holds just as true against drug induced hallucinations as it does against al Qaeda. You just can’t let the bastards get the drop on you. You hit them first. You hit them hard. You unload whatever arsenal is at your disposal, disorienting your demon and neutralizing the threat just long enough for you to beat tracks to the nearest exit before the cops get there. Granted, I’ve never been accosted by an overgrown Easter Bunny before but I have been trapped in an elevator with a clown I suspected of having cannibalistic tendencies after a five-day bender at the Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas and I can tell you that that is one experience that gives you a newfound respect for our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I agree that our founding fathers probably were not thinking of cannibal clowns or butchering bunnies when they penned that stroke of political genius that we now call the 2nd Amendment, but I can guarantee you that if Timothy Leary or Hunter S. Thompson had been around to crash the Boston Tea Party, they certainly would have been.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Zen of Chinook Salmon

So, why is it that people fish for salmon? It is hard to explain to someone who does not normally fish. For people who do fish however, the explanation is easy. There is simply nothing in the Great Lakes able to match the incredible speed, acrobatic agility or the sheer brute strength that is at the command of the Chinook Salmon. Though they may not be the most difficult fish to hook, one would have to travel to salt water to find something comparably difficult to land. After years of fishing, I landed my first Chinook Salmon during the 2004 P2 Fishing Trip and I get just as excited writing about it now, several months after the fact, as I did when I was actually catching it.

After three full days of getting skunked, I enlisted the help of Tim Geniac. In addition to being my wife’s uncle who happens to own a place in the area we were fishing, Tim is an angling guru. He is not exactly what one would term an expert on tackle or technique, but he definitely is an authority on the Zen aspect of the sport. For Tim the process of discovery, of finding out what works and what does not, is a large part of fishing’s allure. For that reason he rarely offers unsolicited advice, preferring to let people discover success on their own. He also realizes however, that there are few things more lethal to a novice angler’s enthusiasm than frustration and boredom so he freely gives counsel when asked. I have learned to ask him for his opinion often and once it is offered, I have learned to heed his advice. Though barely a novice by his own modest self-description of his abilities, Tim is right far more often than he is wrong. In any respect, he is a far better fisherman than myself so I knew that my chances of catching salmon could only be improved by following through on what he told me to do.

Tim gave my gear a good looking over and concluded that there was nothing there causing my lack of success. After describing my technique he concluded there was nothing wrong there either. After telling him what I was casting at, which was virtually every fish that I could possibly see, he told me of a situation to look for that would probably increase my chances for a hook-up. He told me to look for a group of fish that were actively spawning, with one fish alone ahead of a group of others. He told me to cast my lure, a treble hook wrapped in yarn to simulate spawn, in front of the pack and let it drift through them. If the males in the group are agitated, they’ll bite.

I took his advice and tried my hand at salmonid voyeurism, assuming the role of an angling “Peeping Tom”, with about the same success that I had tried everything else that week. I continually came up empty. I found groups of fish on shallow gravel beds, but nothing with an egg-laying female in front. Then, an hour or so into that morning’s excursion, I heard Tim excitedly call over to me from around a bend in the river to hurry up and get to where he was. By the tone of his voice, I knew that he had a fish on and needed someone to help him net it. I rushed across the river to the opposite bank, crawled out of the water and, after dropping my pole so as not to get it tangled up in the thick brush, rushed to his aid with my net in hand. When I got there he was leaning against a fallen tree, pointing at an underwater gravel bed right in front me. “There you go, right there on a silver platter,” he said. “Remember me at Christmas.”

I looked down into the water at a group of between eight and ten salmon, all packed together behind a single female that was stationed three feet in front of them. A couple of rainbow trout patrolled the edges of the pack, every once in a while darting beneath the female to attempt a quick meal of freshly laid eggs. Every time one of these fish did this, a much larger salmon would take off after it, chasing the intruder out of the female’s vicinity. It was a huge group and they were as agitated and ready to strike as Dick Cheney holding a picture of Osama bin Laden in a leather negligee and Richard Nixon mask while chained to a headboard in John Kerry’s bedroom.

I ran back and grabbed my pole, hopeful of finally achieving a small degree of success but with guarded optimism, having suffered a great amount of frustration over the past three days. This guarded optimism lasted for about three casts for on the fourth, I had a fish on.

It was a quick battle. My pole doubled over, the line went tight and before I had even had a chance to set the hook, the fish had snapped my 10lb. leader as if it were dental floss. It had in fact, torn the leader right off of the 20lb line that filled the spool. I had additional ten pound test line in my tackle box, but unfortunately that was an eighth of a mile downstream and fearing that by the time I retrieved it and returned the fish would have disappeared, I opted to take my chances tying my lure directly to the main line. As I finished getting my gear ready Tim snagged a submerged log and broke off, signaling that it was my turn to get back into the action.

I never had time to begin wondering if the fish would take the bait off of such a thick line. On my second drift through the pack of fish, I felt a bump on the line and set the hook. Once again my line went instantly tight while my rod doubled over, but instead of hearing the disheartening “THWACK!” of my line breaking, my ears were caught off guard by the unfamiliar high-pitched whine of fishing line being rapidly ripped off of my reel. For a split second I just stared at my rod in disbelief until Tim yelled at me to keep the tip of my rod up. As an ex-soldier I am conditioned to instantly obey an order barked at me with authority so I reacted in time to keep the fish from peeling away too much line. As soon as the tension reached the fish, he changed direction and made for the surface.

He went airborne with an amount of drama and excitement usually reserved for the slow-motion shots in Arnold Shwarzenegger movies. Again, I found myself dumbfounded by the power at the disposal of these beasts and had to be shaken out of my reverie by Tim shouting advice on how to keep the fish on the line. After a couple more aerial maneuvers, the salmon changed tactics and took off upstream. I took off after him until I stepped in a hole and felt the icy Pere Marquette river water pouring in around my armpits. I did not need Tim’s yelling to convince me to step back towards higher ground that time but he gave it to me anyway. No sooner had I found surer footing when the fish flipped around and changed direction, heading downstream right for me.

As the salmon closed the distance, I reeled furiously trying to get as much line back on the spool as possible to keep the tension, and the fish, under control. It was an exercise in futility however for once he passed me, he started peeling it off again just as fast as I had put it on. Realizing that I needed to do some quick adjustments to the drag on my new reel, I clumsily fumbled with nearly every attachment I could find on it to try and figure out how it operated while fighting the fish. The lesson driven home at that particular moment was that it is always a good idea to learn how your equipment works before you find yourself in a position where you actually need to use it. Amazingly, I found the drag and adjusted it before the fish threw the hook off. With that minor adjustment, I found the fight getting more manageable, and though I was brutally aware that the fish could break free at any moment, I felt I had an even chance of landing the brute.

The fight continued for some time and I was starting to feel the wear of it. I wondered how those guys in the saltwater tournaments managed to fight 500-pound fish for four hours if I was getting winded fighting a 20 to 30 pound fish for, though it seemed like much longer, no more than fifteen minutes. Granted, for five days a week I spend twelve hours a day either in my car or behind a computer and can do about as many push-ups as I expect Louie Anderson probably could, but I am not in that bad of shape. The salmon seemed intent on ensuring that I feel otherwise however and while I was starting to slow down, he showed no signs of fatigue. The frantic runs up and down the stream and the lavish displays of aerial agility continued with no less urgency then as when the battle was first engaged.

Finally, from the salmon’s point of view, the situation must have turned desperate enough to warrant a complete change of tactics. He must have realized that frenzied underwater sprints followed by spectacular writhing leaps into the air were getting him no closer to his freedom. He suddenly bolted from the relative openness offered by the middle of the river and shot past me beneath a couple of fallen trees that occupied the space to my right. My heart sank. I knew right then that the fight was over for all practical purposes. The almost inevitable result would be that the fish would wind itself around a couple of branches and bypass the drag setting on the reel, allowing himself to break off. Still, this was the first salmon I had ever really hooked and even though the odds were now in his favor, I was determined to do my best to bring him in. I dropped to my knees in the icy water and started threading my pole through the tangle of branches in which he had sought refuge, alternately reeling in and letting out line as the fish continued fighting. I was getting pretty wet, but the surge of adrenaline ripping through my veins kept the cold at bay.

My wife’s uncle was also in the water at this point. He had his net in hand and a grin on his face that stretched nearly around to the back of his head. He positioned himself on the opposite side of the fallen brush from where I was fighting my way through, correctly figuring that the fish was going to break out sooner or later and that with the commotion I was making, chances were his exit would be as far away from me as possible. His instincts were right on and his timing was beyond reproach. As soon as he took his place the salmon made a break out of the driftwood labyrinth, practically trying to swim right through him. At almost the exact same instant, the line had finally reached the point of entanglement where I could no longer feel the fish fighting anymore. A split second after that, Tim’s net was in the water. The fish then launched a final desperate run that would almost surely break me off when I launched an equally desperate kick towards a jumble of branches that I suspected was snagging the line, freeing up a precious few feet of it. He took it and ran…thrashing right into Tim’s net.

Tim hoisted the fish out of the water with a cry of victory, causing me to respond in kind. As he made for shore, I continued to try to thread my pole through the brush only to have my partner break me off as he ascended the riverbank. That was a favor. I really wanted out of the water myself to get a better look at my fish. It was an awe-inspiring specimen, subjectively speaking. Though it was surely shy of a master angler catch it was a personal record in both weight and length, not to mention in effort expended fighting it. It had been a good fight, so good in fact that I doubted the fish could have survived a prolonged period out in the air. The tenacity of its resistance seemed to wane considerable with each defiant thrash of its body. After getting a quick picture of the fish, I hurriedly got it back into the water but initially feared it had still been out too long. At first the fish was limp but after a lengthy attempt at forcing river water into its gills, it gradually started showing signs of life. Eventually, with a burst of manic energy that seemed to come out of nowhere, it violently writhed its way out of my grip and tore through the water to a deep hole near the opposite bank.

After he was released I walked back to my wife’s uncle who asked, “So, how was it?”

Short of breath and sporting a perma-grin that would be etched into my face for the next couple of weeks I answered, “Just awesome. How big do you think that was?”

“About twenty pounds. It was a big male.”

“How could you tell it was a male?” I asked.

“By all that stuff dripping off of your shirt and jacket.”

I looked back down at myself and realized that not only was I wet and rapidly beginning to get cold, I was covered in salmon spunk that had poured all over my shirt and into the pockets of my fishing vest as I was handling the fish. I looked like a used-and-abused headliner to some twisted Piscean pornography prodigy. Strangely though, I was alright with that.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Potty Training a Porcelin Prodigy

Posting is going to continue to be erratic for a while. Between work, parenting, preparing for our new baby, building a new house and trying to get the old one up for sale, things are going to be pretty hectici up until July. I just have not had time to do anything worth writing about. About the most exciting thing to go on around here in a while is trying to potty train my two-year-old, which is turning into quite the adventure.
Potty training my daughter was, for the most part, a seemingly infinite exercise in futility. No matter what we tried, nothing seemed to work. Then, one miraculous day just before her third birthday, she suddenly had some sort of epiphany and discovered the unbridled ecstasy associated with unsoiled undergarments. To my recollection she has only had one accident since then, caused by a fit of hysterical laughter that, though emotionally devastating to her, was unfortunately incredibly humorous to me. In fact it was so much so that if I had been a little bit slower there would have been two of us in the house whose dignity had been severely compromised by a spell of entertainment induced incontinence and I would have found myself wondering if this affliction was contagious or some sort of genetic issue.

As hard as Regan was to train, I suspected that my son would be much easier though the common consensus among parents I have spoken to seems to suggest that boys are harder to train than girls. Mason seemed to have several things going his way that led me to believe that he would be the exception to this rule. First off, he had always been fascinated by the toilet, considering it his personal porcelain playground. From the moment he learned how to walk he was either standing in it, thinking about standing in it or, with a degree of success that suggested some sort of safecracking savancy, defeating the devices we installed to try to keep him out of it. Second, Mason idolized his big sister and was keen to mimic her every activity. I figured this should prove advantageous in the potty training arena however disturbing it had become when it came to influencing his wardrobe preferences (I don’t care how progressive a man thinks he is, when his son routinely rousts him out of a deep sleep wearing a pink tutu and a Little Mermaid tiara, it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself on the brink of a colossal cardiac catastrophe). Finally, my son is a little boy who responds very well to praise and thrives on the “celebration dance” we do when he passes a milestone. With those three things going for us, I thought that training Mason to use the toilet would be a breeze.

Still, I believed that I needed a plan. That is something I did not really do with Regan and I had wondered if that may have contributed to the difficulties we had in her case. I decided that first I would try to make the experience of going into the bathroom fun. I devised a ritual that began with a battle cry. As soon as my son hinted he wanted to use the bathroom, I would leap from my seat and yell, “LET’S PEEL OFF THOSE PAMPERS AND PAR-TAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY!” I would then scoop him off of the floor and give him an airplane ride all the way to the toilet. Once there, we would do the “naked baby dance” which was supposed to be a fun way to teach him how to undress himself. Then, I would set him down on the toilet and read him books until he went.

It was a short-lived tradition. The first thing to go was the battle cry. Already under fire for teaching the kids about the legend of the barking spider and the chorus of Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s piece praising the portly posterior (though I still maintain that the blame for that one lies with VH1 Classic and not me), I did not need the kids learning a phrase that could be misinterpreted as a pre-school pick-up line. Shortly after that, I realized that my son’s frequent requests to go potty were actually requests for Daddy-powered air time uttered in toddler-ese. The naked baby dance was nixed once Mason had become proficient enough at it to employ some fairly fancy footwork while falling susceptible to spontaneous acts of random nudity in inappropriate environs. Luckily, we got that under control before he gained dubious infamy as his day care facility’s resident nursery nudist. I also discovered that the reading thing was not achieving the results that I had hoped for either. Still, that was one part of the ritual I kept. I personally recognize the soothing effects literature has on stresses endemic to bathroom tasks and personally, in a house with two young children, realize that the water closet can be one of the few places at home where one is actually able to read in peace. In fact my wife, who works in the medical field, mistakenly diagnoses me with Irritable Bowel Syndrome every time I get my hands on the latest John Grisham novel. I know I am not alone in this either and I am willing to bet that I am not the first man to risk an invasive colonoscopy for the sake of a good courtroom thriller.

After surrendering my entertainment technique, I decided to play off of my daughter’s abilities. Every time she used the potty, I continued to make a big deal out of it hoping that Mason would take the cue. Of course, this backfired as well. Regan, in pursuit of the celebration she received every time she used the potty, would go without telling me and then rush out when she was done to reap her rewards. This left her little toddler toilet dangerously unguarded and prone to theft. During one of my daughter’s events we returned to the bathroom to perform the post-potty paperwork when I looked into the little pot to see that, though there was evidence in there of what my daughter had accomplished, the actual result was nowhere to be seen. Immediately realizing what had happened, I went looking for my son. I found him in my daughter’s room, wielding fiber like an obtuse adherent to some obscure fecal fetishist faction of the Jedi order. I do not know what was worse about what happened next, the fact that I ordered my son to give me his excretory reincarnation of Excaliber, or the fact that I thanked him for it after he did. After cleaning far more of my kids, my house, my dog and myself than I had first intended to that morning, I became much more reluctant to broadcast my daughter’s restroom accomplishments if my son was within earshot from that point on.

My next option was to express my disappointment when Mason had an accident. I scored some minor successes with that and, buoyed by a hint of progress, determined that I was going to become even sterner with him when he soiled himself. Then, shortly after I made this resolution, I returned from work one day and found that my daughter was particularly excited to see me. She had just returned from ice skating class and was quite proud of herself for finally managing to skate around on the ice without assistance from one of the instructors. Unable able to contain her excitement, she jumped around the living room wildly exclaiming, “DADDY! DADDY! I skated all by myself today!!!!”

I then heard Mason tearing down the hallway full bore to see me. Not to be outdone by his sister, he also jumped up and down in celebratory hysterics and shouted, “DADDY! DADDY! I POOPED IN MY PANTS!” He had a smile on that stretched from ear to ear. I thought that I really needed to chastise him but it is very hard to be cross with someone who takes such enthusiastic pride in his work.

Out of creative options, I fell back upon more traditional techniques. We periodically sent him in to use the potty, cheered when he did what we thought he should do and expressed disappointment when he had accidents. Though not fully out of the woods yet, we have crossed a significant milestone with him. I realized this one night after I put the kids to bed and set to accomplishing some evening work around the house. At one point I crossed the hallway and saw the bathroom light on. I expected to look in and find my son goofing off to avoid going to sleep but instead found him sitting on the toilet, doing what we had been trying to teach him to. When I asked him what he was doing, he shot me a confident smile and matter-of-factly stated, “I’m going potty, Dad.” His face then morphed into an expression of determination and concentration and as I stood there, an impressive geyser burst forth from between his legs and traveled the width of the bathroom until it terminated upon the guest towels hanging off of the rack on the opposite wall, leaving me searching my synapses to come up with creative ways to improve his marksmanship.

There is no denying that potty training a toddler is among the most difficult tasks facing the parent of a toddler. With persistence and the right frame of mind however, this activity can be just as fun as any other aspect of child rearing. When it is over, you can rightfully bask in the accomplishment you have helped your children achieve and, as an added bonus, walk away with a healthy repertoire of amusing anecdotes that will most likely come in very handy once your child starts dating or ever decides to run for political office.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Birth of an Unrepentent Libertine

By the time I was fourteen, I already stood three inches over six feet. Through some quirk of accelerated hormonal development, I was also able to sport a mustache that would have looked more appropriate on the upper lip of Josef Stalin than beneath the nose of someone who was not yet old enough to drive. My lip hair was complimented by an ever-present five o’clock shadow that, though actually a result of early morning laziness, was reasonably fashionable thanks to the popularity of the television show Miami Vice in 1984. I was also blessed with a voice that could have made James Earl Jones sound like Mickey Mouse after somehow surviving an emasculating misadventure in the midst of a savage helium bender. In short, I appeared far older than I actually was.

Looking much older than one’s age, though a curse to those approaching their forties, has distinct advantages for someone just starting high school. I could get into R-rated movies without parental approval. I could buy adult magazines to sell at grossly inflated prices to my less mature-appearing peers. In fact, I lost my virginity at fourteen, in my dungeon-like basement going at it like a hyperactive rabbit convulsing to the effects of a Levitra overdose to try to finish the job before my parents got home (a deadline that I, tragically, made with flying colors). When we were finished, we were both pretty happy with ourselves. I thought I had bagged a babe that was way out of my league while she thought she had bagged a high school senior.

At fourteen, I really felt as if I could do almost anything I wanted to. The only thing I had yet to attempt was to try to buy alcohol, something I actively avoided because, though I had no problem passing myself off as 18, passing myself off as twenty-one was a whole new ball game and one that I thought required credible ID.

Now I really had no moral aversion to breaking the law by buying alcohol, but I had a real healthy fear of getting caught. In my young mind, getting busted buying booze had consequences for me that were roughly equivalent to those suffered by people caught passing state secrets to the Soviets. I visualized the local police dropping whatever investigation they were involved in and focusing the entire department’s resources towards bringing in a hapless youngster attempting to purchase a six-pack at a local convenience store. I pictured them treating me as an adolescent piñata as they forced me into the back seat of a black and white Crown Victoria to be transported to their secret dungeon where I would be mercilessly worked over by two goons beneath a blinding spotlight. I then saw myself being thrown, beaten and bloodied, into a cell full of incredibly large men two rungs below a Sasquatch on the evolutionary ladder, only to assume the same unfortunate role in jail as Ned Beatty assumed in the movie Deliverance. Then, after a show trial in a kangaroo court, I would be hauled away to a juvenile rehabilitation institute until I was released to spend the rest of my days looking lobotomized while passing out little bibles in area strip malls. It never occurred to me that, living in the Detroit area, the local police might have better things to do. So, when one of my friends finally dared me to try to buy a case of beer for the benefit of our circle of friends, my sweat glands opened up, my sphincter puckered, my mouth went dry, my knees went weak and I immediately accepted the challenge. Apparently, whatever horror the police were capable of unleashing upon me paled in comparison to the incessant ribbing I would have to endure from my friends if I backed down from a dare. They were that vicious.

My first tactic was to try to stall. I told my friends to go home and get their money because if I was taking the risk of trying to buy beer, I was drinking for free. When they left, I started melting down and tried to figure a way out of the situation. I came up with nothing. Within an hour, my friends were back and before I knew it we were on our bikes and on our way to a small local grocery store. My friends were dreaming of their first bender and I was dreading an inevitable encounter with the Allen Park Police Department.

No matter how uneasy I was about carrying out my mission, I kept up a pretty good poker face and I do not think that I betrayed my apprehension about the situation at all. Once we arrived at the store I got off of my bike and walked into the building like I owned it. I managed to maintain this façade until I was out of sight of my friends. Three steps into the store however the owner, an older Arab with a thick accent, warmly welcomed me to his place of business and unintentionally caused me to break out into a cold sweat. I was blowing my cover with my nervousness and I knew it. There was no way I was going to pull this off.

Still, I trudged on towards the beer and wine section via the health aisle. As I was passing through, something caught my eye and I had an epiphany. It was a package of diapers, a prop that would surely make me look older. I scooped it up and subsequently went searching for a box of tampons. Once I found them I confidently walked up to the beer cooler, grabbed two cases of Altes and made my way to the checkout counter where I started falling apart again.

As Ali started ringing me up, I started sweating profusely. I developed a severe case of the shakes and found myself stuttering through the small talk that the grocery’s owner was intent upon engaging me in. I was light-headed and I could almost feel the color rush out of my face as the shopkeeper punched the price of the beer into the cashier register. Once he did this, he turned to me, looked inquiringly into my eyes and asked, “Are you OK?”

I nearly responded by reaching for my wallet and pretending to search for the non-existent driver’s license that I was going to claim that I had left in my non-existent car. I got as far as pulling my wallet out of my back pocket before I realized that he was not carding me. With a sudden surge of improvised banter that impressed even myself I said, “Not really.” I motioned towards the diapers and tampons on the counter, “They baby’s been crying his eyes out all day and night and my wife has been bitching at me non-stop for three solid days. On top of that, my little brother is coming home from the army today and I’m just now starting to prepare for his party. I just need a break something awful.”

The shopkeeper nodded his head sympathetically. “I’ve been there, my friend. You need to relax. That will be $24.50.” I handed him his cash, gathered up my purchases and tried like hell not to run out of the door. When I walked around the store to the alley where my friends were waiting, I was greeted like I had single handedly conquered Cuba. They let loose a spontaneous cheer that I forcefully put down for fear of attracting the unwelcome attention of the authorities and set them to transferring the beer from their cardboard containers into the duffel bags we had brought. Once our contraband was secured we peddled down to the creek where we all used to hang out and initiated our first bender. We were soon to find out that there were none among us who could henceforth ever be described as docile drunks.

Had we been a normal group, we probably would have drunken ourselves to the point where our Blood Alcohol Level overwhelmingly surpassed our IQs and then spent the rest of the afternoon lying motionless beside the riverbank while holding on for dear life. As it happened however, there was only one of us who drank himself to the point of unconsciousness, the boy who later that night earned himself the enduring nickname “Lucky”, in fond tribute to his spectacular lack thereof.

The rest of us, who possessed an uncommon penchant for mayhem and chaos when we were not drinking, decided that something was missing and entered into a long discussion on what that could possibly be. After much debate and over far more alcohol than our freshmen livers could process, we decided it was eggs and dispatched two of our members, those who could still consider tackling the complex intricacies of bicycle piloting, to another convenience store to perform some impromptu grocery shopping. The rest of us picked up Lucky and tried to transport him to our predetermined rendezvous point: a nearby railway overpass that crossed over a fairly busy local road. We set Lucky down beneath the I-75 viaduct, which runs parallel to the railroad at that point, within the circle of light provided by a streetlamp used to illuminate the expressway above. Our reasoning was that if we laid him somewhere dark, we may not have been able to find him again. Had we put a little more thought into our strategy, it may have occurred to us that we were planning on doing something that would almost certainly provoke people into coming looking for us and had Lucky been sober enough to have had a say in the matter, he probably would have opted for a resting place that was just a little more non-descript. Had he possessed the benefit of hindsight, he most certainly would have.

It took an eternity for our comrades to return with the eggs we had requisitioned. While we waited, we made an enthusiastic attempt to finish off the beer we had scored while “Mad Dog” Dean McCallister entertained us by trying to sing Canadian folk classics while simultaneously forcing his stomach contents out through his nostrils. We were delivering truly heartfelt applause to his novel approach to channeling Gordon Lightfoot when our accomplices finally arrived with our cache of cholesterol. Disappointed by having missed Mad Dog’s rendition of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, they begged for an encore which was angrily refused.

Before we got started on the evening’s mischief we discovered there were five beers still left, one for each member of the gang still able to walk upright. We downed these with a great deal of ceremony and split up our eggs, placing them along strategic points across the length of the railroad bridge and then waited for some hapless driver to steer their luckless Le Sabre within range.

In my circle of friends, there really was no one who was a stranger to committing assault with a raw breakfast entrée and there were even of a few of us who were downright evil shots with them. This night was a little different though. We were talking aim at targets moving at a rate of speed far faster than the houses, mailboxes and the occasional pedestrian we normally took aim at and up until that night, we had never pursued our hobby while smashed out of our gourds. We could not hit a thing. We tried hitting cars coming at us. We tried hitting cars moving away from us. We tried hitting them from the side. All techniques were met with the same frustrating lack of success. We fired off eight rounds of eggs a piece and the only thing we managed to do was elicit a few honked horns from motorists who saw our feeble attempts at minor vandalism. We were on our last full round, our ninth egg per person, when we saw a Camaro come barreling down Goddard Road, right for us. We sprung into action and took our positions with commando-esque precision.

The Camaro’s driver spotted our ambush and decelerated considerably. It was the worst thing he possibly could have done because right as he entered the range of our weaponry, he had slowed to a virtual crawl. We opened up with our pre-poultry projectiles and by the time our target came to a screeching halt directly below us, it had been transformed from a pristine icon of America’s street racing heritage into an undercooked Chevrolet omelet. At that point of the evening, we had not expected to hit him even once, let alone five times. We erupted into cheers rivaling those given when I first scored the beer and were flushed with a buoyant wave of euphoria over our success. At least we were until we saw the driver emerge from his car.

The Camaro’s owner was a huge man, at least two inches taller than myself and probably more than a hundred pounds heavier. It was also apparent that he worked out religiously as he was chiseled in much the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger was. I would have bet that he could have easily passed as the action movie star had it not been for all the prison tattoos. With a speed that maliciously broadcast his singular sense of purpose in tearing us limb from limb, he bolted out of his car and started up the embankment while screaming out a creative array of colorful adjectives that probably would have been worth documenting had they been directed at someone else. Not even considering the offering of resistance, we split and fled in all different directions. The only act of defiance was given by Larry Gizzarelli, who scooped up the last three eggs and, while running full speed down the railroad tracks, tossed them back over his head without the benefit of aiming. Carl Morelli, who had unwisely chosen to follow The Giz’s trail of flight, successfully dodged two of them but took the third right on the chin.

As for myself, I refused to bow to the shameless level of cowardice that my friends had. I was not going to give the driver of the Camaro the pleasure of watching me run frantically down the length of the viaduct screaming like a little girl trapped in carnival funhouse. I was way too drunk for that. I was going to stay right where I was at. With luck, I figured that he would be too busy chasing down my soprano-screaming sidekicks to notice me hiding in the tall weeds lining the ditch beside the railroad tracks. Once he passed, I would slip out behind him and just walk home. Luckily, I was wearing a Vietnam-era tiger-striped field jacket that was in style at the time and though the pattern was more suited to Southeast Asian rain forests than the thick undergrowth of cattails that I was cowering in, it provided much better camouflage than say, a set of fluorescent orange lederhosen would have.

My tactic worked. The carnage crazed Camaro cretin ran right past me after The Giz and Morelli who, having the frantic gait that only sheer terror can produce, had a rapidly increasing lead on him. As he was about to give up he spotted Mad Dog, who was seeking the sanctuary of the neighboring water treatment facility, off to his right and abruptly changed direction. He bolted beneath the I-75 viaduct and, after about a hundred yards of pursuit, gave up on him too. He let out a deafening barrage of obscenities and threats before turning around and heading back to his car. That was when he spotted Lucky, blissfully passed out against a pylon within the basking glow of the overhead streetlight. It was almost as if God himself was pointing him out.

I, as had my four other comrades, had completely forgotten about Lucky and from my vantage point could not even see him. I was not reminded that he was still among us until the Camaro’s owner had stopped on his almost leisurely stroll back to his car and gently kicked something outside of my field of vision as if to get its attention. I then heard Lucky’s groggy voice tentatively call out my name and ask where everyone had gone. Then, with a sense of panic that was clearly audible I heard Lucky exclaim, “YOU’RE NOT JEP!” and spotted him as he leapt to his feet and attempted to run. Unfortunately Lucky was still pretty drunk and, with a level of grace one could only expect from a lobotomized hippopotamus on rollerblades, got about seven steps in before tumbling head over heels and coming to rest face first into a discarded truck tire filled with malarial water. The Camaro cretin nonchalantly walked over and lifted him up.

Lucky was not a big kid. He stood 5’5” tops and weighed just over a hundred pounds. Our egging victim had no trouble tucking him under one arm like a squirming six-pack as Lucky screamed at the top of his lungs, “DON’T F*** WITH ME, MAAAANNNNN!!!!!! I’LL F*** YOU UP!” Unfazed, the Camaro guy just kept walking. It was at this time that I blew my cover. I stood up straight hoping that maybe he would let Lucky go and come after me, giving us both a chance to escape but he only speculated about taking the bait.

“Maybe I should go get that guy.” I hear him say to Lucky.

“You go right ahead.” I heard Lucky answer. “I’ll wait right here.”

When Lucky and the Camaro guy got back to the car, I was a safe distance away but still barely within earshot. I heard the sound of impact as the goon threw my friend against the Chevy and ordered him to clean off the egg.

“All right. All right.” Lucky said with obvious resignation in his voice. “Do you have a rag or something I could use?”

“Use your shirt.”

“F*** you.”

The Camaro guy then grabbed a handful of Lucky’s hair and brought the side of his head down against the hood of the car. Lucky then dutifully removed his shirt and started cleaning the car with the enthusiasm rare outside of the homeless rag men found at busy inner-city intersections. After seeing that Lucky’s efforts were only making matters worse, our victim grabbed him by the neck, opened the passenger door and threw him into the front seat while telling him that they were going to the police station.

As the Camaro’s driver went to walk around to the driver’s side, I heard the car’s engine rev up. I then realized that in his haste to exact his revenge upon us, our victim left his keys in the car’s ignition. Our victim realized it too and stopped dead in his tracks as he tried to figure out what to do next. In desperation, he flung himself back to the passenger side door and tried to open it up. It was an exercise in futility though as Lucky, who apparently had been sobering up fairly quickly, had already locked all of the doors and climbed into the driver seat. Before either the Camaro’s owner or myself could fully appreciate what was happening, Lucky put the car in gear and floored it.

As the Camaro spun around into a full U-turn, its former owner stood motionless on the curb with a look on his face that suggested that, while deep within the throes of a vicious tequila bender, he had accidentally liberated a midnight snack from the cat’s litter box. I am sure the look on my face betrayed a similar level of puzzlement. Both of us just stood there stunned as the vehicle swerved uneasily down Goddard Road back towards the neighborhood that I lived in. As it drifted out of sight, the Camaro guy finally looked up at me as if subliminally asking me what he should do. I gave him a “don’t know what to tell you” shrug and turned tail to run. We had crossed the line into felony territory and I did not want to be hanging around giving egging victims advice when the police showed up. If they were going to get me, they had to at least work a little for it.

The creek where my circle of friends hung out flowed beneath the I-75 viaduct, about two hundred yards from where we launched our egg assault. It then passed through a City of Detroit water treatment facility for about a quarter mile before flowing beneath Moran Road in the direction that Lucky had driven the stolen Camaro, intersecting about a block and a half from where I lived. I chose this as my escape route. As I was running along the creek through the water treatment facility property, I heard two people running full bore right at me. I jumped off of the trail and hid. A few seconds later I spotted Mad Dog and Richie Clayton running furiously towards me as if the devil himself was nipping at their heels. I jumped out of my hiding spot to see what was going on, terrifying both of them to the very precipice of involuntary incontinence. Richie leapt right off of the riverbank and fell into the creek. Before he even had a chance to get wet however, he was back on his feet running to the far shoreline where he pulled himself out, ran up the embankment and then out of sight. We did not see him again for nearly a week, and then only sporadically after that. I think that was the very moment where he decided to find a new group of friends. Mad Dog just let out a blood-curdling scream and fell into a crumpled heap of jelly at my feet. When he saw it was only me he struggled back up, grabbed my arm and, while hysterically hyperventilating shaking as if afflicted by a particularly virulent strain of Parkinson’s, tried to regain his stride with me in tow. “He..*gasp*..found..*gasp*”


“The..*gasp*.. Camaro..*gasp*..Dude!”

Stunned in disbelief and still far too intoxicated to work my legs with the efficiency they were used to, I lost my footing and tripped taking both me and Mad Dog down to the ground. I hit my knee upon something very hard as I fell and an excruciating bolt of crippling agony tore through my entire leg. Still, I managed to get back up and try to hop away on one foot. I did not make it far. Mad Dog was still lying on his back trying to catch his breath and on my last hop, I landed right on his crotch, expelling what little air was left in his lungs as his legs shot out defensively, knocking my one good leg out from underneath me. I crashed down hard, nailing my right elbow and putting me out of action. Mad Dog launched into another fit of Technicolor laughter. As Mad Dog and I lay writhing around on the ground I heard the sound of Camaro man crashing through the trees in the darkness behind us, gaining quickly.

Knowing things were about to come to a head, I reached around the ground frantically for something to defend myself with. Miraculously, I came across a fallen stick that was just about the size of a pool cue and sat myself up in the hopes of getting one good shot in before we were unceremoniously disemboweled. As the sounds of our assailant approached, I brought the stick up around my head like I was Hank Aaron and, for the second time in less than a half hour, waited for the owner of a Camaro to come within striking range.

When he finally emerged from the brush in front of me, I was ready for him. It was so dark that he never even saw what hit him. I swung my stick as hard as I could and caught him full in the ribs. Unfortunately, the stick was thoroughly dry-rotted and it virtually disintegrated upon impact. It was like hitting a charging wildebeest with a dry sponge. Not even slowed, the Camaro guy slammed right into me knocking me flat upon my back, then tripped over me and landed on Mad Dog, pushing him into the disgusting puddle of sidewalk pizza he had left in the grass a moment before.

In an act of suicidal desperation, I leapt upon Camaro Guy’s back and managed to get him into a choke hold from behind. I then realized that he was much smaller up close and shortly after that noticed that his voice was awfully familiar. In fact, it sounded so much like Lucky’s I had to let him go. Of course, it was him.

I spent the next couple of minutes explaining to Lucky how we had mistaken him for the Camaro driving vigilante until I noticed he was wearing a different shirt than what he had started out in. When I asked him where he got it, he explained that the Camaro guy had a basket of clothes in the car and he had helped himself to a clean t-shirt on his way out of the car. I then asked him where he left the Camaro.

“At the bridge.” He answered, referring to the point where the creek intersected Moran Road.

“Why the hell did you leave it there?” I asked in disbelief. “You cut off our way home!”

“No, I cut off your way home.” Lucky lived in the opposite direction of Mad Dog and myself. “I’m fine.”

“Not quite.” I corrected. “There’s a crime scene and an unnaturally large, ill-tempered motorist between us and your house, Scott.” Scott Grabowski did not get christened with his new nickname until the following day. “I’m sure he got a pretty good look at you and even if he didn’t…” I pointed out Lucky’s new wardrobe item, “I’m sure he’s going to recognize his own clothes. I’d advise you to get a better disguise back at my house before you try to chance making it to yours.”

This set off a lengthy conversation on escape strategy. We were essentially confined within the water treatment facility, surrounded by an eight foot high chain link fence topped with double strands of barbed wire with two unguarded breaks in it to let the creek flow through. One of these breaks was blocked by a stolen car. The other was potentially blocked by the homicidally deranged person it was stolen from. For all we knew, he was waiting for us beneath the viaduct, killing time by disemboweling Richie Clayton while he waited for the rest of us to show up. In the end we decided to leave our bikes behind (they had been left beneath an unused railroad bridge that passed over the creek halfway between Moran Road and the viaduct) walk the perimeter of the chain link fence behind the treatment facility, out of sight of both the facility’s security guards manning the gate and Moran Road, and chance jumping the barrier at the corner farthest away from the stolen car. That meant walking almost mile to cover a distance that essentially added up to one city block. As far as we could tell however, that was really our only option. Once we were at my house, Lucky just needed to kill a couple of hours before attempting to walk to his house.

We got to the point where we needed to jump the fence without incident but once we arrived, suddenly realized how formidable it was. Eight feet is a long height from which to fall and falling is a very realistic danger when you’ve compromised your motor skills with enough cheap beer to kill a Kennedy. To add to the difficulty, the fence was topped with two triple strands of barbed wire held in place with V-shaped bracket placed on every other post. Scaling that perimeter was bound to be the hardest task of the night.

We were fairly exposed standing by the fence and to preempt any lengthy discussions on how best to jump it, I just went ahead and tried. As I climbed towards the top, I noticed that dew had collected on the rungs, making them much slicker than I expected. The wind had also really picked up considerably which made the task that much trickier. I took as much care as I could but I still slipped while I was over the barbed wire and fell right into it. I fortunate in escaping any major injury, but my prized fatigue jacket was not so lucky. It was ripped to shreds as I worked myself free and fell to the ground, again aggravating the knee I had injured during my earlier spill at the creek. Mad Dog went next, choosing to cross over the V-bracket and managed to do so with an ease that was very admirable for someone who was still quite inebriated. Lucky went last, also over the bracket in the hopes of replicating Mad Dog’s success. He failed miserably.

As stated earlier, Lucky was not a big guy and trying to clear the fence’s V-bracket was just too much for someone that short. While over the bracket, he overstretched and came down hard on the street side of wire, hard enough in fact that both Mad Dog and myself initially feared that he had been impaled by the bracket’s tip. From our vantage point, it had jammed itself into Lucky’s jeans just below his belt and we watched in horror as his apparently limp body fell forward until he was suspended upside down from the top of the fence. Both of us rushed to his aid, fearing the worst. Fortunately, we found that though the fall had knocked the wind out him, he was essentially in good shape and had no visible injuries. Unfortunately, his jeans and his belt were somehow wrapped around the bracket and he was about as stuck up there as a person could possibly be.

As the tallest, I was best equipped to get him down but I saw it was a futile gesture from the very beginning. The only way he was coming down was if I cut his belt. Initially, Lucky was very much against this and though I did not understand his almost violent opposition to this course of action then, I sure do now. If I was stuck hanging upside down and some drunk wanted to perform belt surgery with a sharp knife six inches from an appendage that was vital for my future procreation, I would have been concerned myself. I would have had reservations even if he was not planning on doing it with only one hand while using the other to hang suspended from a wet chain link fence in high winds. Performing a stunt like that was just begging for an unintentional vasectomy. Still, Lucky’s options were pretty limited and finally, after the blood rushing to his head had sufficiently clouded his judgment, he agreed to let me give it a shot. Mad Dog, who had a fetish for knives that was unnatural for someone who had yet to do time in the high security wing of an insane asylum, passed me a particularly sharp specimen of his collection and told me to get it done quickly. With a precision that was far more luck than skill, I severed Lucky’s belt and immediately found that it was only half of the problem.

The other half was Lucky’s jeans. They were wrapped around the bracket as well and cutting the belt only loosened them up enough to allow Lucky’s pants to pass over his hips. In the flash of an eye they shot up to his shoes and Lucky found himself hanging by his ankles, baring his battered BVDs to any cars that happened to pass by. He immediately panicked and started squirming frantically in a vain attempt to get down. I fell off the fence and found myself writhing around in the grass, laughing so hard that I was able to produce no audible sound at all. Mad Dog was soon beside me suffering a similar affliction. I desperately wanted a camera and, though Al Gore had yet to invent it, internet access.

Eventually, Mad Dog and I pulled ourselves together enough to try to get Lucky the rest of the way down. We worked our way up the fence on either side of him and each tried to take off a shoe. This was hard to begin with, but the task was made more difficult with the passing of each car. Every time Lucky saw approaching headlights, he would become hysterical and try to work himself free. This would send Mad Dog and myself into convulsing fits of laughter that made it even harder to hold on to the wet fence in wind that seemed to be growing stronger by the minute. Finally the shoes came off and Lucky fell out of pants, crashing face first into grass while letting loose a long string of expletives that would have turned a West Pac Sailor redder than Chairman Mao. Mad Dog and I fell after him, still laughing uncontrollably. Just as we were calming down, Lucky picked himself up and tried to grab his pants. The wind however, kept lifting them up just out of his reach. Mad Dog’s laughter then launched him into a set of dry-heaves, which set me off even worse. As Lucky’s pants flapped in the wind, the contents of his pockets showered down upon us. Wallet, keys and change fell into the grass while the two us that were still fully clothed tried to catch our breaths and find them through the tears in our eyes. Then the strongest gust of wind yet blew in and lifted Lucky’s pants off of the wire and carried them back over the fence into the perimeter of the water treatment facility that we had just escaped from. Lucky gasped and fell to his knees. Mad Dog guffawed so hard his dry heaves finally turned wet. I came the closest to actually wetting myself than I had since pre-school. I had to roll over on to my side, undo my zipper and relieve myself before I had an accident, a tactic that nearly backfired before I realized that I was urinating slightly uphill.

Eventually, we made it home. Mad Dog finally quit getting sick and made it back to his house. Lucky borrowed a pair of pants from me and eventually made his way back as well. When he got home he called to tell me the coast was clear. There was no sign of the Camaro guy, the police or the vehicle so we assumed he must have just found it and left. I finally passed out in my bed which, a few hours later, took on the qualities of a roulette wheel until I got sick myself. When I woke up the next morning, I felt like hell.

I was violently ill until lunchtime and had a headache that made me feel as if someone had performed brain surgery on me with a railroad spike. My whole body seemed to ache and I felt terminally dizzy and weak. As I spent the hours before noon unable to do much else, I took stock of the events that transpired the evening before. I committed my first serious misdemeanor by purchasing alcohol while under age. I committed another by throwing eggs at a moving car. My actions eventually lead to one of my closest friends getting man-handled by the enraged owner of a scrambled Chevrolet for an act that he had no part in committing. I then became an unintentional accomplice in the commission of a felony when my friend, who had been an innocent up until this point, stole the guy’s car. I then took an active role in the public humiliation of this same friend by creating the circumstances that presaged his spontaneous act of public nudity, robbing him of the little dignity he had left at that point. As I lay that morning wallowing in my own misery, I vowed that I had to start doing things differently. There were serious consequences to drinking on a scale like that and I had to make sure that I did not end up in this condition again. I had to start buying better beer. The cheap stuff left you feeling way too bad to fully enjoy the memories of the chaos you had instigated the night before.

Before long, my group of friends and I became devoted disciples to the cult of Liber-Bacchus and started living for the bender. Looking back, it was no so much the booze itself that drew us in, it was the mayhem that that particular group of future felons was capable of once alcohol was thrown into the equation. Before long, the novelty of being able to acquire booze easily had worn off and was replaced with manic attempts at trying to outdo the antics that had been done the night before. Our popularity among our peers exploded as our escapades of inebriation became relative legend and accelerated our descent into drunken delinquency. My tactic of buying beer with the help of diapers and tampons worked like a charm and I eventually was buying so much that the income from it began nicely supplemented the pay I received as a cook in a fast food restaurant. My technique only arose suspicion once when an alert cashier figured that either I was pulling some kind of scam or had fathered a child afflicted with some sort of exotic intestinal ailment with a woman who was slowly bleeding to death.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

The Intrinsic Hazards of Phillipine Cuisine

Over the weekend I was tuned into the show “Taboo” on the National Geographic Channel and watched in horror as they showcased the Philippine delicacy bellut. For the uninitiated, bellut is a fertilized duck egg that is allowed to develop until it is just about ready to hatch. The egg is then hard-boiled, allowed to ferment and is then served to the natives and extremely intoxicated American servicemen in local drinking establishments. It is a disgusting entrée to behold and a savage assault on the palate, tasting about like what one would expect a duck fetus aborted late term to taste like, but is rumored to have aphrodisiacal qualities. That is the only reason why I have consumed several dozen of these deplorable delicacies (the girls residing in the Olongapo area have a talent for really wearing you out) when I visited the Philippines for several weeks in late 1992.

Amazingly, this was not the worst dish that the locals can throw at you in the Philippine Archipelago. Though not quite as aesthetically offensive as bellut, I was exposed to another frightful food item in one of Luzon’s more remote villages located fairly close to Clark Air Base, the American military installation that was wiped off of the map by the volcanic Mt Pinatubo in 1991. The real name of this dish escapes me but if my memory serves me correctly it sounded something like bah-glong. It consists essentially of fish that has been pulverized into a sort of paste and then, whether by design or as the result of chronic lack of electricity, and thus, refrigeration in the outlying villages, also allowed to ferment. It smells like rotten fish, it tastes like rotten fish and is so vile that we could not even get the dogs to eat it, and God knows we tried.

The village we tried this vile concoction in was the place that my Master Chief’s girlfriend was raised. It was well outside the designated limits of the zone we were permitted to enjoy liberty. Apparently, this place was a hotbed of New People’s Army activity. More commonly known as the NPA, the New People’s Army was the communist factor that, along with brigands formed from the ranks of ex-soldiers defeated in one of the multiple coup attempts against Corazon Aquino in the 1980s and the Muslim guerrillas of the southern islands, formed one of the three insurgencies that President Ramos was dealing with while we were there. Despite its name and manifesto, the NPA form of communism seemed to be conspicuously devoid of Marxist/Leninist/Stalinist rhetoric. Instead of being hell-bent upon establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat, they seemed more intent upon punching bullet holes into corrupt politicians and policemen using their authority to shake down a peasantry that had a hard enough time getting by as it was. As far as I was concerned, more power to them. Aside from their penchant for trying to undermine a government that enjoyed the tacit support of the US, they seemed awfully pro-American for disciples of Marx’s manifesto and, at least among Yankee servicemen who had the pleasure of actually meeting them, were jokingly re-christened as the “Nicest People Around”.

Still, the NPA remained an entity that one would not want to be on the bad side of so on our way to this village, my Master Chief took great pains in explaining to us rural etiquette and adamantly ordered us to be on our very best behavior. One of the items he pressed upon us repeatedly was how rude it was to refuse food that was offered to you. He stressed that the people residing in the village did not have a lot to eat and turning down offered sustenance was gravely insulting. Then, after spending the better part of forty-five minutes lecturing us on how to get along with the locals, he proceeded to engage his native girlfriend in an incredibly animated argument that lasted the rest of the way to our destination.

Whatever the argument was about (we did what we could to tune it out and pretend it was not happening), it appeared to end as our jeepney pulled in front of the hut we were visiting. What we did not know was that Noni, our boss’s girlfriend, was still harboring a grudge and would soon exact her revenge upon my Master Chief and take the rest of us down with him as well.

The Philippines is a rather diverse land with hundreds of languages. There are over 60 dialects of Tagolog spoken on the island of Luzon alone. The only person that spoke the lingo of the village we were visiting was Noni so we were pretty much at her mercy. Once we settled in Noni said something to her mother, at whose house we were visiting, causing her to disappear inside of the hut she lived in and return with a small bowl of the bah-glong stuff I described earlier and a larger bowl of what I assumed to be the Philippine version of tortilla chips. The stench hit us like a ton of bricks and our stomachs weakened considerably as we hoped that the contents of the bowl were meant for something other than ingestion. These aspirations were crushed as Noni casually strolled up, dipped a chip in the vile concoction and nonchalantly tossed it into her mouth before walking away. Reluctantly, all of us followed suit. We then averaged two bottles of Red Horse beer a piece in a futile attempt to get the taste out of our mouths.

The bah-glong then sat untouched until Noni’s mother saw that none of us were exactly rushing in for a second serving. Through Noni, she asked us if we liked the grotesque gruel she had served us and, trying to stick to etiquette according to Master Chief, we enthusiastically helped ourselves to another serving while raving about its succulence. We all just barely managed to suppress a rapid succession of dry-heaves that were dangerously close to turning wet. When Noni and her mother were both out of eyeshot, we all grabbed chips and, after scooping up gargantuan helpings of the bah-glong, tried to feed them to the dogs. Now, I personally love dogs though I would be the first to admit that they are, in essence, particularly nasty animals. A dog is a creature that will not give a second thought to liberating a midnight snack from an unguarded litter box but apparently, even their culinary standards are too high for them to consider fermented fish paste an edible dietary supplement. They wanted no part of it whatsoever, so when Noni’s mother returned to our table she caught six American servicemen red-handed holding chips brimming over with decomposing fish flesh. Of course, all of them were then consumed with feigned relish.

Eventually, we were served with something much more palatable. In fact the courses that followed were absolutely delicious but then again, once you’ve spent an hour eating aquatic carrion, I’m sure gangrenous monkey scrotum marinated in cat urine would have tasted like Kobe Beef. The rest of our visit turned out to be incredibly fun and enlightening, becoming one of the most rewarding outings I ever had in my military career.

The nightmare did not truly begin until about 3am, once we were all back home in our apartments and for the most part, sound asleep. However hesitant an American may be about putting bah-glong into his body, he is given very little choice in regards to the urgency with which it is expelled. This can cause dire complications if you share an apartment with your girlfriend and two other couples with only one bathroom between the six of you.

My trouble started with a benign rumbling in my upper gut. I did not immediately realize it, but this was the phrase, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” translated into intestinal-ese. Then, as if my bowel network was the digestive version of the Daytona 500, someone flipped on the green light and signaled that the race had begun. I shot out of bed and raced to the bathroom as the contents of my stomach raced for the checkered flag which, judging from the pressure in my gut, I gauged to be about six feet past my posterior portal.

Unbeknownst to me, Bob, who was one of my roommates, was hit with the same diarrhetic distress at almost the exact same moment that I was and we nearly collided while exiting opposite bedroom doors. Bob was kind of a troll-like guy with a balding head, Freddie Mercury mustache and a body built by Buddha. He was running completely naked towards the toilet clutching both his mouth and his backside and, not wanting to run into a nude fat guy threatening to burst from both ends, I paused for a fraction of a second. This allowed Bob to take the lead and seize potty privileges. I was left standing on the wrong side of the door, doubled over in agony with my knees pressed firmly together while I gouged fingernail marks into the Formica countertop where the kitchen began.

I was able to maintain my position for about a minute, one of the longest I have ever experienced in my entire life. While trying to deal with my own discomfort I could hear Bob’s epic struggle on the other side of the door in very grotesque detail. First, I heard the sound of Bob hurling what was left of his stomach contents into the toilet followed shortly afterwards by the sounds of porcelain-echoed flatulence as the other end was taken care of. Even though I was in serious trouble myself, I couldn’t help but laugh as I pictured him sitting on the throne performing one job and then desperately dropping to all fours to take care of another without being able to take the time to flush first. I quit laughing when I heard both noises obnoxiously sounded off simultaneously, instantly realizing that something had gone horribly awry in there. Perhaps because I was concerned for the welfare of my friend or maybe just out of morbid curiosity (to this day I am still not sure which), I opened up the door to see what had happened. I immediately regretted it.

Without going into a prolonged description of the abomination I found myself facing, I will just say that Bob, with gratuitous amounts of projected pudding and semi-digested food that seemed to have landed everywhere but into the toilet, had rendered the bathroom completely unusable. If I was going to escape my predicament with a pristine pair of tighty-whiteys, I was going to need alternative accommodations very quickly.

Within a fraction of a second, I determined that I was faced with two unattractive solutions. The first, and most obvious, was the balcony. The problem there was that if I didn’t clear the front fence I would be soiling the patio and could quite possibly initiate some very bad blood between myself and the complex’s resident guard dog if he had exercised unfortunate judgment in choosing a spot to sleep. If things went wrong, I would be facing teeth marks in my tuckus or, at the very least, a significant increase in our rent. The pressure in my stomach suggested that I had even odds of clearing that fence but in the end I decided not to risk it.

My second option was the kitchen sink. I was sure there were probably consequences there as well but at the point that this thought popped into my head, I had already reached the moment of truth and did not have a whole lot of time to think it through. I stumbled through the dark into the kitchen, dropped my drawers, crawled up onto the counter and prayed to God that the side of the sink I was hovering over was the part with the garbage disposal attached to it.

As I attended to my intestinal health, my third roommate Don, who had not gone on the trip with us, emerged from his room to see what all the commotion was about. The first sight he saw was of me, with my pants around my ankles, sitting over the kitchen sink with a desperate look of determination on my face. His groggy eyes flew wide open, his jaw dropped to the floor and he started hysterically screaming his demands for an explanation. I was too busy to provide him with one so, trying not to break my concentration, I just pointed him towards the direction of the bathroom. His yelling got much louder once he laid eyes on Bob. After that, the girls emerged from the rooms as well to add their two cents about the situation. Normally, I would be hard-pressed to perform that kind of task in front of such an animated audience but the ease with which I wordlessly punctuated my point of view was testament to the fact I had no control over my actions. I was being driven by nature and there was little I could do about it.

Still, there were hard feelings that night. Once my roommate and the girls determined there was nothing they could do to reverse the situation, they gave up, conveyed parting shots of disgust and returned to their rooms without bringing me the roll of toilet paper that I requested. Luckily, there was a newspaper within arm’s reach.

A couple of blocks away, Noni herself reaped the fruit she had sown. Master Chief, either too tired to realize what was transpiring or far too drunk to care, rolled over and passed gas that should not have been trusted. Noni took the full impact of the blast and ended up showering far earlier that morning than she had originally intended to. Master Chief then spent the rest of night in the bathroom as well, but was fairly certain that the bug had run its course by noon that day. This led to his ill-advised decision to accompany his girlfriend to the outdoor market wearing a pair of white cargo shorts.

Round two struck him while they were wandering through the seafood section, appropriately enough. He apparently stopped dead in the middle of a throng of midday shoppers, unable to move for fear losing colon control and did his best to keep everything contained. Unfortunately, he was only delaying the inevitable and once he realized this he embarked upon the only action he really could have. In the middle of the market aisle, deep within midst of dozens of passerby, he lowered his shorts, assumed the position and let the fiber fly.

To hear him tell it, the people surrounding Master Chief at the time glared at him as he dropped his pants like he had gone just completely insane. Despite their disproving stares, no one dared approach or say anything to him. Then, as he finally erupted, their expressions changed from strong disapproval to overwhelming bewilderment as they were overcome with complete surprise. Personally, I was puzzled by this. If I’m in a crowded marketplace and someone in my proximity suddenly rips off their pants and squats in the middle of the street, I would think that I would have a pretty good idea of what was coming next. I’d be removing myself from the line of fire. Apparently, the market-goers in Olongapo are a bit unclear on the concept however and reacted in a sort of “shock and awe” sort of fashion. After pausing for a split second of marveling, they hurriedly split in all directions.

Luckily for Master Chief this episode, though powerful, was very brief. It was just a flash in the can. He did what he had to in just a couple of seconds and was then free to flee with the rest of the natives. The job was not as clean as it was quick however, and the speed with which he was able to run was directly proportional to how far he felt he could safely pull his pants up. Noni eventually came to his aid with a bucket of water liberated from beneath one of the kiosks and tried her hand at spontaneous derriere decontamination, splashing it over Master Chief’s backside while he tried to hobble away from the scene of the crime before the cops got there. Though by no means perfect, the technique worked well enough for Master Chief to return his shorts to sprinting position and escape without a citation for public indecency or an arrest for assault with a posterior projectile.

Though the aesthetically unappealing bellut may have its value as an exotic menu item that is particularly shocking to western palates, I personally am not all that impressed with the elevation it has received after being featured on the National Geographic Channel and in a recent episode of a popular reality show. Sure, it looks absolutely disgusting and possesses a really vile texture but, all things considered, I have tasted worse in a high school cafeteria. If you really want something worth talking about, something that will ruin relationships, place a premium on bathroom space and make short work of your wardrobe, furniture upholstery and reputation as a cultured individual, I would highly recommend bah-glong. Feed six game show contestants a serving of that stuff and then force them to spend the night in a small apartment with only one toilet and you will have an episode of Fear Factor that I would be willing to watch all the way through.

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