January 26, 2008

Vase final

"King of Shit"

by Tom Blunt

I've never thought shit was funny, not even from a young age when everything is supposed to be funny and poo is one of the few artistic mediums at hand. It was impressed upon me at a very early age that bathroom time was personal, and that no good could come of attempting to share it with others. I remember prowling around my mother as she weeded the backyard, taking it upon my three-year-old self to gather up all of the fresh, clean rabbit droppings that odorlessly littered the ground. I became obsessed, like Godzilla at an Easter-egg hunt. When my pockets were full to overflowing, I began to fill my little toy wheelbarrow industriously. When it too was filled to the brim, I presented this harvest to my mother. "Look, mom! Rabbit turds!" I proclaimed, as if I was the king of them. The look on my mom's face was unforgettable, and left me no illusions about the real worth of my kingdom. Personal, I reminded myself, even for rabbits, and I went inside and washed my hands. Twice.

Shit is the one inescapable indignity, but humor is supposed to save you. Unfortunately I lost my humor at an early age when I found myself unduly shit upon—once at first, then over and over again. Even with a keen sense of smell to warn me, it managed to slip past my detection and assault me from all directions, no matter how content I was to leave it lay. I was still King of Shit, only now I sat begrudgingly on the throne.

At five, I was excited to attend my first rodeo in full cowboy regalia. I was plenty aware that my stiff new jeans and itchily-embroidered shirt established me as a man-in-training, and so I toured the stalled livestock with a cousin my age, fitting business for men of our stature. My boots dug into the muck like little hooves, and I was careful to pick up my feet when I walked. As we strolled along observing the bored cattle, a lank tail suddenly twitched to one side and there was a noise like squeeze ketchup, and before I could blink I was covered in a thin layer of watery shit from head to toe.

In real life, it was just that quick, but my memory is happy to slow it down to five frames per second. I can see the anus distending like a snail's eye on its stalk, I hear the muffled report (sound travels faster), I feel the impact on the various zones of my body, not excluding the face. Then the smell reaches my brain, interrupting my denial. I assume a Carrie-esque posture of catatonic disbelief. And then I wail, wail as if dying, my cousin (unscathed!) leading me gingerly all the way back to the house. The women gathered in the kitchen were nearly as sympathetic as I wanted them to be. I was stripped of my man-costume, put in a hot bath, and forced to endure the shame of an evening indoors with the ladies while my clothes tumbled in the drier. And it was not funny, not in the least—in fact, I took it personally, a warning to me from the universe itself about the inhospitable nature of the world, the dangers of manhood. My small fingers shriveled in the water as I lay there, taking note.

I would relearn this lesson many times. When I was eleven I noticed the cattails growing back behind my grandparents' farmhouse for the first time, and eager to pick and examine some, found myself treading deeper into a thick marsh where the grasshoppers crackled and the stalks grew higher than my head, so I held my breath to keep from inhaling pollen and bugs. Suddenly I realized my feet were immobilized, mired in black mud up to my ankles. In my struggle I lost both shoes and fouled my socks wading back out. I burst into the kitchen completely begrimed but with a whole crop of cattails in my arms. The adults knew before I said a single word that I'd found the septic trench that was fed by the household's sewage and gray water.

Dad laughed as he rescued and hosed off my rank sneakers, asking (for the amusement of the grownups) if I'd been fishing back there, and if I'd managed to catch a "Missouri Brown." That afternoon while I cowered in my room, he and my aunt snipped the stems off a few of the fat brown cattails and floated them in the toilet, filling up the camera their sister had accidentally left behind with shots of this as a surprise for when she had her vacation photos developed. Not funny, I thought from my hiding place. And though the events of that day would only make me more paranoid about the public humiliation of getting shit on, the very next summer I'd require adult rescue yet again, having buried my grandfather's four-wheeler to the floorboards in what I'd assumed to be just one more mud puddle, but was actually a deep lagoon of sun-ripened feedlot cowshit.

I could do nothing but grow up and hope my life would turn out to be more than just a string of miserable incidents requiring cleanup with a hose. While I still cringe at shit humor (a quirk which, in my family, is an even greater liability than vegetarianism or a vote for Kucinich), I do have to admit that my concept of “personal” expanded greatly as a result of my trials; at first, writing was merely an escape from embarrassing reality, but over time it’s become a new way to relish it—if the joke is on me, then I may as well be the one telling it. Even if it stinks.


Meg said...

Poop in the worst! I'm sorry you were repeatedly traumatized as a child. I hope your shitty encounters as an adult are few and far between.

Gary said...

poop is almost always free, and it makes big juicy tomtoes.
evan as a child you could always lay down a duece that was a beaut!

Judy Blunt said...

As the aunt in charge of completing dear sister's vacation photos and sending back the camera, I have to disagree. It WAS funny, very funny indeed, especially because she unwittingly ordered triple prints at the photo shop and received not one set of the "Floater" series, but THREE sets. I laughed so hard I shot coffee out my nose when she told me. Now granted, SHE didn't find it very amusing, but her sense of humor has always been a little iffy. Your father and I took her humor training very seriously in our youth, but alas, we were not 100 percent successful.