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Tuesday, 27 July
At The River

For a couple summers in high school, I worked at a river rafting company. My father was working there at the time, and he got me a job schlepping shit around, washing rigs, occasionally driving here and there; your basic scut work. Whatever.

By the second summer, they had started to think about grooming me for a spot as a river guide, which now seems utterly hilarious: I was, then as now, a puny endomorph ectomorph (I am incapable of keeping those terms straight), ill equipped either mentally or physically to challenge Ma Nature in all her roaring, spuming glory. River guides essentially row all fucking day long, pausing now and then to heroically battle whitewater rapids that are trying to hurl you into hidden rocks. Then at night, you have to cook everyone's fucking dinner. I was a kid who liked crossword puzzles and had a disturbing affinity for Arby's.

But when do adults ever notice anything about teenagers that isn't some sort of weird projection laced with no small amount of hostility? "Look at that little turd," I imagine them thinking. "He needs some growing up! And responsibility!" Yeah, because teens take to that shit like ducks to water. This is like playfully throwing a live grenade at Bill Buckner and shouting, "Think fast!"

Nevertheless, I began going on short trips, learning the whitewater biz. This was, of course, more fun than job: spend the day on the rapids, help out the main guide with some light cooking duties, haul some shit for the customers, done. I did this a while, and then the owner asked me if I was ready for "the next step." Is there ever a good way for an employee to answer this question in the negative? "Sorry, boss, no . . . I'm actually happy just marking time." "No thanks! I'm really very slow, and I can barely keep up with what I've got now."

The "next step" turned out to be quite the step: it was a six-day extended river trip down the Salmon River. I was to be at the aid of S., the only real guide for the trip, as it was, unusually, for only two customers. (Most long trips were composed of either large groups or several small groups scheduled together to defray costs, which were prohibitive. For one couple to book a dedicated trip for only themselves must have cost a mint.) However, as a sop to get me going along, I could also ask a friend of mine to go on the trip as well, gratis, with the agreement that we would both be helpers to S. This sounded too cool. Six days of whitewater rafting with a buddy? Why the fuck not? So I asked my pal Chad if he was interested. He sure was.

(Normally I don't give out first names here, just because nobody I know needs to be associated with my dumb site by name. However, some time ago, I learned--at a catastrophic ten-year high school reunion, actually, but that's another story--Chad got eaten alive by bone cancer at the ripe old age of 26, so I don't think he'll mind. Chad, my man, I'm sorry--I'm working on the cancer thing, buddy, though too late for you. But stories never die, so here's one of yours for you.)

So Chad and I went on the six-day trip, with fearless S. at the helm. Our two customers, a middle-young couple from Chicago, seemed mirthful and giddy at the outset; almost like newlyweds. Their names totally escape me, so let's call them Fuckface and Dingbat, appellations which might indicate some of what was to come later.

One of the first things you should understand about reputable river trips is a cardinal rule: Pack it in, pack it out. You heard me: everything. Including the various unfortunate glops and jellies that the body regularly harfs out as it must. To this end (har har), Chad and I set up, maintained, and carried around a giant military ammo can (everyone's stuff was packed in these, as they are watertight and indestructible) filled with the group's undifferentiated, roiling shit. S., needless to say, was delighted with our help in this area. "Time to pack up the head, boys!" he'd crow, eyeing Fuckface as he was feebly groping Dingbat in the morning before we got underway. We'd trudge over to the giant ammo can, and couldn't help ourselves but to stare hopelessy inside every morning; we couldn't help it. It was like looking at a train wreck. One morning, Fuckface called after us: "Sorry, guys! If it makes you feel better, I'm still burnin'!"

Fuckface rapidly became The Enemy. Dingbat was slightly less offensive, mainly due to her penchant for exceedingly tiny bikinis. It became ever more horrifying to watch Fuckface paw shamelessly at the shrilly giggling Dingbat as the trip went on, mainly because Fuckface was so tirelessly idiotic.

Fuckface had really only two modes of conversation: Aggressive Interrogation and Mysterious Boasting. Both modes were utterly intolerable, and Chad and I learned early on to respect S.'s boundless patience when dealing with Fuckface, which was nearly constantly.

Mysterious Boasting was uniquely horrible in that it was a sort of tireless litany involving Fuckface's various business victories that nobody understood, including Dingbat, whom we privately doubted understood much of anything. For Dingbat was the sort of woman that could be fascinated by bark molds, briefly, before some other weird mind-flare eclipsed that bit of ephemeral interest, and she moved on blithely, adjusting her bikini in fascinating ways. This was probably why she and only she could be kept seemingly rapt by the Mysterious Boasting of Fuckface, an interminable monologue of unbelievable sameness: Fuckface was mostly proud of the innumerable ways in which he had fucked over his customers. And he told everyone about this, all the time. On one particularly heat-stroky afternoon, lolling about in the raft, Fuckface was retelling a story about how his customers were all avaricious dust-fuckers and could all eat several dicks, or something. Chad and I stared at the sky hopelessly, and S. rowed on, ever stoic, and then I heard myself say, "Yeah, fuck the customers." The raft went silent, and I could feel Fuckface staring at me, but he seemed at a loss as to what to say. A few minutes later, he resumed his tirade, and I looked over at Chad, and observed that he wore a tight smile, and that a small tear was escaping his sunglasses. S. rowed on serenely as ever and fixed me with a look that suggested that I might be in charge of the shitcan for the next few nights.

As for Fuckface's Aggressive Interrogation, this was even more strange. All I can do is offer examples.

Fuckface: (Spying a bird in the sky) Hey, S., what kind of bird is that?

S: (Looking up) How about that. It's a bald eagle.

F: (Pondering) No, it isn't.

S: (Slowly) I'm pretty sure it is.

F: No. That's not an eagle.

Note, now, that Fuckface was about as woodsy as Bob Newhart. He didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. He was just being Fuckface. Another example (I swear to God these are true):

F: (We're on shore, touring an old, abandoned ranch; he spies a woodshed) Wow! Hey, S.! How much wood could that thing hold?

S: (Examining) Oh, I guess about ten cords.

F: (Pondering, then, with finality) No, it wouldn't.

Again: Fuckface, I am certain, had no bloody idea what a cord of wood even was, much less any eye for the storage capacity of a woodshed. It was simply his paid-for right to be correct on any given question that might come up on the trip, because, well, he was Fuckface, and S. was just some dumb hick. It blew us away.

One memorable highlight of the trip was S. explaining to us that we'd be taking a mid-day break at a place with a hot spring. It was, he said, regularly frequented by naked people. Chad and I spent most of the afternoon furtively clinging to rocks, spying on the, yes, many, many naked people innocently frolicking in the warm pools of water. For two boys whose exposure to naked people had been entirely through pornography, this was, well, weird. Hairy people with bellies and remarkable sags: we were horrified and entranced. Fuckface and Dingbat hung back by the raft, unwilling to participate; in Dingbat's case, this disappointed us, but we were thankful not to see a naked Fuckface, who, with his ratlike moustache, we realized resembled a kind of malignant Gallagher.

On the final evening of our trip--where, to S.'s woe, Fuckface scattered salad makings on the beach in an attempt to attract mountain goats, as if they were placid zoo beasts that he could pet--S. appeared suddenly with glasses in his hand for Chad and me. They were filled with Tequila Sunrises; Fuckface and Dingbat were wrestling awkwardly in the river surf. "Here's to our last night with these goddamn shitheads." His bloodshot eyes attested to his helpless inability to keep away from the sauce on this final night of our hellish trip with these people, who continued to quack and slosh in the water. "I'm going to beat that fucker with an oar if he tells us any more stories," S. gasped.

Everyone got loaded that night, and Dingbat performed a strangely disjointed and unerotic dance at one point (from our point of view), finally collapsing onto the sand into an untidy heap. Fuckface, ever the hero, wandered away from the heap of limbs that was his companion, and defecated audibly into the distant ammo can, occasionally crying out, "Wow!" at his efforts. "Wow!" Chad and I looked dismally at each other, anticipating the awful morning to come. S. beamed at our misery as Fuckface stumbled back to camp. "What's'at tree?" asked Fuckface truculently, pointing at nothing at all. S. glanced around patiently and said, probably making it up, "That's a cedar." Fuckface stared. "No, it ain't," he said decisively. We went to bed.

Some months later, the trip only a memory (though comedy gold for Chad and myself), we found this out: Fuckface was some sort of quasi-executive at his Chicago company, and Dingbat was his secretary. (If I were making this up, I would be more inventive, I swear.) They were both married, but not, as they say, to each other. And better, Fuckface had used company funds to finance the entire trip. And last we heard, both were out of a job, and both were out of a marriage.

I try to imagine Fuckface explaining this to his panicky lawyers.

Lawyer: Okay, Fuckface. We need to get your side of this.

Fuckface: Awright. First of all, who is this Dingbat person?

L: Uh . . . she's your mistress. Everyone knows this. She's your secretary. You took her to Idaho on a river trip.

F: (Pondering, then with finality) No, I didn't.

(The lawyers cast glances at one another.)

I can just see it. In a fairer world, so could Chad. Tequila Sunrises all around.


Note: Comments are closed on old entries.

Comments

I'm looking forward to getting older. I can think of about a dozen or so experiences in my life that make me laugh out loud. But here I am looking at a year and half of postings, nearly all of them hilarious. Wow. Life is good.

Comment number: 003734   Posted by: Nurhan on July 27, 2004 02:26 AM from IP: 24.130.145.151

Comedy gold indeed.

Comment number: 003737   Posted by: senn on July 27, 2004 08:20 AM from IP: 137.53.85.84

That was a great true-life story.

Comment number: 003740   Posted by: panajane on July 27, 2004 02:52 PM from IP: 143.166.255.18

^~It was really shitty fiction though.~^

Comment number: 003872   Posted by: Rob Drimmie on July 28, 2004 08:31 AM from IP: 65.48.133.67

I'm always so amazed when people an remember such details of their childhood/years of puberty. (Angela's Ashes anyone?) Sure, I know a lot of it is fill-in-the-memory blanks, but still. Actual dialogue?? Perhaps I smoke too much. Skot, however, it seems you remember things pretty honestly. But did you really say that - that is AWEsome!!!!

Comment number: 003873   Posted by: manda on July 28, 2004 03:58 PM from IP: 68.123.41.168

Holy shit, I'm going to pee my pants from laughing so hard.

Comment number: 003877   Posted by: selzach on July 29, 2004 09:32 AM from IP: 169.139.247.9

that was a terrific story. i forwarded it on to people to read as well. you're a good writer. i hope there's more like this to come.

Comment number: 003878   Posted by: belle on July 29, 2004 01:35 PM from IP: 65.78.28.172

fuck the customer.

Comment number: 003993   Posted by: mike on August 4, 2004 06:56 PM from IP: 216.173.212.237

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