Chapter 58 – Above and Beyond the Call of Doody
On one of those lonely school nights during my freshman year at Marquette University when I hadn’t been using alcohol to drown out the nagging voice that’d repeatedly been telling me that college wasn’t the right decision for me, for a sense of comfort I made a phone call home to my mommy to see what was new back in Chicago.
“It’s actually been pretty hectic around here,” she told me. “Yeah, the toilet on the first floor was overflowing. It was flooding out into the hallway so we shut the water off and made a barrier with towels to try ‘n’ contain the mess. ”
“What,” I asked, “did someone take a big shit in there or somethin’?”
“It happened right around dinnertime and none of us shit in there since the morning so we didn’t know what was wrong with it. Just crappy plumbing in this hundred-year-old house, I guess.”
“You try plunging it?”
“Yeah, we tried, but it didn’t work. I mean, it’s all fixed now, but there was nothing we could do about it without a plumber. And of course your father wasn’t around to deal with it so I ended up calling him and telling him to get his ass home to deal with this shit while I’m makin’ dinner for everybody.”
“Yeah, so, when I called dad on his cell phone, he happened to be at the bar sitting next to Big Greg…”
Big Greg is another one of my dad’s fireman buddies of legendary status in my neighborhood. He’s a big strong Polack with facial features that give anyone who looks at him the impression they’re in the presence of a white-skinned Jesse Jackson. I grew up with his son Clay and was fortunate enough to have spent some time around the man during my childhood.
Anytime one of us would call their house looking for Clay, Big Greg would give us a hard time if we didn’t greet him properly – he was always the most ruthless to my buddy Cahill who he arbitrarily liked to refer to as Mr. McGwiggen.
“Yeah hi, is Clay there?”
“Who is this?” he said in his booming voice. “Is that you, McGwiggen?”
“Yeah, can I talk to Clay?”
“‘Can I talk to Clay?’ Is that any way to greet the owner of the house you’re calling?”
“Uh, I dunno.”
“When you call my house and I answer, you say, ‘Oh hi Mr. Presny, how are you today, sir?’ And after I respond, then you ask, ‘May I please talk to your son Clay?’ You got that McGwiggen?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“Good. Now I’m gonna hang up and you can try again.”
Then Cahill would call back and, when answering, Big Greg would act like the first chat had never even taken place.
“Oh hey Mr. McGwiggen,” he’d say, “what a nice a surprise. It’s great to hear from you…” and make Cahill go through the whole formal routine even if he’d end up concluding the exchange with, “No, Clay can’t come to the phone right now because I grounded him for getting such shitty grades. Try again next week,” before hanging up the phone.
Big Greg’s peculiarities and his willingness to say whatever was on his mind made him the unbelievable character that he was. And although a bit off-topic, to be fair and give credit where credit is due, from what I’d been told, Cahill’s dad was a pretty unusual guy as well. According to his son, he hated nothing more in the world than a pair of wet socks and would get so enraged each time the Hamburger Helper Glove or the Michelin Man would appear on the television screen that he’d throw his dinner at it. But back to the man of the hour…
Big Greg once told us when we were in about fourth or fifth grade that he wanted to shoot a giraffe “just to see that son-bitch fall.” And on the topic of animals, when I ran into him a couple years ago and had asked how all his kids were doing since I hadn’t seen any of them in years, he told me, “Cody wants to be a forest ranger. Yeah, if anywhere in a national park some antelope’s hemorrhaging out its ass, Cody wants to be the first guy on the scene to patch it up.”
Big Greg used to own a small pair of scissors that he referred to as his “special mustache clippers.” I don’t know what would prompt him to ever broach the subject, but one time when “McGwiggen” had been over at their house, he went out of his way to tell Clay that, “Son, these are my special mustache clippers. I don’t ever want you touching my special mustache clippers. Do you understand me?”
“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” Clay said.
“And McGwiggen,” he gave Cahill a death-stare, “that goes for you too.”
Naturally, since Clay and Cahill were two of the most rebellious assholes in our grade school, later that day they broke Big Greg’s special mustache clippers and then tossed ‘em out the attic window into the neighbor’s bushes. And just as naturally, Big Greg threw a shit-fit when he found out they were gone. And one thing you never wanna do is get on Big Greg’s bad side.
When we were kids, my buddies Clay, Cahill, and I as well as a few other jerk-offs with whom we’d grown up in our privileged white neighborhood used to – among many other delinquent enterprises – smash things that people would leave in the alleys behind their homes for the garbage men to come and take away. Televisions, toilets and fluorescent light bulbs had been our favorite items to destroy.
Of course, fluorescent lights were cool to toss like javelins because they made that sweet popping noise and, from the spot where it was busted, a cloud of chemical smoke would rise up into the air. Televisions were alright to break, but a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds can only lift and toss an old heavy-ass boob tube so high off the ground. Once or twice we’d passed smaller TV’s up to one of my buddies who’d climbed up on a random garage roof and watched the guy toss the thing off which worked out pretty well in regard to the level of destruction achieved, but other than that, our wimpy off-the-ground tosses perpetually resulted in a less-than-spectacular demise for the television in question. Toilets on the other hand, due to their delicate nature, always shattered to my satisfaction.
Watching one of my friends struggle to find his grip and, once he did, squat thrust some old piss-caked dump-tank into the air had been one of the most pleasurable treats I’d experienced during my childhood. To witness a poo-guzzler that had loyally swallowed some random family’s corn-ridden dumps for years upon years fall out of the sky had been like a mythical fairy tale – like our own twisted version of Humpty Dumpty’s great fall. The way the fragile porcelain would splatter on the sidewalk and the ripples of wreckage disperse from the point of impact had been sheer fuckin’ poetry.
I often find myself longing for the good old days when I was an ignorant little fuck and shit like that used to bring me joy. Things were so much simpler then. But now, as I take my daily walks through the neighborhood and see toilets and TV’s behind houses, I no longer think of how I’d like to break them. I instead think how sad it is that the only way some Hispanic immigrants can find to make money in this country is by driving up outta their shitty underprivileged “barrios” and coming into mine in broken-down, rusted-out pick-up trucks to collect scrap metal from the very same pieces of trash that I used to break for fun – how their families’ welfare depends on our garbage. And I see the same guys driving up and down the same alleys every day hoping that we’ll throw something out that they can exchange for dough. It’s quite crazy to think about, really.
But sometimes, I guess the trash ain’t enough for those guys to put food on the table. And even though the majority of these guys are honest, there unfortunately are sneaks among the bunch. I’ve seen entire alleys where the garages have been stripped of their aluminum downspouts by junkers hoping to cash in. Although I can empathize with the struggles of these men, I can’t condone their modern day Robin Hood tactics. If they get caught, they deserve what’s coming to ‘em. And I gotta say, the worst mistake that one of the rogue junkers had ever made was thinking that he could steal from Big Greg and get away with it.
As the story goes, according to Cahill who’d been there at the time, Big Greg – an experienced handyman – had a pair of sawhorses set up next to his garage where he’d been cutting wood for one of his many household projects that he’d always been undertaking. For no more than a few minutes, he left the workstation – which’d included a power saw that’d been plugged into an outlet in the garage via extension cord – to go into the house and grab himself a beverage. When he returned to the backyard, a Hispanic junker had the power saw in his hands and was getting ready to take it away with him in his truck.
“Hey!” Big Greg called out while his massive body lurched towards the man. “The hell you think yer doin’?”
“Garbage. I see out here garbage.”
“Bullshit. That thing was plugged in. I was just usin’ it five minutes ago.”
“No sir, garbage…”
Greg didn’t wanna hear about it. He cocked back and jacked the guy in the face then took back what was his and told the guy to get the fuck away from his property.
Back to the conversation with my mother…
“Yeah, so, when I called dad on his cell phone, he happened to be at the bar sitting next to Big Greg.”
“Aw yeah? No shit. My man was partyin’ with White Jesse Jackson?”
“Yeah. And I told dad what was goin’ on at our house and he told Greg about it and they were over here twenty minutes later.”
“And Big Greg was able to take care of the problem?”
“Yeah, he took the toilet off and he got it all fixed up.”
“Did he rod it out or what?”
I could hear my brother talking to my mom in the background.
“Wait, hold on,” she said, “here, your brother wants to say something to you.”
My brother had been a junior in high school at the time.
“Hey, what’s up my man?” he asked.
“Not much goin’ on here, dude. How ‘bout you? Mom said you got somethin’ to say.”
“Not much goin’ on here either. School’s gay and whatever but uh, I wanted to tell you because I’m sure mom was gonna leave out the best part of the story. So, like, dad and Big Greg were both fuckin’ wasted and slurrin’ everything they said which was funny in itself. But when Greg got the toilet off, he didn’t have any tools with him to rod it out or anything, so he just rolled up his sleeve and stuck his arm down the pipe. And with his bare hand, he pulls out this huge dump I took this morning and holds it up for me to look at.
“‘You see this right here?’ he said to me. ‘This belonged to the last guy that took a shit in here.’”
I couldn’t stop laughing. It was classic Big Greg material. I remember thinking to myself, “There’s no one else I know that’s so old school that they wouldn’t think twice about getting shit all over their hands to help out a friend. That dude is the fucking man and I’ll never see or hear of anything as radical as that for the rest of my life.”
In Kyrgyzstan, Erkin – the local guide of our tour group, a man of about thirty – had been a pretty rugged individual. He was a dude who knew how to live off the land. He was a camping genius, an expert at making fires and a master fisherman. While in the Central Asian wilderness, as the rest of us had been cooking and eating shit we’d bought at the market in days previous, Erkin would be reeling fish in from alpine rivers, scaling them shits with a fuckin’ bowie knife and then fryin’ ‘em up in the campfire for his consumption. He was a pretty badass dude.
The members of our tour group ranged greatly in age, personality type and place of origin, differing as well in levels of peculiarity, intelligence and common sense. One of the most interesting of the bunch had been a man named Ed who was from somewhere in southern Ontario. Ed was in his sixties and had been staying busy during his retirement by keeping bees and producing honey. He was well-travelled and well-informed on historical and geopolitical topics but something about him had been lacking. Not that his vision was bad, but in terms of an absolute cluelessness to everything that’d been going on around him, spending time with Ed was like being in the presence of a real life Mr. Magoo.
On one night while we’d been camping up in the hills, Ed freaked out, started yelling, knocked his tent over and got everyone worried something was seriously wrong because he’d discovered a big-ass frog in there when trying to get to sleep. A different time, someone held out a bag and asked Ed if he wanted to try some peanuts they’d just purchased from a local market. He responded that he did, took a handful, popped ‘em in his mouth and, moments later, in a big dramatic display, spit ‘em all over the place.
“What the hell is that?” he shouted.
“What’s wrong? The peanuts are no good?”
“Peanuts!?” he barked. “I thought you said it was popcorn!”
The most ridiculous Ed blunder of all had been when our group was staying in a log cabin up in some remote mountainous region of Kyrgyzstan known as Altyn Arashan. Out there in the wilderness, there was no infrastructure. There’s nothing but hills and forest for miles and miles. It’s a place known for its hot springs, snow leopards and bears. There were no roads and there sure as fuck were no functioning toilets. What they had instead about twenty yards away from the log cabin had been a pair of wooden outhouses.
Unlike the American ones – which are super rare, by the way – that often have a little bench to sit on while you shit, the Kyrgyzstani ones had been strictly hole-in-the-floor squatters perched atop a ten foot pit in the ground which is full of excrement that has nowhere to go. Also unlike the American ones, the ones in Kyrgyzstan didn’t have the stereotypical crescent moon carved out the door because, to Muslims, that symbol means something quite different than what we interpret as something that means “a place to take a shit.”
Sometime after breakfast on the morning of our first full day in AA, Ed came running out one of the outhouses, looking unusually flustered. He scurried over by the cabin and had been pacing back and forth when he noticed a French girl with a roll of toilet paper in her hand had been heading towards the outhouse he’d just vacated.
“Stop!” he ran over there and grabbed her by the shoulder from behind. “Don’t go in there!”
She looked totally confused and kind of offended that he’d touched her.
“NOBODY GO IN THIS OUTHOUSE!” he shouted for everyone to hear.
“Hey Ed, what’s wrong?” one of the Western tour guides asked. “Why are you freakin’ out?”
“I dropped my binoculars down the hole in the outhouse!”
“I’m sorry, you what?”
“I was messin’ around in the outhouse and dropped my binoculars down the hole into the shit!”
“Why did you have your binoculars with you in the outhouse? Were you looking down, trying to check for blood in your stool?”
“No wise-ass, I wasn’t.”
“Well, um, that’s it for those, right? I mean, even if you were somehow able to get them back, you wouldn’t wanna put shit-covered binoculars up to your face now, would you?”
“Those things cost me several hundred bucks and, yeah, I want ‘em back.”
Ed was so angry, so serious and so determined to retrieve his lost goods whereas pretty much everyone else could not keep a straight face. I personally couldn’t stop laughing. It was so suiting of his character. It was the perfect punchline to the walking joke he’d been that entire trip.
Despite no one else giving a shit about his shit-covered shit, a couple minutes later Erkin appeared out of nowhere with his game face on and his fishing rod in hand.
“Hey Ed,” he called out, “let’s go get your binoculars back.”
Over the course of the next five minutes, the two men crammed into the narrow little outhouse and crouched above the gates of hell. Ed held and shined a flashlight down into the shitty abyss which I’d been secretly hoping he’d drop in there as well while our guide cast his line down in hope of getting a bite. After several minutes of maneuvering, Erkin was able to hook the binoculars and reeled ‘em in. As soon as he had ‘em up and out of the hole, Ed’s goofy ass grabbed on to the line and held the crappy catch up for everyone to see. They were completely covered in chunks of shit and I’m sure the fishing line had been as well. On that day in Altyn Arashan, for Ed and for the entertainment of the rest of the group, our guide Erkin had truly gone above and beyond the call of doody.