Splock  By  W. Bruce Watson
     There comes a time during summer vacations when the student, especially a Middle School one, has exhausted all the possibilities afforded by the freedom from classes and homework assignments, and ennui sets in. Sounding then like a couple of characters from “Marty”, Ronnie and I would begin each day in a kind of semaphore, one born out of excruciating boredom.

     —What do you want to do? —I don’t know, what do you want to do?

    —What do you want to do? —I don’t know, what do you want to do?

    It was during one such interchange that Ronnie and I decided it was time to perform the ultimate practical joke, to have fun deliberately at some one else's expense. I can't remember whose idea it was, and I can only guess at how we arrived at it, but the essence of it was to take a woman’s purse, fill it with rabbit shit, and place it in the road somewhere to see what would happen. The town possessed but one paved road, one that extended from the hills at its Eastern edge down to the bay next to the whaling station. The other roads in this town of some few hundred lost souls were paved with loose gravel.

    Since Ronnie's family was poor and mine was not, or at least we thought of it that way, I probably supplied the old handbag, and he, since his family had rabbits, the shit. However, given the nature of middle class values, he probably supplied both. Middle class people never throw out anything and can never really be sure if a thing is past its pull-by date or not. Well, it doesn't matter who supplied what. The point is that we placed a pocketbook full of moist rabbit droppings in the road and hid behind Petersen's hedge to await what would happen of all the things that could happen. A real, bona fide practical joke has elements of the experimental in it, and a considerable fraction of the joy of them lies in mulling over, a priori, all their possibilities.

      I don’t know if he was being overly cautious or what, but at the last minute Ronnie decided the prudent and safe thing to do was to conceal ourselves in the hedge and not just behind it. We had no sooner wriggled and squeezed ourselves out of sight than two older boys, hoods, in a jalopy came cruising down the road in which had been placed a focus of possibilities. They mumbled inaudibly to each other over the rap and rumble of the pipes, slouched way down in and DAs pressed against the backs of their seats, half smoked Chesterfields dangling from their lower lips, elbows sticking out the windows. If a jalopy could saunter, this one was definitely sauntering as they approached a fate of droppings.

     Bolt upright in the seat the passenger gesturing frantically as they spy and pass who knows how much money just lying there waiting for some passerby to scoop it all up or its owner to return for it soon.

     — Jesus Christ we can't backup, someone’s sure to notice, I'll circle the block you reach out and grab it as I cruise by, oh my god someone else will get to it before we can get clear 'round the fucking block.

     Blast screech up to the corner; bang screech and around it. Blast screech up to the next, bang screech and around that one—vrammm went the pipes, the rear wheels spinning and scattering the loose gravel.

     —Damned unpaved roads.
     On to the next corner, the sound fainter now but still unmistakable.

     —Halfway damn it, better still be there. Sloughh around that one, third base in sight.

      —Coast easy now real casual around that last mother. Ahhh, heaven, still there. SCOOP IT UP ELDO HANG ONTO IT JESUS GRAB IT IN CHRIST JUST FEEL THE WEIGHT OF IT. How the hell you open it?

      Shit flew out in all directions, my mom's old purse sailed through the air, and for a moment there sat a chopped, channeled, four-barreled, rapping manure spreader gone amuck, its two raging operators clawing at the controls. The existential flow of things ricocheted off our willful act. Our dread of discovery and its certain consequences froze us in the hedge. Mutely hysterical, our bodies racked with silent laughter, we gazed at each other through the privet our eyes burning with tears, consumed and consummated in that moment of intensity. The hoods departed, safety returned, and Ronnie fell out of the hedge and collapsed; he had pissed himself. Their disaster seemed so enormous and so hysterically perfect that we were too scared to even retrieve the bait much less attempt an encore. Thinking back on it now, it still seems a great thing to have done. I guess the handbag was an old one.

      Ronnie was Catholic and the second oldest of the children that eventually swelled to nine in number. A few years after his younger sisters had been born, their family moved from Monterey north to this town at the Southern end of Humboldt Bay, and we moved there from L.A. a few years after that. Poverty or the threat of poverty caused both our families to move there. My dad, aging and not always able to find work, was returning to the rural life of his youth. His family had been poor, too, rural poor, yet able to cope, survive, and indeed even thrive.

      Ronnie's dad was returning to the fold, for his folks lived in the next town; they had never been poor. By the time we showed up he had long since gone to Alaska to find work, to succeed and to move his family up with him as soon as he was established. This was his dad's plan according to Ronnie. Often, on those days when his poverty seemed especially oppressive, he would reminisce of the old days in Monterey and speculate about how it would be when they finally did go to Alaska to live with their dad. In all the years of our childhood his dad only came to visit four or five times.

      Our parents of course knew but never revealed the truth: that Ronnie's dad, defeated by his inability to support his Catholic wife and Catholic children, had abandoned them and was not in Alaska but lived in the next town with his Lutheran parents. None of this prevented the regular arrival of new brothers and sisters. After the birth of the ninth child, his visits ceased.

      Ronnie and I were summer friends, especially inseparable then unless his dad, whom he loved beyond all reason, was at home. In which case, he never stuck his nose outside—I played alone. When school was in session, we seldom played together. He was poor, and I was not. He was two years younger than me, went to parochial school and lived at the crappy end of town.

      The town contained some 370 people all in various states of economic depression. Nobody was comfortable, not even the Chapmans who owned the local grocery. Yet, disadvantaged as we all were, we managed to squeeze in at least three socio-economic strata: the good, the questionable and the crappy. The whole town was only 5 blocks across in its longest dimension, from the hills to the bay, yet again we managed to arrange the sparsly inhabited land into the good, questionable and crappy parts of town. The closer to the hills you lived the better it was for you; the closer to the bay, the crappier. Since the whaling station was at the end of my street, that part of town was excluded from demographic classification owing to the simple impossibility of a person living anywhere near it. You could not breathe in its vicinity, could not breathe at all. We lived as close to the bay as you could get without being the least bit crappy, due in part to the confusion created by our close proximity of the whaling station and the fact that we operated the town’s trailer court. Ronnie lived next door to me, toward the bay, our houses separated by an unpaved alley. He lived in the crappy part of town, and I, the questionable. My father when vexed with me, if he could think of nothing else, would always object to my choice of friends,

      —Why can't you play in your own yard? Why you always got to play with the goddam Boese kids?

      And indeed, we didn’t always play in his yard or the alley that separated our two properties. Usually, during the summers we’d be down at the cannery docks fishing for perch and Jack smelt if the tide were in, and if the tide were out, we’d haunt the beaches looking for pieces of driftwood suitable for making a small raft. Ronnie would ‘borrow’ his mother’s best hammer and together we’d gather nails suitable for raft construction by removing them from the ruins of a deserted, burned out cannery adjacent to the docks.

      The rafts we constructed, while they did float, usually weren’t buoyant enough to support either one of us much less the two of us together, but one time we did succeed in building a raft, the largest we’d ever undertaken, and it took considerable effort to get it into the water and afloat. I was too chicken to try it out, for I couldn’t swim a lick, but Ronnie who couldn’t swim a lick either but who was a fledgling ‘A’ type, clamored on board and, equipped with an 8 foot, redwood 2x2 that he’d pinched from a nearby lumber mill, promptly began to pole the raft and himself into deeper water while I danced anxiously from foot to foot on the beach. He was fearless and poled himself into deeper and deeper water and soon he could no longer reach the bottom with the pole. He coasted, drifted and was pulled along by the current—the tide was going out. Pretty soon he was reduced to being a small figure on a small raft in the middle of the shipping channel that ran the length of the bay, being about 100 yards off shore where we were. He could do nothing but stand there, helplessly as he was being swept out to sea and certain death. I felt sick as he drifted past the docks and out of sight. I didn’t know what to do so I did nothing. Or rather, I waited.

      After what seemed a long, long time, Ronnie appeared running from the dock, and leaving the access road, proceeded onto the beach where I was still waiting. As luck would have it, though the docks and cannery were idle that day, some fisherman who was repairing the rigging on his trawler had caught sight of Ronnie as he drifted by. You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what had happened, so he quickly started the engine on his trawler, and sped to Ronnie’s rescue, plucking him from the raft and onto the deck of his boat. They had had words, I’m sure of it, though Ronnie was pretty noncommittal on that point later. And the raft? The last I saw of it, or any raft for that matter, it was headed out to sea.

      Though we lived in the questionable part of town, we got a few points for being plumbed into its only sewer line. All other houses not on the main drag plumbed their shit into the network of sloughs that pervaded the town. There were no sidewalks. The oil and gravel streets were high in the middle and sloped off towards these sloughs.

      They weren't real obvious in my part of town, just wide shallow depressions, with a terrific crop of swamp-like vegetation growing in them. Down in the really crappy part of town, the sloughs were regular moats requiring some sort of planks to allow a person to cross them. Naturally, we liked to play with these sloughs. I almost said 'in,' but you wouldn't willingly get in one. The slough was a malignant thing. When the tide was out, on a warm day, the smell was quite remarkable, but you could still breathe, could easily breathe. Their bottoms and sides were coated with thick, rust-colored slime, camouflage for the black muck that extended for a full foot beneath it. When the tide came in, the clean water would flow slowly, unknowingly over this crap, obeying most of the laws of physics. We used to delight in throwing rocks, sticks, bottles, abandoned baby buggies, any thing into the muck.

      The splock sound was incredible, made all the more incredible by the sight of the black scunge spuking up out of the craters we made. We'd each pick up the biggest, most massive thing we could handle that we figured we could dump into the slough without getting into real trouble, and standing in the middle of the planks that spanned channeled evil, we'd hurl it into the muck. Spahhllockkk! This was really nasty. We'd laugh like hell.

      Once or twice, overcome with enthusiasm and merriment, I did manage to fall in. Ronnie would laugh in much the same way on these occasions, now that I think of it, as when we baited innocent folks along the main drag with an old handbag full of rabbit shit. He had, I think, a real feeling for the gross, the beautifully and abstractly shitty and all of its possibilities. He was the master, and I, the novice, for what the hell did I know? What could I know of stratified shit, plunked down in this rural slum, a green kid from the middle class suburbs of L.A. where level paved streets and concrete sidewalks delineated the manicured yards?

      At the last family reunion, my mother casually informed me that one of the Boese boys, the oldest one she thought, yes, it was the oldest one, what was his name, Ronnie, yes, Ronnie, Ronnie had drowned a few months earlier, somewhere, oh, somewhere in Alaska, yes Alaska.

The truth is, after much furrowing of brow, I can't think of anything to say by way of preface to my blog. Along the way I wondered what it's purpose might be and maybe I should say a few words about that and would, except that I don't know what its purpose is, or could be, or should be. I only know that my clock is winding down and I'm so desperate to have my mind known that I could just spit! Maybe my blog could be about that. But how depressing and pretentious that could be! But hold on a second, maybe not—my therapist commented the other day how in late adulthood (AKA elder years), one is forced to deal with the sense of loss, all the time, it's always there, and it's painful, it takes great faith to live on even though one knows it's going to end and that whatever they accomplish, if anything, is not going to matter all that much. How does one find meaning or a sense of fulfillment in life knowing that it’s coming to an end? Psychologists have not written much about this if anything. It's sort of an unexamined part of adult life. It takes a lot of self-discipline to function in spite of this sense of loss—it's so easy to give up on the constant struggle, on life. A lot of people do—drinking, TV, drugs, electrosex, So, if you'll bear with me, let us examine this unexamined part of adult life.
Copyright © 2011 W. Bruce Watson, Inc. All rights reserved.  
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