With me? Good.
There's a third incident I remember about the centennial convention that's just one of those funny things that shouldn't have made an impression but did. Isn't it strange? Out of all the seconds and minutes and hours in our many days, the odd things that make it into our long-term memory banks?
I'm not sure what the adults and the little kids were doing on Sunday, but it was probably more fun than my assigned activity. I was sent on a hay ride in a wagon pulled by a tractor.
I'd never been on a hayride, although I'd ridden in wagons pulled by tractors. I didn't grow up on a farm, but I spent plenty of time out in the country. I'm not sure who the fucking genius was who thought it would be fun take a bunch of kids from Iowa who had finally -- finally -- gotten to the biggest city in the state to stay at a hotel downtown and go to the governor's mansion and eat fucking shrimp cocktail and giant steaks with mushroom sauce and actually meet Floppy in person, and put them on a bus that would take them out into the country to go on a hayride.
What the hell is a hayride to a bunch of kids from Iowa? It's just another day on the fucking farm. Giddythefuckup. Weren't there any museums in Des Moines? Any indoor swimming pools? Any anything besides a ride behind a tractor?
Once again I was glad Gracie was there. Getting stuck out in the country behind a tractor when I could have been in a hotel room was bad enough. If I hadn't known anybody at all, it would have been unbearable.
Besides I kind of looked up to Gracie. She was already 10, and she had more self confidence than I did. I thought it was because she was an only child and her dad had lots of money. Even though she had red hair, I doubted anybody teased her about it. She just didn't seem like the type.
They tried to make it interesting by giving each of us a bandana -- blue for girls and red for boys -- and showing us how to tie it around our necks like we were cowboys or something. As if cowboys go on fucking hayrides. I did as I was told, and so did Gracie.
Then I noticed a much older girl, probably 12, had folded her bandana in half into a triangle, wrapped it around her head and tied it in the back under her long hair.
Shit. Why didn't I think of that?
Gracie noticed the girl too, and quickly tied her bandana around her head too. I thought it looked pretty cool, but there was no way I was going to copy that older girl. I left my bandana around my neck.
At some point in the ride -- I don't remember much of it -- we stopped for lunch. They gave us sandwiches or something. I'd eaten enough dust from the gravel road we were on, I wasn't very hungry. But I did have to pee. Gracie said she did too.
There was a cinder block building at the top of a small, steep hill that looked like the bathrooms at a campground. We walked up the hill, but the door was locked. Great.
I headed back down the hill, but Gracie didn't come with me.
"I really have to go," she said. "I think I'll just squat behind this building."
"I'll wait for you down here," I told her from the bottom of the hill. I had the bladder of a camel after 4 years in school. I wasn't going to risk squatting and peeing on my pants or in my shoe, and besides there wouldn't be any toilet paper.
Gracie disappeared behind the building. I fiddled with my bandana and kicked at some gravel. And then I saw it.
From behind the building a big, brown turd slowly rolled out and started down the hill. It was enormous. I watched, fascinated, as it picked up speed and bumped over little rocks and tufts of grass. Undeterred it rolled all the way to the bottom of the hill, about a yard to my side, still intact.
I have no idea why this image stuck in my memory, but I can see that turd as if it were today .... rolling, rolling, rolling down that hill.
If I'd been embarrassed for my mom in her orange dress, now I was even more embarrassed for Gracie. I couldn't imagine taking a poop behind a building out in the middle of nowhere Iowa and knowing somebody else knew I was taking a poop. Some things are just private. And then knowing the turd had rolled down the hill in front of somebody ... It still makes me cringe.
|They see me rollin'.|
After a minute or so Gracie came out from behind the building and walked down the hill. "We better get back to the group," she said.
I just looked at her for a second. Hmmmm. She didn't even seem to have noticed she'd just rolled a big turd down the hill. She didn't even look at it, and I could hardly keep my eyes off it.
"OK," I said. If she wasn't going to bring it up, I wouldn't either. I wondered how she'd managed without toilet paper, but it seemed impolite to ask.
This might have been the biggest culture shock of all. The caviar, the shrimp and steak, the ladies in their ballgowns all paled next to the idea that one of the richest girls I knew could take a poop out in the open and not even care if it rolled down the hill in front of somebody. It wouldn't have mattered how bad I had to go, I would have let my bowels burst before I would have done that. And if I had taken a poop behind that building, I would never have come out if it had rolled down the hill. I would have just died behind that building. But not Gracie.
Where the hell do you get that kind of confidence? I wondered.
Even to this day, many shrimps and steaks and mushrooms later .... and even though I've worn formal gowns several times and have a couple in my closet .... even now I wonder where you get that kind of "I don't give a shit" confidence.
And that is the story of my first brush with culture shock. Want to share yours?