If I Only Had a Toilet

But first (one can never rush these things), have I mentioned how much I like fruit? Well, I do — I just love it! One of the great joys of travelling to an agriculturally rich country like Brazil, and one predominantly tropical, is all the wonderful kinds of fruit that are so easily available. Some people may go there for sex — I go for the fruit. Call me a fruit tourist if you must, I will wear the label proudly.

Just about every hotel in Brazil serves a “continental” breakfast with a banquet of fresh, local fruit: mango, papaya, guava, grapes, pineapple, melons, figs, bananas — on and on, all you can eat, all served with steaming pots of café com leite and freshly baked pãozinhos (small French rolls) — crisp on the outside, warm and chewy inside — with bowls and bowls of the creamiest butter. This is heaven for me — Heaven!

The only problem with heaven: if you’ve recently had it and now can’t get it, then you are probably closer to some kind of hell. And that, my friends, succinctly sums up my third afternoon on board the jangada. Instead of craving ice cream, I started craving fruit. And one in particular — water-melon.

In Brazil, watermelon is normally consumed as a juice (suco de melancia), made by blending up chilled pieces of melon, straining out the seeds and pulp. The resulting beverage is smooth and delicious, a nectar fit for the gods. Sprawled out on that hot deck, I couldn’t stop thinking about that heavenly juice. Glass after imaginary glass I quaffed, but it wasn’t enough. I saw myself swimming in it, doing backstrokes, splashing it around, diving up and down — completely submersed in it — a red sea of it — a red sea of chilled watermelon juice. I rolled my head on my scratchy anchor line pillow and moaned pathetically.

On the bright side: thinking about all that juice had a stimulating effect. Where for the longest time it had been deathly silent, I started to hear portentous rumblings below my navel. And not only rumblings, but the squeaking of hinges long since opened, the clanging of hammers on frozen pipes, and the hissing of gases quickly releasing — noxious, high pressure gases. All this action clearly indicated one thing: my desiccated friend was creeping along and would soon reach its final destination—the living sea!

Finally!  (cue the trumpets)

Awkwardly I got up and waddled aft to the transom, the location where such elemental activities occur. (They don’t call it the poop deck for nothing.) Behind the icebox was the only place to get any privacy on board that dinky raft. Arriving, though, I was presented with a much more practical problem: how, exactly, would I perform the scurvy deed?

I should say right now, I’m not any good at squatting, and I don’t know why. It could be genetics — my Puritan hips being wound too tight — or maybe I am just not limber enough. Whatever it is, I can never manage to get into a position with my feet flat on the floor, my knees sufficiently bent, my weight properly centered, so I feel stable enough, and therefore comfortable enough, to really let it rip.

I spent a month hitchhiking around Morocco once (a beautiful country very similar to Southern California geographically) and going to the potty always posed a problem. No matter how often I tried, and I tried just about every day, I invariably ended up in a small dark room, spread-eagled, arching backwards with a hand on the wall behind me for support, while rocking back and forth on the balls of my feet to properly position the ordnance over the target — a hole in the floor.

Back at the jangada’s stern this was going to be a problem. With nothing behind me save the wide open ocean, there was nothing there to give me support. It was a situation that required creative thinking, and with the pressure rapidly building in my gut, creative thinking was in short supply. Desperately I looked around for a solution. When my eyes came to rest on the steering bench, I knew I had my answer! At just the right height and distance from the transom, the banco do governo was the perfect thing to hold onto while I hung my own lily white banco out over the rail.

Frantically I struggled to free the button of my shorts, my bandaged finger sticking out like a rotting bockwurst. The button hole must have shrunk — I couldn’t get it off.  Dammit!  Had anyone seen me there, they would have witnessed the proverbial man about to crap in his pants — squirming about with his knees pinched together, grunting and groaning, “Oh, come on, come on!” All that hip shaking only increased the pressure down below, making it clear I was running out of time

With a forceful yank I freed the button.  Yes!  But when I grabbed the zipper to pull it down. . . What?  NO!  NOT AGAIN!  I tugged on that thing like a madman but it just wouldn’t budge — not even a silly little millimeter.

More frantic dancing about before I realized I didn’t actually have to lower the zipper to pull my shorts down.  Uh-Duh!  But this wasn’t so easy — the shorts were damp and tightly fit. I had to inch one side down and then the other, while carefully wriggling my bottom from side to side.
Easy, now. Easy. . .

Finally the shorts got low enough and fell to the deck.  And as soon as they did I kicked them forward. Yes, that Moroccan trip had taught me one thing: pooping on your pants is just as nasty as pooping in them.

All this motion had brought me to the very brink, intestinally and nautically. And with the colonic buzzer about to ring, I grabbed that banco with my right hand and jumped back onto the toe rail with both feet. This, I realized too late, was not the wisest thing to have done.

Calamity comes in threes — so the wives’ tale goes. While I don’t really believe in that sort of thing (knock on wood), this time the tale was right on target.

In my desperation to get my shorts off, I had completely forgotten about my tender instep. When that instep landed directly on the raised toe rail, I was bluntly reminded of my little red spot. “AH!”  I cried out,  jumping forward, while at the same time swinging my left arm down and smacking my bandaged finger forcefully on the calçador. OH!  The pain in my finger was so blinding, so utterly debilitating, I couldn’t even scream. But my knees gave way and I dropped like a rag doll on top of the steering bench.

And that is where the third calamity struck.

I like to think of myself as a good multitasker, able to keep several balls in the air at one time. When I’m not sailing on a tiny raft in the middle of nowhere off some forgotten coast, I manage construction projects for a living — usually large, public projects. It’s a job ideally suited for my Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Every day is different — every hour is different: dealing with recalcitrant subcontractors (that’s not in my contract, dammit!), demanding owners (that’s in your contract, dammit!), immense egos (also known as architects), litigation phobic engineers (just multiply by 2), litigation philic attorneys (just multiply by $400 per hour), malfunctioning equipment, union strikes, material delays, unhappy neighbors, countless change orders, and dysfunctional public agencies that don’t seem to understand how the real world works, and even if they did, don’t have the money to pay for it anyway.  And on some days, all of this before the morning coffee break.

So multitasking is something I am pretty familiar with. But really, when you get right down to it, when the pedal hits the metal so to speak, most of us can only focus on one thing at a time — just one thing. Believe what you want, but please don’t text and drive.

Now that my focus had shifted from one very pressing matter — keeping the lower O-ring clamped shut until the launch pad was clear — to another — the stunning pain in two parts of my body —well— something had to give. And give it did, though not as I expected. Because the only thing that came out of that lower O-ring was a big, hairy old fart that reverberated across the ocean like a thundering broadside.  ­Oh, sweet Jesus…

While the fart was certainly humiliating, this was not my “third calamity.” That came next — or I should say — it didn’t come next. Because nothing came out next.

Draped over that banco, bundinha no ar, I could feel that something was still in there — knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s gate. That certain something wanted to come out, and I wanted it out — lord knows — I wanted nothing more right there. So I stayed with my chest on the bench, waiting for the pain to subside, while I inched my knees forward to put me in a better position. And then I tried, with all my heart I tried — grunting and groaning, panting and moaning, pushing with every fiber of my body until I was ready to pass out and couldn’t push anymore. But nothing came out. Nothing!

Gasping for breath, I realized I was on the wrong tack: bearing down would only make it worse — I had to relax. There are special muscles for this, and if I could just settle down—chill out—then nature would eventually run its course. So I tried to relax. I cleared my mind of all restricting thoughts and focused — yet again — on my breathing.

Deep breath… Take another deep breath… Just keep breathing…

I even did that little chanting thing I normally do on the pot (albeit at a lower volume) that usually works so well. Come on… Come on… Come on…


My patience quickly ran out and I started to push again with a vengeance. But I soon gave up, worried I would burst something. I was too plugged up. Dehydration and a poor diet had taken their toll, and this after only three days at sea. I tried not to think about what would happen if I was stuck out there for a longer period of time. We never talk about impacted bowel in polite company — I say, more tea with those cakes? — but the possible complications (cramping, intestinal tearing, infection, septicemia) have been a bane to seamen throughout sailing history, resulting in more than a few very painful deaths.

Utterly defeated, I lay on that bench for several more minutes without moving. I knew I had to get up — was worried Mamede would soon come out and catch me in another compromising position. I would have to explain — something a man never likes to do with his pants down — and he would remember — Mamede would always remember: Yes, he was a nice man—a little different—from California, I think—hardly ate—and, poor thing, he was very prone to accidents.

Thankfully no one appeared and I was able to pull myself together without too much haste.


Next chapter: Water Water Everywhere