For all the preening, fussing, care and feeding of, it’s easy to forget that the human body, yours and mine, is no more than a supple matrix of congealed proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and, according to some, a soul and mind, floating in what’s about 60 percent ‘body water’ for the average human male. Basically, we’re just taut wet sacks of ambulatory meat and bone with orifices . . . and God help you and me when that sack decides it’s sick, slams into emergency mode and frantically pumps out its bilge big time.
Such as some of the nocturnal thoughts that came to me, sitting in the darkness, welded onto the wobbly toilet of the unlovely hotel in a nondescript town (population: 317) in central BC, guts in a gurbling, ghastly watery uproar, me draining at one end, me sluicing down mugs of tap water into the other in a heroic attempt to wash out whatever microbial horror had set up shop in my bowels. Every time it seemed to quiet, nothing left, I’d creep off the thunder mug and collapse onto the hard bed . . . and within a few minutes the guts would reliquefy and back I’d go . . . and God, it had been a long night and the cold, wan daylight was only now creeping into the room . . .
The day started out well enough. My salesman and I were driving through the interior of BC, bombing along the seemingly endless road, off to check out and price two ranches and attend to some other business. The ranches are about two and a half hours from a nearby cowboy town. It’s hot, it’s summer and despite the high latitudes, we soon begin running out of daylight. Pretty soon it’s past 10 p.m. We’re hungry, we haven’t had dinner and obviously, the ranches will have to wait. We decided to stop at the next available place.
As small towns go, this community certainly didn’t stretch the definition of ‘small’ – one gas station, one corner store, one hotel, one of everything and no more - in all, about 25 buildings.
When we finally pull up and clump into the one hotel, it’s past 11 p.m. and whatever action there was, was pretty well closed down, including the dining room. The only thing open in the hotel was the bar. The guy working the bar comes over, takes our drink orders, serves us a couple glasses of what passes for wine and listens to our complaints: “We’re hungry, we’re starving, isn’t there anything here to eat?”
“Well,” he considers. “the kitchen is closed, but I could rustle you up something, if it’s easy.”
“Well,” I say encouragingly. “The easiest things in the world are steaks.”
He pauses a moment, ruminates. “Well, I think I’ve got a couple of steaks lying around.” Fine, we order up the pair, drink some more wine and wait.
Those steaks must have been waiting for us too, and for a long time. The guy sets them down and walks away. Given a bit more prodding, those steaks might have followed him. I take a snuffle. These slabs have a vague stink, they smell. In my mind, I picture them as green, raw and greasy and warm on the table in the back, twitching in the heat, waiting.
Uncommonly for me, I say nothing. Neither does my salesman. We’re starving. We pin the dead meat down, slice into it and just eat. I shove my mind away and keep chewing. But there is something wrong with this meat. Even through the fried grease and heat off the meat, there’s an underlay of something wet, slippery and rank. When that guy said he had some steaks ‘lying around’ in back, he was being literal.
Meal finished, we shove off from the table and head upstairs to our respective rooms in this sway back, tin-corrugated-roof, two storey hotel. Being the boss, I get the pick of the two rooms, a carpeted slot with a narrow window, very basic small bathroom off to one side and a lovely view over the attached storage shed and of the graveled intersection one good spit away.
In the high latitudes, summer nights are short. It’s already late, daybreak is around five o’clock in the morning. I’m tired and I want to sleep until at least 6:30 a.m. or so. Believe it or not, I’m also somewhat of a modest guy. The room is a short slot with a window at one end. I like to strip down completely for bed. Rather than amuse whoever happens to wander along the graveled intersection, I pull the blinds down.
The blinds crash down off the wall, frame and all, down onto the floor with a great big clatter, a tangle of dusty aluminum slats and cord on the floor. Screw it. Likely I woke up everyone else in the hotel – the walls are thin, the soundproofing nonexistent – but cheapjack is what cheapjack does.
I turn off the light, get into bed. This had to be one of the worst beds that I’ve ever encountered, with the springs poking into my back and the sheets stained with God knows what. As for the pillow? Well, finally I just stripped off the pillowcase and stuffed my clothes in there instead – it was much more comfortable. Needless to say, I won’t be recommending this dive on TripAdvisor anytime soon.
I close my eyes, just me and my thoughts drifting off into slumber. The darkness is thick, velvet black against the window. When this town shuts down for the night, it shuts down. What’s left of the night begins.
When you get to be my age, drifting nocturnal thoughts have an unfortunate tendency to bump up against the demands of the bladder. Especially if it’s egged along by perhaps a glass too many of indifferent wine. I barely even dozed off and now I have to take a whiz. Great, business as usual.
Back home, my bladder, brain and body have developed a compromise. When the urge hits, my brain goes on autopilot; it doesn’t wake up completely but rouses itself enough to steer my body out of bed, off to the bathroom, locate the cool porcelain toilet bowel with the naked knees, lift the lid (very important), vent as necessary, turn around, back to bed and firmly asleep in seconds. The trick is not turning on the light. If the dozing brain glitches and the bathroom light flares up, I’m wide awake for the next hour at least.
But tonight, here in the darkness of the hotel, the bladder seems to have gone utterly quiet. Dried up, ebbed away to nothing. Odd but that’s fine with me . . . and then it happened.
One moment I’m lying in the narrow uncomfortable bed at the hotel, the next moment my guts lurch, my stomach gurgles and somehow my sphincter desperately holds on, just long enough for my shocked brain to grab my panicked body and fling us all off the bed, into the darkness and into the bathroom. Up slams the lid, down slams the naked butt, grab hold of the thunder mug and let fly. Everything just lets go. It’s explosive, it’s noisy, it’s ghastly and it seems to go on forever.
Okay, at least an hour. For about an hour, sitting in the darkness, butt planted, I’m afraid to venture off the toilet and back to bed. Yet who would have thought the old man had so much, well, stuff in him? What’s left of the treacherous steak must have long gone on its merry way but it seems to have persuaded everything else to follow along behind.
I pride myself on always being prepared but here’s the one time where I’m caught with my pants down, figuratively and literally. Here in the darkness, I’ve got nothing with me, no Tums, nothing to quell a rollicking belly and liquefied bowels. I’m also afraid to leave the sanctuary of the toilet and go find my salesman and see if he’s got anything medicinal to throw into the breach.
But then I have a brilliant idea: If you’ve got no medicine, then use the next best thing. Water, lots of water. Sluice it through, wash out the bacteria and rot that has lined my gut, drown the little bastards.
The sink is right at hand, that and a cheap glass. Turn on the tap, start chugging down glass and glass of Adam’s ale, water. I must have drank about a dozen glasses of water and, at least three times, I thought the gut had been cleansed enough to allow me to get back to bed. But no, each time I gingerly got back in bed, at best there’s half an hour of peace before another spasm of jelly belly rolls in and back I go to spin the splat pot. By this time the whole building, pillows over its head, must be quietly cursing me and my low-end alimentary orchestra; it’s loud, it’s bad and it’s endless.
Call me pig-headed but I’m still holding onto the belief that, if I turn on the lights, I’ll lose whatever chance of sleep that hasn’t yet fled the unpleasantness. So, drink more water, flood the besieged innards, wait for the night to end. I should be worrying about ‘water intoxication’ and the perils of diluting your internal chemistry but what I’m chugging down, isn’t sticking around. Mind you, those innards are showing no signs of solidifying either. Pretty soon there’s nothing coming out but water, straight water. Still I guzzle onwards.
Finally, the darkness begins to fade, the morning light slowly creeping into the room, past the tangle of blinds on the floor and slowly, slowly illuminating me, still atop the toilet, full glass in hand.
It’s only then that I see the sign pinned on the toilet wall. It’s a big sign, about two feet square, with big hand-printed letters, about three feet from my nose. As the room lightens and the gloom recedes, I squint and begin to discern blocky words. Sipping water, I keep looking at the big sign; it must be important. The dim light strengthens and finally, all is revealed:
DO NOT DRINK THE WATER. IT IS CONTAMINATED
About an hour later, my salesman knocks on my door. I’m on my feet, wobbly but dressed and capable, I hope, of getting clear of the toilet. “Damn,” he wonders. “There’s a big sign in my bathroom that says ‘Contaminated Water’. I’m not going to even brush my teeth.”
“Yah,“ I say with some bitterness. “I noticed the sign. I didn’t brush my teeth in the water but, hey, I drank about 15 glasses last night. Let’s get out of here.”
We did, but not before I stole all the toilet paper from both our rooms. A good thing too; I had to make about five or six impromptu roadside stops along the way to the ranches, clearing out the last of the hotel dine and splash. Luckily too, there was fresh, cold creeks along the way; out with the old, in with the cold and clean.
The last time I checked, that hotel had shut down, probably went broke. Me, I still think I’m an idiot. I’ve eaten rancid meat before and I know what happens and for how long. For me not to figure out that, after more than a dozen glasses of water and a warning that was literally in my face, that maybe perhaps something was wrong with the water too?
You think I would have caught on.