Monday, May 18, 2009

Zip It Up, Boys, Big Brother Is Watching!

It seems fairly likely that at some point, someone hiking along the rim of the Grand Canyon looked around furtively, lowered his zipper, and had a healthy pee into the gorge. Urinating in national parks is a right of passage, supplanting spitting into the wind as an act of art for young men in dire need of such fruitful seasonal activity as working at a concession stand.

Boys will be boys, but the boys who urinated into Old Faithful had bad aim. Caught live on Web cam by a park visitor, the two miscreants were dismissed from their seasonal jobs and lightly fined. It might even have been possible for the event to be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection, since Old Faithful is one of those active monuments--unlike the Lincoln Memorial--that has a Web cam trained on it constantly.

A day in the life of a concession worker is a challenging and fraught experience. You don't realize how difficult it can be until you wipe up the mess from the child who threw up after drinking four 50-ounce cherry Slurpees. Otherwise, it is the monotony of hot dog, hamburg, wheat or white bun, and Coca-Cola in 43 permutations. If you think this sounds like fun, a summer in a national park would be valuable work experience on your way to becoming Head Hotdog Honcho at Six Flags Over Mid-America*.

So let's say that on the day in question, best pals Ray and Bunny were chewed out by their manager, who reacted poorly to their seeming inability to change the grease used for the park's french fries. This is a fairly serious offense and both boys were given a warning: Uncle Sam doesn't only make money on the park admission, oh, no, but on the concession stand as well. Where's your sense of patriotism, boys? Why, your father and his father before him and maybe even your great-granddaddy would be appalled, not to mention that relative who got his butt whupped by the Lakota at Little Big Horn. Shame!

Ray and Bunny spend the entire day plotting their revenge. They are distinctly non-violent types who are always horrified by government workers who use post offices as shooting galleries. They shed at tear at Oklahoma City and they vowed to wreak havoc on anyone who might overly soil the restrooms near their concession stand.

When the work day is over, they have lost interest in activating their revenge as originally planned (spitting into the mustard), but they realize that they are terribly, terminally bored. Boredom is not supposed to afflict seasonal workers, but it does. Even those with the most exciting seasonal jobs, like running a Skee-Ball stand, suffer from it occasionally. Ray and Bunny get to talking about hot chicks, and how there weren't any today and not yesterday either, only fat Midwestern housewives in polyester pants and helmet hairstyles who, neither boy realizes, are carbon copies of their own wives, thirty years from now.

They count out the money, lock up the stand, and realize that they are in the middle of nowhere. Yellowstone is a big park and the worker dormitories are full of annoying college students majoring in forestry and in parks management. Ray and Bunny quickly realize that if they want to have a good time, they won't be having it anywhere but here; it would take two hours to get out of the park and then where would they be? In the Teton Wilderness, that's where. There's nothing in that part of Wyoming anyway. They could theoretically go up to Bozeman, except that Ranger Rick has been known to fire workers who show up shitfaced for their morning shift.

The realization that they are in one of the remotest corners of America is liberating as well as confining. Freedom has its advantages. When the boys leave work, they fire up a doobie as soon as the parking lot is out of sight and then they meander off the officially delineated trails, which constitutes a serious park infraction. You can't imagine what can happen to someone who goes boldly off the beaten path. If they are ever seen again, it will be as a mangled bit of undigested scalp in the belly of a bear. There have been recent sightings of the Yeti up near the western entrance gate, something the park service has taken great pains to conceal, especially now when the numbers are down due to the economy. Ray and Bunny don't mind taking this risk, they've been doing it every night after work for the past three weeks and they both agree that looking at the Big Dipper while stoned on Durban Poison is a true thing of beauty.

After they get high, Bunny suggests that they continue their nightly ritual of peeing into Old Faithful. The hope is that the act will eventually result in thousands of golden droplets of urine spewing all over families who still believe in America the Beautiful. Take that, tourists! Land of the Pee, Home of the Brave! Bunny shouts as he fires away. They are too ignorant to remember that America was once mostly a land of national pride; they do not recognize Smokey the Bear on sight and they are too young to remember the commercial in which an elderly Indian was made to cry by careless morons who tossed trash out of their cars as they thoughtlessly cruised America's vast interstate highway system.

They fantasize about one day committing a similar act of bodily secretion in Death Valley National Park, where both have applied for next year, not realizing that they might find themselves needing to drink their metabolic waste when they become dehydrated and near death after losing their sense of orientation.

This is where the boys badly miscalculate. You can't go anywhere these days without being observed, monitored, or otherwise spied upon. Think your neighbors aren't aware that you like to spank your wife on Saturday night or that your co-workers aren't hip to your failure to flush your turds down the office toilet? Think again. Nowhere is safe. It is no longer possible to so much as fail to cede your subway seat to an old biddy without being caught and fined. What used to pass for harmless delinquency in the youth of America is now subject to immediate legal repercussion and a criminal record that will ruin any chance of renewing a fishing license or of owning a zero-percent-down condo in a marginal area of suburban Detroit.

What a downer. Instead of gliding effortlessly through young adulthood, Ray and Bunny have come face-to-face with the new reality: Someone is watching and someone will tell; the need to snitch trumps the need to mind one's own business, each and every time.

*Unfortunately rebranded as Six Flags St. Louis.

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