So, I really really need to get this article written today. It's not due for another month, but it's kind of a big deal for me, and I figure if I get it done now, I'll have time to rewrite after it's been ruthlessly edited by someone in a visor with those elastic things holding up his sleeves. The problem is, the article's supposed to be funny. And lately, when I sit at my computer, I just don't have t'funny. (some might argue that I never do, but that strikes me as a little cynical) Steve Martin's solution to this problem was to put baloney in his shoes so he could feel funny, but as a vegetarian, I have to protest this practice. Plus it's gross. And it doesn't work. And I don't want to talk about it.
So what's a writer to do? I mean, I haven't worked on my on-line novel for, like, over a month or something, and I fear losing both of my readers to frustration. Ideas are at a low ebb just now. I trust that they will come back; they always have in the past. But right now, I need a little Lewis and Clarke, a little Stanley and Livingstone of the brain to go on a trek for the source of inspiration, maybe roust up the natives a little bit, introduce gunpowder and firewater, spread a little syphillis... no. Hang on.
Fortunately, there is one huge source of inspiration that I can tap into from time to time: weird stuff that happens to me. So let me relate to you a recent-ish experience.
I rock climb at a local gym. I'm not terribly good at it, but I love it, and I'll quite happily spend an afternoon climbing up walls and occasionally falling down them. Now that BF Toasty and his kid and her husband are into the climbing thing, I have fun, safe people to climb with on a regular basis, and I've started rebuilding Tim. (For those who don't know, Tim is the name of my one muscle. Since I only have one, I named it. I thought it might encourage others.)
Rock climbing is not the hyper-macho sport some might think it is, at least not at the level I do it. There are as many women as men, and some of the best climbers are these weedy, 98-pound scrawny-chickens of both sexes who appear to be made of twine and barbed wire. They dance up the wall, all grace and monkey-skill and perfect balance, and I stand at the bottom, more manatee than monkey but still loving the sport.
Except for that stinky guy.
Seriously, this guy walks around in his own funk like PigPen from Charlie Brown. It's so bad, it's visible, you know? He wears t-shirts with the arms cut off, so there's nothing, no layer of protection, not even a thin wall of cotton between him and us, and I swear the only time I can cross my eyes is when he walks by.
One time Toasty and I were in the gym when he was there, and you couldn't walk into any section of the gym where there was no outlet like a door or window. His odor would creep into corners and lurk there, fetid and giggling, bad enough to make a German shepherd gag. It was so bad I considered asking a staff member to take him out back and either hose him down or shoot him.
But it gets worse. You know the whole Close Encounters thing, how there are different levels of interaction with aliens -- first there's the sighting, then there's physical evidence of alien existence, and then there's actual face-to-face contact? Well, here's my Close Encounters with the Stench that Should Be Forbidden by the Geneva Conventions.
I was in climbing with my friend Tom one time. We had already concluded that Stinky Guy was there, as we had had the first close encounter: the smell. It rolled like banks of fog through the gym, leaving a residue that made the holds slippery. Through teary eyes, we had the second encounter -- a visual sighting (is there any other kind?). He was climbing on the rope right next to me. You know how in movies the guy exercising has that exaggerated V of sweat on the front and back of his shirt, extending from the base of his neck in an upside-down triangle to his waist? He had that. Bits of him were glistening. Not Disney glistening with little radiant stars coming off him, but, like, Karo syrup glistening.
Just as I realized how close he was, there was one of those unfortunate series of events where everything inevitably comes together in the worst possible way. I had finished my climb, and my partner began lowering me. When I got to about the half-way point down the wall, Stinky Guy missed a move and popped off his neighboring climb. I saw it happening, I knew what was coming, I tried to holler at Tom to just drop me and to hell with the consequences, but it was too late. With a wet slap akin to a dead fish being flopped down on the butcher's block, he swung right into me.
After that, events unfolded in sickening slo-mo: first the collision (at this point, his smell was streaming mercifully out behind him) with all the sticky horror of hitting an underclothed sweaty guy. Then, the ropes tangle around each other in defiance of the laws of physics and simple decency. Then the smell catches up with its source, and I'm hit with the full tsunami of eye-watering, death-would-be-better-than-this body fug from a man who clearly hasn't showered since Kennedy was shot. John, not Bobby. Frantically, I'm trying to get myself untethered from this guy, from this wall, from this life if necessary, scrabbling at the ropes, while my lunch is threatening to untether itself from my stomach. Finally, an eternity later, we get unknotted, Tom lowers me the rest of the way, and I escape to the bathroom to breathe deeply and scour my flesh with giant, soapy wads of paper towel.
I mean, come on, does the guy have rabies or something? What makes water with a little soap such a bad idea?
What kills me is that the guy obviously doesn't think his smell is a problem, or he'd do something about it. So my reaction to being in contact with him must have seemed really inappropriate and hysterical to him. I mean, I wasn't panicking and flailing (much), but probably more than a simple bump would merit. I wonder what he thinks caused all the fuss?
The worst of it? Our mid-air (mid-fetid-air) encounter apparently makes us "buddies," so now when he sees me in the gym, he waves hello.