When you gotta go, sometimes you still don’t go.
Back in the late 70’s, I worked on construction at the Willow Island power plant for 18 months and car pooled with my dad and one more guy. The third guy would change from time to time, as guys came and went on the job. I lived about 50 miles away, which was about an hour’s drive. Dad usually drove an old Plymouth slant-six Valiant, and as he’d get another one I’d buy the old one from him. They were great work cars, although the trunks were usually rusted out and some fumes would come into the car sometimes.
At the time this happened, Pratt was riding with us. Pratt was a welder and a good one. He could weld aluminum and galvanized steel. I learned from him that you should drink milk after welding galvanized—I guess it replaces something that breathing those fumes leaches out of your body. Pratt drank a lot of beer and I suspect whiskey too. He was one of about three guys I worked with that literally drank themselves to death. He was a good guy, quiet with a good sense of humor. He drove a Valiant too, although it was newer, and the trunk wasn’t rusted out on it. If he ever got something embarrassing on someone, he’d get a lot of mileage out of it and would make sure everyone knew about it. My dad liked Pratt and I did too, although he and Dad threw a lot of beer cans out of the car on the drives home in the evening. Pratt claimed to be providing work for the kids the state hired in the summer to pick up along the highways.
Dad always liked to get to work early, so although we didn’t start work until 7:30, we were usually there before 7 am. This meant that I had to get up a little after 5 in order to make coffee, eat, take a dump, and meet them by 6. My stomach never did adapt to getting up that early, and I’d drink a lot of coffee to help wake up before leaving the house—particularly if I was driving. And my stomach always rumbled all the way to work from the coffee and the early hour.
This morning the rumbling was particularly bad. Dad didn’t work that day for some reason, so I picked up Pratt, and we started down Route 50. The first 30 miles were four-lane and passed quickly, but my stomach was really rumbling, and cramping to boot—I knew I was going to have to stop somewhere and go to the toilet. I knew all the places along the route that were open that early—there were three or four because there were probably a thousand guys or so coming from that direction headed for Willow Island. The first place was a Quaker State station at Pike, right after we got off the four-lane. I kept telling myself “I can make it to Pike” and I did. But when I got there I didn’t stop. The rumbling had died down, and I said “I can make it to the little store” (about eight miles away). And I did although the rumbling and cramping had started again. I was sweating and holding on tight to the wheel for a while but it subsided some by the time we got to the little store, so I said “I can make it to the Exxon station at the bottom of the hill in St. Marys” which was another four miles or so. Now none of this “I can make it” conversation was shared with Pratt, who was dozing in the passenger’s seat. In fact, he didn’t even know I had a problem.
The hill leading down into St. Mary’s is over a mile long and quite steep. It’s bringing you down to the Ohio River valley from the ridges on top of the hills above the Valley. Because it’s so steep and dangerous the speed limit drops down quickly—several trucks over the years have lost their brakes on it and men have died as their trucks ran away with them. I slowed down but knew I couldn’t go any farther than the Exxon station. We pulled into the lot right before seven, and the owner was just opening up. I ran inside, grabbed the key to the men’s room, which had an outside entrance, and ran around to it. At the door, the shit started. I got inside, pulled down my jeans without loosening my belt and finished. The pressure was gone, and I felt better, but it was a smelly mess. And then I discovered that the toilet paper roll was empty. The owner hadn’t had time to check it yet that morning. The only toilet paper was in the trash can that also hadn’t yet been emptied, where people had blown their noses and stuff on it and thrown it away. So I fished it out, used my handkerchief and cleaned up the best I could. I cut the bottom out of my skivvies, flushed it and threw the rest away. When I got back to the car, I told Pratt briefly what had happened and that I would take him on to work but that I was going back home. I knew he could catch a ride that evening. He said no, we’d just both go back home and we did.
I picked Pratt up the next morning as usual and he said “Barbara said she hoped we could get to work without one of us shitting ourselves today.” When we got there, the guys in my crew asked what happened since I had missed the day before. I could either lie or tell the truth and get laughed at, but I knew that Pratt would tell if I didn’t. So I just said “I shit myself and went back home.”