I was hiking far from civilization -- so far that you couldn't see McDonald's -- when I got a call from the lower intestine. It wasn't a call so much as an emergency breakthrough. I could have run for the car, but it was a crapshoot.
I'm not big on doing my business alfresco. I don't even like to be without reading material. I'll read the towel care instructions if I have to.
The path dropped away in both directions, sagebrush and oak. I chose the shady side in case the gods were watching.
I had never been a Boy Scout. If Dad wanted to show me the great outdoors, he had to strap a TV to his back. So when I found a tree whose branch formed a perfect little toilet, oval and everything, I didn't consider that it might be crawling with poison oak whose leaves I would use to wipe my rear end.
Friends wonder if I'm dumb enough to collect disability.
In bed that night I scratched myself to shreds. Seriously, if I had a cheese grater, I would have used it. At some point a rational man would have turned on the light to investigate; I assumed mosquito bites. So it goes.
Morning revealed a trail of blood all the way from Knee Bend to the Groin Canyon. If you listened closely, you could hear the pimples say, "You idiot ... You idiot ..."
Poison oak burns like battery acid and will not be appeased by "ointments" or "showers." I tiptoed through the house in my sour-lemon face, trying not to stir the air, trying not to relive that moment when I could have plunked my butt down anywhere on earth but decided instead to seek out the Ring o' Death.
Here are the parts that escaped my scratching: scalp, eyeballs, lower back, right big toe. You will notice that genitalia is not on that list. As if that area weren't a train wreck to begin with.
The situation called for urgent medical attention, so I did what anyone with HMO does: I looked up the answers online. One site described a boy whose poison oak had spread to his brain and, as legend has it, became incredibly hungry for knowledge. No, no, no. He died in surgery.
My friend-in-need Yahaira rushed over for a look. She wasn't a doctor, but she had stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. When she saw the gurgling sores, she gave me a giant pretend hug. I had become the boy in the bubble.
We broke out rubbing alcohol, the scent of pain itself. When I was a boy, Mom doused everything with alcohol: scratches, bruises, smart-ass remarks. It didn't matter how much we thrashed; she was a rubbing alcoholic.
Yahaira took the same tough-love approach: dab and move, dab and move. Yahaira, who like Howard Hughes can see microbes with the naked eye, double-bagged my Levi's and carried them plutonium-like to the trash. She left me with another pretend hug and promised to call ... as soon as she told the story to everyone she knew. She may as well have published it in the paper.
It has been three days now. My legs itch like the world's gonna end, and you kinda wish it would. Guys who are on fire actually slow down to empathize. Why do governments fiddle with chemical weapons when poison oak is ever ready? I personally would convert race, religion, and gender before braving poison oak.
I like to think that everything on this planet has a purpose -- even Paris Hilton -- but maybe poison oak is just a plaything for demons who giggle amongst themselves as they spread it over tree toilets and wait for jackholes like me.
Parents: Teach your children about poison oak. Lecture them with PowerPoint; quiz them afterward. Remind them of your friend Jason, who can no longer give to the Sierra Club. And if all else fails, you can always resort to the two magic words: rubbing alcohol.