Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Turtles and Toobs

You know, upon rereading this story (which I wrote several years ago), it occurs to me that I forgot a big chunk in the middle, in which we had to figure out a way for Bob to use the bathroom despite the fact that he couldn't get his swim trunks off because there was a snapping turtle hanging onto his ass.

Now that I reconsider this, perhaps it's just as well that I left that part out...


Toobin' is not without its hazards.

In the San Marcos river, in particular, you had to keep an eye peeled for turtles. MOST turtles, the box turtles and softshells, were no big deal... but when you saw a trail of bubbles headed your way, it was wise to hoist your butt out of the water, just in case.

Friend of mine... call him Bob... didn't, once. Quite a while back.

We were sailing down the San Marcos river, high summer, having a fine time, when the Troll called out, "Butts in the air!"

I glanced over. Sure enough, a bubble trail was moving lazily towards us. I tossed back the remainder of my beer and braced my hands and feet on the edges of the toob, and hoisted my butt clear. So did Bobo and Crazy Jane.

Not Bob. "Man, that's lame. Nobody ever gets bit by turtles."

"We don't get bit by turtles because we hoist our BUTTS in the air, Bob," said Bobo. "You're taking your ass in your own hands, here, so to speak."

"I saw a guy get bit by a turtle, once, Bob," said Crazy Jane. "You really oughtta give that turtle some room."

"Yeah, right," said Bob, still very relaxed, beer in hand. "How many snappers ARE there in this river, anyway? It's probably just aAAAAAAAAAAARRRGH!!!"

...and Bob erupted from the water, straight up out of the tube, furiously whacking at the turtle on his ass with both hands. I ducked to avoid his flung beer, and then thought better of it, caught it (and fell back into my tube with a splash), and drank it. After all, there was no turtle to worry about now, and why waste a perfectly good beer?

Bob, still howling, furiously thrashed around towards shore, toob forgotten. I hooked it with one arm and began kicking towards shore myself. Everyone else had jumped from their toobs and were towing them rapidly to the river bank.

Once on shore, we pondered what to do. Bob's turtle was a snapper, not too big -- maybe fourteen inches from nose to tail -- but weighing several pounds, and with its beak firmly clamped on Bob's ass. Once a snapper bites down on something, they are remarkably disinclined to let go, no matter WHAT you do. This snapping turtle was typical, and seemed perfectly content to hang on and wait for Bob to die of old age, so the turtle could finish eating him.

We tried prying it off. This did nothing, and had Bob screaming his ass off, so to speak.

We tried beating the crap out of the turtle. The turtle ignored us. We couldn't really hit the turtle effectively, anyway -- any really good swing with a stick, you had to be careful not to hit Bob, which meant the blow would hit the turtle's shell. You made a point of aiming for the turtle's HEAD, you had to be VERY careful, so as not to hit Bob, which meant the blow was too SOFT, and bothered the turtle not at all.

It did, however, finish the job of breaking the skin. Bob's butt began to bleed.

We pondered what else to do. Bobo remarked that he had a jack handle in his car. Perhaps we could stick a jack handle between the creature's jaws and pry his beak open long enough to let Bob escape?

"And when the turtle's mouth is empty, he bites WHAT?" said Crazy Jane.

"The closest thing at hand," I said. "The jack handle. Is it fairly long?"

"Three feet, solid steel," he said. "Worst that can happen is we'll have to abandon the jack handle because we can't get the turtle off of IT."

"Oh, we can get him off the jack handle," remarked Troll, flexing his mighty biceps and cracking his large knuckles. "All I have to do is swing that sucker against a tree a few times. Turtle will let go... one way or another." About then, he looked speculatively at Bob. "You know, that same trick might work right NOW, if--"

"Fuck YOU!" wailed Bob.

We hiked back to the cars. Fortunately, we hadn't been in the river that long, and we'd gone round a bend, so we were less than half a mile from where we'd parked. We did get some rather odd looks, though, from other people out and about that fine August day, because Bob complained that it hurt, walking, because he had a hole in his ass with several pounds of turtle hanging off of it, and the damn turtle not only hurt there, but would kick him with its rear claws every time it swung close enough to hit the backs of his legs.

I finally took pity on Bob and grabbed the turtle's tail. The turtle wasn't happy, and tried to claw me as well, but couldn't reach. So I walked behind Bob, holding the turtle's tail, while the turtle held Bob's, which no doubt struck many of our fellow parkgoers as a damn peculiar sight indeed.

We got back to the parking and picnic area with no incident, though. The turtle was still firmly clamped in place. Bobo went to his truck and got a jack handle. He hadn't exaggerated about the size, either... the thing was as big as a crowbar. With some care, we tried to get the chisel-tip end into the turtle's mouth.

After a few tries, some hissing on the part of the turtle, and at least one mishap that resulted in Bobo accidentally almost shoving the thing up Bob's butt, we managed to get it into place... and Bobo carefully levered...

...and the handle popped out of the turtle's mouth. Due to the way the turtle was hanging, between Bob's ass and my hand, there was no way to get any leverage. We would have to set the turtle DOWN on something. So we moved over to a picnic table, had Bob carefully rest at one end, and put the turtle down on the tabletop.

The turtle promptly stood up and tried to run away. This attempt failed, largely because he attempted to take Bob's ass with him. That didn't keep him from hissing like a teapot, and furiously trying to go about six ways at once, with his little clawed feet kicking every whichaway.

The turtle, that is, not Bob.

We tried holding the turtle down, but he wasn't having any of that, and every one of us was thinking, "If this turtle DOES decide to let go of Bob, who's going to be next in line and most convenient, and do I really want my fingers this close to a snapping turtle's face?"

And so, with all of us rather nervously not really holding the turtle still at all, Bobo set the chisel end in place again, and tried to pry the turtle's jaws loose again.

The chiselblade popped out again.

We tried twice more, and gave up. Bobo noted that IF the damn turtle would hold still... OR if he could get the chiselblade in a little deeper... he could manage it. But not THIS way.

Bob didn't quite start crying.

"Hey, WAIT a minute!" shouted Troll. He immediately ran away, charging at a group of picnickers, who regarded this huge Nordic sasquatch in Hawaiian-print swimtrunks' approach with some alarm. He spoke to them briefly. They showed some relief. He pointed at us. They looked at us. One woman brought her hand to her mouth, in alarm, upon seeing Bob's new appendage. They all nodded at Troll, who came back with a bottle of charcoal lighter fluid.

"No problem," said the Troll. "We move over to one of the barbecues, right? We put the turtle in the firebox, and we soak him down with lighter fluid. We light him the hell up, and the second he lets go of Bob, we haul ass!"

Bob looked as if someone had suggested amputation. "No WAY!" he cried. "What if my ASS catches fire? Man, that was bad enough LAST TIME!"

"And there is no guarantee that the turtle will actually let go, even when ignited," said Crazy Jane, analytically. "Snapping turtles are notoriously stupid, and legendarily stubborn. I would think that the only thing worse than having a turtle on your ass is having a BURNING turtle on your ass."

Bob whimpered.

About then, I had a minor epiphany. "Wait a minute," I said. "Gimme the lighter fluid. Bobo, get the jackhandle ready."

"What're you going to do?" asked Jane.

"YOU ARE NOT SETTING MY ASS ON FIRE!!!" screamed Bob, loud enough that heads glanced up all OVER the park.

"I'm not setting anything on fire," I said. "I'm just gonna give Mr. Turtle a reason to spit out what he's got in his mouth, that's all." I popped the little nozzle in the cap open. It was designed to spew a fine stream of lighter fluid. It occurred to me it would fit nicely into that little gap that Bobo had been trying to pry open... and I indicated so to my companions.

Everyone nodded. It certainly was no worse than anything else we'd tried. Bob braced himself. Troll grabbed a branch, and stood ready with Bobo, who was still armed with his jackhandle. Crazy Jane grabbed Bob's hands, ready to yank him clear if the turtle did let go.

I pondered for a minute exactly who was likely to get whacked upside the head with a branch or jackhandle, and considered the likelihood that BOTH of them might accidentally strike me while the turtle launched itself savagely at my crotch.

I will admit to a moment's hesitation.

"'Ya ready?" asked Bob.

"Okay... stand by," I said, uncertainly. I upended the bottle and squirted a healthy jolt of charcoal lighter fluid into the turtle's mouth.

The effect was galvanic. The turtle leaped back several inches, IMMEDIATELY having let go of Bob's ass.

It stared at me with naked reptile hatred, and HISSED.

My blood ran cold. I immediately dropped the bottle of lighter fluid and covered my crotch with both hands.

The Troll levered me aside (actually, he accidentally threw me several feet -- that's the Troll for you), and swung his branch down with mighty force.

He missed the turtle, but he did break one of the boards comprising the picnic table's top.

The turtle scuttled backwards.

Alarmed, Bobo swung his mighty jackhandle, missing the turtle completely, but breaking Troll's branch rather neatly.

The turtle scuttled backwards, fell off the table, and landed on the pavement.

Upside down.


"Le'GO of me, Jane," snarled Bob, struggling with her. "I'm gonna kick that goddamn turtle clear to fucking BALTIMORE!"

"NO, dammit," she said, refusing to let go. "That turtle is going to bite your damn foot off, and that's assuming you don't break a toe kicking him. Let him be."

Bobo and the Troll dropped into crouches, and sidled briskly around the picnic table, clutching their weapons, like special forces commandos in Ocean Pacific beach gear. The turtle was trying to right itself. Given time, it probably would.

Bob began chasing himself in a little circle, head craned over his shoulder, trying to see what his punctured butt looked like

And Troll had an idea. "Le'me use that a minute?" he asked Bobo. Bobo gave him the tire iron.

"FORE!" screamed the Troll, who drove that turtle in a manner that would have done Arnold Palmer proud. The tire iron rang like a bell.

The turtle spun through the air, bounced once, and fell into the river. The iron had struck his shell, and probably not injured the turtle, but I suspect he was dizzy as hell when he finally hit the river bottom.

"Troll, you ASSHOLE!" said Crazy Jane. She ran towards the river. "SNAPPER!" she cried. "SNAPPING TURTLE! IN THE WATER!"

...and all over the river, people erupted out of the water. I didn't see the point. The turtle HAD to be at least stunned, and even if he wasn't, he was in no shape to go chasing anyone, as dizzy as he had to be from his recent flight.

I got up. Down by the river, people were leaping out of the water, looking around. "Where? WHERE?" some were saying.

"I think maybe we should leave, now," I said.

"Yeah, good point," said the Troll, who had begun to sidle towards his car. I took a moment to return the nice people's charcoal starter fluid, and we leaped into our vehicles and left. Well, almost. We had to arrange Bob in such a way that his butt didn't touch anything; it was apparently still fairly sore, and he was howling about turtle germs and I had to tell him three separate times that turtles couldn't give anyone rabies.

He wound up not needing to go to the emergency room. It was actually a fairly shallow wound, and it healed fine without stitches, although he was pretty compulsive about disinfectants for quite some time after that.

But to this day, he has a triangular scar on his left butt cheek. Years later, at his wedding, I found myself idly wondering how he explained that one to his wife...

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