Dave and I piloted his pudgy sloop through a too-big-to-fail bank of fog. Maritime fog, for those of you fortunate enough to have only met the terrestrial sort, is particularly disorienting. Thick enough, it blots out the sun, silences all but the creaks and moans of the rigging, and brings a chill of dread to even the saltiest sailor. Maritime fog is an even blanket, compared to its clumpy terrestrial duvet cousin. Maritime fog shrouds uniformly, and when it burns off, it teases by fleeing from the top down, keeping deadly shoals obscured even as blue skies vomit their obscene giddiness onto the waves. The claustrophobia of fog provides an excellent excuse to wander the realms of memory. Dave took me on such a tour.
“Do you like pranks, Sam?”
“Pranks?” I had my feet set wide, wary of the dew-slick hull.
“Pranks. You know, like cellophane over the toilet bowl or shaving cream and a feather. Pranks.”
“I can’t say I’m a fan, Dave.”
He leaned back and planted a wooly foot against the ship’s wheel. “Nor I. But there’s this one that I can’t help but think of this morning.”
I let the boat roll under my feet, unconsciously pivoting at the waist and ankles, keeping my head fixed the way a chicken does when you hold it aloft. “Do tell.”
“When I was in, let’s see” He tapped his gray-clad foot with a dull thud against the teak. “I suppose it was sixth or seventh grade maybe.” He had tilted his head back. I could have sworn I saw more silver in his beard than when we left Roche Harbor a few scant weeks prior. “There was this kid in our class. Jeremy Something-or-other. Rhinelord or something. Hoity-toity name, and he acted like it. You know the type. Little Lord Fauntleroy.”
I did know the type, and grunted my familiarity.
“This other kid Jake Pillock just hated him.”
“That’s an interesting surname.”
“It was a long time ago. I’m improvising here. Bear with me.”
“Please continue.” I could still feel the menacing hum of the deep reverberating through the hull in the soles of my topsider loafers.
“Jake comes up with this idea to get Jeremy to eat shit.”
“What, like fall off his bicycle or something?”
“No, like literally. Take a bite of feces, chew it up, and–ideally–swallow it.” He grinned broadly.
“Seems sensible” I drawled. “What was his plan?”
“Well, here’s the thing about getting someone to eat a turd.” He paused for a second, then corrected himself. “No, not ‘a’ turd. ‘Your’ turd. Jake wanted Jeremy to eat his turd. Handcrafted, if you will.” The grin refused to leave his face even briefly. “The thing about getting someone to eat your turd, the one you yourself produced, is not as easy as just handing it to him and asking politely.”
“I would guess not.”
“His plan was fairly elaborate. He started with the research phase. He went around to all the grocery stores, bodegas, and the one candy shop in town buying all the candy bars he could lay his hands on. He opened them all for inspection, slowly eliminating candidates based on density, filling, aroma, that sort of stuff.”
“The plan was to disguise his turd as a candy bar?”
“That was the overall plan, yes.”
“I can already detect some shortcomings with this approach.”
Dave pressed on with his story, ignoring my skepticism. “After careful review, he settled on a Guatemalan confection. It was a medium density, firm, aerated, pressed chocolate fondant dotted with raisins. I’d never heard of the brand before, and I haven’t seen one since.”
“Probably wise to go with something obscure, I suppose.” I was beginning to see the internal logic of his made-up tale.
“Exactly. Every American kid knows exactly what a Milky Way looks and feels like.”
“And smells like” I added.
“Be patient. I’m getting to that part.” His eyes glinted. “The first step was getting the shape right. You can’t just mold a slab of sewer trout with your bare hands and expect perfection.”
I closed my eyes, grateful for calm waters for a change. “I accept this claim without supporting evidence.”
“He did this three-step cold molding process. First with some agar-silicone stuff, then plaster, and finally a hard resin negative mold. Jack had himself a perfect imprint of that Guatemalan candy bar. All by himself. Hell of a project for an eleven year old.” I could hear genuine admiration in Dave’s voice.
“A great day for humanity.” I was caught halfway between grudging admiration for Dave’s gross-out storytelling ability and a twinge of revulsion for where I knew the story was headed.
“The next step was to produce the appropriate raw material for the substitute bar.”
“It involved weeks of Jake fine-tuning his diet. He wanted to produce a dark cake, low on moisture, few esters, no sulfur, that sort of thing. If I recall correctly, he found luck with citrus fruit and raw grains, pottage. That sort of thing. Poi.”
“That’s a curious use of the word ‘luck’ there, Dave.”
He bounced a fist off his knee as he nodded. “The trick is, if I understand the microbiology, to avoid the wrong kind of anaerobic bacteria metabolism. You need some for ordinary digestion, but there’s a whole stew of different gut bacteria in there. Feed the right ones, and you’ll get something fairly dense and not at all smelly on the other end. Trial, error, and a whole lot of patience worked wonders.”
“Again, I question your use of rhetoric, my friend.”
“Preparation was a matter of diligence. He leavened the bog loaf with twenty three raisins.”
I interrupted. “Twenty three? That’s awfully specific.”
“Apparently, it’s an important number for rituals. Hermetic Qabalah something something something. I don’t know much about it, but he made a big deal about it having to be twenty three raisins.”
“I know someone who’d find this story fascinating.”
“Yeah? I’d like to meet him.”
“Her then. Anyway, twenty three raisins some chocolate flavoring, and a trip through the press mold later, he needed to spray on a little shellac to give it a glossy finish and smuggle it into the wrapper.”
“Sounds easy enough.”
“You’d think so, but the seams on candy bar wrappers are actually heat welded. It isn’t like a paper envelope you can just steam open and then glue shut. You need a different technique.”
The gloom of the fog was unrelenting. I peered intently into the water just off the bow. “So what was the technique?”
“Pinch and pull. Pinch and pull as slowly as you can. Hope the plastic doesn’t tear. If you’ve done it right, you can slide the real bar out and the fake one in. Then you need an adhesive that will mimic the heat welding process as much as possible. I think he settled on a quick-acting two-part epoxy. It set fast, and it was just as flexible as the plastic. Still, he didn’t want to rely on that part for the deception, so he just did the best he could and hoped to make up the difference with the con.”
“How do you mean?”
“To get someone to eat your shit, you need to be an effective salesman. You need to make a solid pitch, and you need your mark to think it’s his idea. This is basic stuff, Sam.”
“I suppose so. I’m not a con man.”
“I didn’t take you for one. Still, you’ve seen movies before, right? Diggstown, Matchstick Men, The Sting. You know, the classics. You’ve seen those, right?”
“Sure.” I remember watching movies once upon a time. I remember big cinema screens and canned music. I remember.
“So you can’t just offer your enemy a candy bar out of the blue and expect him to take a big ol’ bite, even if it appears to be in the original wrapper.”
“Okay” I was wary of where the story was headed.
“He needed to really sell it. So he came up with this ornate patter to convince Jeremy that in order to make amends for past conflicts that he’d share with him this new fancy imported candy bar that he’d found.”
“Sounds like a flimsy story.”
“It was. That was the problem. He was eleven at the time. He first overprepared by basically writing a rote speech and then compounded his error by giving it a bad pretext. That’s where it started to go wrong.”
“Jake delivered his speech, offered the bar to Jeremy, and seemed surprised when Jeremy didn’t take him up on his peace offering. Jake’s delivery was unnatural, forced. Despite all his practicing, he just wasn’t a good enough actor to pull it off.”
“So what did he do?”
“He did what he had to do to get his enemy to eat his butt muffin. With a flourish, he opened the wrapper, took a big whiff up close to his nose, smiled satisfactorily, and offered it again to Jeremy, informing him of the raisin treats awaiting inside.”
“Did it work?” I immediately regretted allowing my curiosity rein.
“Nope. Not yet. He hesitated a little, then broke a piece off for himself.”
“Oh God, no.”
“And with a gently trembling hand.”
“No no no no nope. Stop Dave.”
“He put it in his mouth.”
“Jesus Lord Christ no.”
“And began to chew.”
“Why in the name of all that is holy are you doing this, Dave?”
“That did it. Jeremy took the remainder of the bar and also took a bite and began to chew.”
“I both hate and pity you right now, Dave.”
An irritated voice floated up from belowdecks. “Don’t be a stupid American. In East Europe everyone knows that if you want someone to eat your shit, you have to first be willing to take a bite yourself. Grow up.”
The fog finally lifted. We could see the outline of the Deception Pass bridge. Almost there.