Last week, I’m taking a shit and get this recovered memory. It’s like a life lesson: repetition is the soul of disaster.
Because pilots make frequent landings, a special warning light is installed in many cockpits, this to remind pilots to lower the landing gear. Everyone makes mistakes that are the product of repetitive activity. Like twice a year, I forget to put on my parking break.
So I’m taking a shit, and I flashback to The Nam. 1970. The 4th Infantry, the Central Highlands. An Khe, to be exact.
I knew this guy named something with a D, Dubinsky I think. From somewhere in New York City. He was the company Shit Burner. That was his only job. Burning shit. Because it was such an onerous job, he was relieved of all other duty. It was a kind of deal he made. No guard duty. No patrols. No KP. Nothing. Except burning shit.
Everyone understood why he was high all the time, why he was always drunk, why he was friendless. It was boring, God-awful and needed to be done every day. So burn shit he did.
We had two shitters in the company area. A one-holer for sergeants and officers, and a five-holer for the proletariat. The way these shitters worked was that they looked like a standard outhouse. Except that there was no deep hole in the earth beneath them. Underneath each seat, there was half of a 55 gallon drum into which the shit and piss dropped. Once a day, Dubinsky comes with a can of gasoline, pulls out the drum from the back of the outhouse, pours in the gas, stirs, lights a match, burns the shit and piss. Every single day, 365 days, Dubinsky burning shit behind the shitter.
For this, he got no medals, no rank. And I presume no brag when asked, “What did you do in the war?”
But he’s got this story.
So Sgt. Giltner needs to take a shit. He heads for the one-holer. As does Dubinsky minutes later.
Now Dubinsky wants to make it quick. So he pulls out the shit can, throws in the gasoline, fires it up. But he does this so often that he gets his rhythm off. He inadvertently skips a step, and pushes the shit can back into its customary place in the shitter.
The way Giltner tells it, he goes to take a crap, pulls down his pants, squats, and he’s engulfed in flames from asscrack to gonad.
Burned down the entire crapper.
Gilter is OK, except for the blister and all the hair burnt off his scrotum. I don’t think he took another shit until the Carter Administration. Dubinsky gets nothing for punishment. What can they do? Send him to Nam and make him burn shit?
But it’s a life lesson nonetheless.
John Samuel Tieman's chapbook, A Concise Biography Of Original Sin, is published by BkMk Press. His poetry has appeared in The Americas Review, The Caribbean Quarterly, The Iowa Review, and River Styx. A teacher in the St. Louis Public Schools, Tieman is also a widely published essayist.