It was Long Beach, in July 2004, at the Holiday Inn. It was a comfortable hotel, very clean, and the room afforded plenty of space for four young men secure enough in their sexuality to see no wrong in sleeping two to a bed. If you’ve spent literally full days at that point crammed into an ‘89 Bonneville with three other guys, of course, it doesn’t take much for a given space to appear downright roomy by your perspective.
As you entered the room, to your right was a small alcove with a sink and vanity. Just beyond was the door to the shower and toilet. That door open outward, so as not to swing in and hit a person sitting on the toilet. It was a thoughtful design, but that night, as Scott showered and I brushed my teeth, I found its fatal flaw.
See, the gap between the door and the door jamb was just a little too wide. Not so wide you could see through it, but wide enough that the blade of a pocket knife could slip in and have room to work on the latch of the door. So, actually locking the bathroom door was more of a courtesy – a temporary encumbrance to let someone know that the space was occupied more so than any type of actual security measure.
Without giving the observation much thought, I finished brushing my teeth, casually slipped my knife in and jimmied the lock, opened the door, and tossed my plastic cup of ice water over the shower bar.
Scott yelped, and we all had a good laugh.
Unwittingly, however, I’d begun an arms race that would end in a cataclysm that we could not have foreseen when we embarked on our “Slap the Nation” adventure.
Bigger Boards, Bigger Nails
A day passed. Next in the shower was Cameron. Ice water was at hand, but the previous vessel seemed inadequate. A plastic cup has its place, but the room did come with an ice bucket that was just waiting to join the party.
We filled it with ice, then with water, and let it sit while Cameron bathed, doubtlessly dreaming of the strippers and hookers that awaited us in Vegas without much thought to poor Scott, who only hours earlier had stood in his same condition, cold, shivering and alone.
I jimmied the lock, and there we waited, posted by the door, listening for the shower to cut off. Timing was everything. We needed to get the chilled ice water over the curtain rod before the curtain opened and Cameron had space to dodge the onslaught of ice. The water stopped, the door flew open, and the ice water rained on our bleached-blonde friend.
Cameron squealed, and we all had a good laugh.
Knowing Your Victim
Third for assault was Joey. Joey hates beer. We made the mistake of buying beer we hated. Ice bucket, ice, and God-awful beer bought from the cheap liquor store around the corner from the hotel. Perfect.
The venue was different. We didn’t want to wait for Joey to shower; we wanted to get him while he was even more vulnerable than that. We waited until he was on the toilet.
We didn’t have to wait long.
The door swung open and we acquired our target. Joey looked at us with puppy-dog eyes, helpless and unassuming. In the blink of an eye, it was over. The grooves of grout along the tile floor became tributaries of bad beer flowing around islands of ice cubes. We thought the room stunk before we drenched him with beer, but there we left him, our poor Joey, good ol’ Joey, awash in beer and his own extremely unpleasant stink.
It was a terrible way to go… to the beach, which we did, like, a few minutes after we busted in on Joey.
Assaulting the Sasquatch
That I was next was not lost on me. It was my fate, set by my own foolish, extemporaneous endeavor to pull a fast one on a friend. I could still see the flimsy plastic cup, cloudily opaque and clanking dully from the ice within, leaving my hand. It turned so gracefully in the air then plummeted, like the nose of a Japanese Zero on a kamikaze dive, first aloft and angled skyward before plunging toward its destiny.
From that point, I knew that every nap, every crap, every second I went un-soaked in ice was borrowed time. Verily, the train was coming, and there I was, bound to the tracks by the ties of my own poor foresight, incapable of seeing how far it still had to go.
I had to shower, but I could shower smart. In the corner of the bathroom was a pile of dirty towels. I retrieved two of these and tied one end together. I then wrapped it over the shower curtain rod and the hook on the back of the bathroom door, and knotted the other end. I then took my dirty boxers and shoved them into the knot, first so that I would have a frame of reference for detecting movement, and second, so the first person to stick their head in the door would immediately get a face full of Tony funk. It was an awesome trap, given what I had to work with. The Vietcong would’ve been proud.
The only other defense mechanism I had was myself. Rotund, hairy – a body only a woman with poor eyesight could love, and even then only in the dark. If they made it through the trap – if the dirty boxers didn’t deter them and the towel-lock didn’t stop them – they would have me to deal with: hairy, wet, naked, and at peace with my commitment to tackle the first poor bastard who came through that door.
I’d but barely begun my shower when they came for me.
The doorknob wiggled. The door opened as far as the towel rope would allow. Cameron had point.
“It’s blocked,” I heard him to say.
“It’s blocked? By what?” someone asked.
“I don’t know – it looks like a towel and his underwear,” Cameron said, sounding uncertain. The psychological presence of the boxers was having its intended effect.
“Well, push,” someone said.
Push? Damn. I knew my trap wouldn’t withstand a, you know, shove. So, as Cameron put his shoulder into the door and barrelled through my defense, I put my Plan B into action, expecting to turn the tables.
Like so many other little ideas I’ve had, it didn’t go as planned.
I flung aside the curtain and threw one foot out of the tub. It hit the floor, and I began to crouch in a sumo wrestler stance. I yelled, “Yokozuma!” I don’t know what it meant, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. Over my man parts was but a washcloth. (It was a big hotel-grade washcloth, by the way, for those of you snickering right now. A BIG wash cloth.)
It was at that moment that friction failed me.
First, I saw my foot – the one I’d used to step out of the tub. It was no longer on the floor. It was almost at the same elevation as my head. That wasn’t supposed to happen. I then became aware of the feeling of freefall. The door, the walls, Cameron – everything was getting taller as I fell toward the floor. I saw movement, and looked up to see my washcloth, the only covering I had, as it twirled freely through the air.
Then I landed. The offending foot was behind the toilet. The other was still firmly planted in the bathtub. I was as wide open and exposed as a man can be. Someone screamed. I looked up to see Joey and Scott scrambling to climb over each other, both in full retreat.
Not Cameron. No. He was committed. He looked back at the Scott and Joey and the tangled clump of limbs they’d woven trying to be the first one out of sight of this unexpected, grotesque occurrence. Then Cameron looked at what he was holding.
The plastic cup and ice bucket had given way to the trashcan, filled full of ice and brimming with water, just as the bow and musket had given way to the thermonuclear missile.
Cameron looked once more at me, grimaced, then closed his eyes and steeled himself. This was his duty. The voice in his head reminded him of that sacred creed: “Go big or go home.” Just as my destiny was to be soaked in ice water, so his was to do the soaking. And he’d pulled out all the stops.
He lunged. The spray of ice and water cast a rainbow as they moved, in slow motion, through the air. I called my senses together and began barking orders to my wayward limbs. Feet, together! Hands, grab curtain! Body, duck behind the sheet of vinyl; it’s all that might save you!
Back on my feet, I wrapped myself in the curtain. The water rained down on my shoulders, but the bulk of the ice hit in the curtain and collected harmlessly in the bottom of the tub. Like a refugee rescued from a frozen river, I was wet and cold, yes, but I was alive.
The last thing I saw was the door slamming home as Cameron fled. My towel rope dangled uselessly from the curtain rod, still tied, still with my underwear crammed into the knot. At the end of the rope was the hook from the back of the door. It still had a chunk of the wood from the door attached to it.
Seeking again that familiar false sense of security, I locked the door. I turned the shower to hot, and washed away the ice until I had a place to stand and finish my shower.
It’s over, I told myself. Thank God. Now, there can be peace.
Peace was fleeting. The following morning, Joey told us how he awoke that night. Cameron, Joey’s bed buddy, was writhing in his sleep, mumbling. Then he screamed, and began to whimper. Joey woke him enough to calm down and go back to sleep.
One can only imagine what awful trauma Cameron was reliving that night. But we know sleep helps you store things in your long-term memory. It prevents you from forgetting. And since that day, Cameron’s smile has been a little less wide, his laugh a little less loud.
Of course, that could’ve just been the venereal disease we figure he got in Vegas.