By Andrew Ramirez
I think it was Hemingway who said that all good writers need a built-in, shockproof bullshit detector. I wonder what he meant by that. Maybe he meant all writers need it because half the time they’re the ones bullshitting, and it’s good to smell what you’re saying sometimes. Or maybe he said it because he himself was bullshitting at that exact moment in time, and he thought it’d be funny to play a little trick. I don’t know.
Either way, all that quote does is remind me how bad my built-in, shockproof BS detector is. Then it gets me wondering if it’s so bad because I’m just too full of shit.
Like this one time when I attended a music festival in the desert in one hundred and ten degree weather and my friends and I took more wine than water.
My friend was leaning on the conveyor belt in the checkout line, using his finger to count the boxes of Chablis. “Maybe we should take some juice or something too.”
“Or water,” another friend said. “More water. It’s going to be blazing.”
“Relax. We’re from the desert,” I reminded them. “We’re Texans. We were born with sand in our blood. We’ll be fine.
“We’re like three cacti,” I said. “We’ve got enough water pumping in our veins to last us at least 48 hours.”
“I thought you said we had sand in our blood?”
“Well. Water and sand,” I said.
“Only if they mix I guess.” I thought about it. “Don’t worry. They won’t mix.”
“So water, sand, and blood?”
“Sure,” I said. “Three walking cacti.” I was kind of hoping the whole thing would get dropped. I pretended to be thoughtful and buried my face in an US Weekly magazine.
My other friend said, “Water, sand, and blood. But cactuses don’t have sand and blood. Just water.”
“Jesus. Okay. We’re camels. Three camels. How’s that? Blood and water. Don’t tear my head off over this.”
I hate to admit it, but there are rules stuffed into every corner of growing up—even the parts that aren’t supposed to have rules, like learning how to fall down and get back up with as much dignity as possible. Like when I became severely dehydrated on the second day of the music festival, lost my vision, and pitched forward into the dirt. A portly girl nursed me back to health and let me have the second half of her water bottle. She even let me lean up against her as I regained sight and dripped sweat all over her. I was too embarrassed to say anything to her.
She said, “You fell pretty hard.”
When I felt better, I stumbled back over to my friends and tried to pretend like nothing had happened. I didn’t say a word to the girl who had given me water.
But my friends couldn’t stop cracking up, like I had died and been resurrected but with the Seinfeld theme song playing the whole time.
“What if that girl wasn’t there,” I said to them later on that night. “I would have been trampled to death. Maybe kidnapped!”
“But you said you were a cactus,” they all laughed. “Cactuses don’t fall over unless they get cut down. And they never get kidnapped.”
“Cacti do fall over,” I said. “Especially when they’re hacked down with axes by their best friends!” When I had fainted, I was hoping I’d see my whole life flash before my eyes but mostly I just remember falling down and not being able to break my fall.
“No no no” another friend laughed. “Camels. You said we were goddamn camels with all the water and blood we had stored in our veins. We figured when you fell, you were just joking around, you know, like when camels joke around.” They all cut up in laughter louder than I could take.
“Listen,” I said. “I ought to go leave you dicks and go sit with that girl who saved my life.”
“You should marry her,” they all said. “And on your wedding night, after you’ve passed out, she can carry your ass to the honey moon suite.”
They way I like to see it—I’m supposed to be the one making jokes. But nothing’s etched in stone and it’s not like passing out enlightens you or anything. It just means you have to make all that dirt stuck on your face look good after you’ve regained consciousness and drank down someone else’s water.
One of my friends wondered aloud: “Sand and blood and water—what does that make when it’s all mixed together?”
I said, “Here’s the thing. When you pass out—it’s a lot cooler than you’d think. It’s not like you just black out and wake up. No way. First your vision goes all black and white, like an old movie, and then the sounds get deep and crunchy and all of a sudden you’re falling—not like when you fall from the top bunk or anything—but falling like you fall from an airplane or a building that’s two thousand stories high. You’re suspended in air. The whole way down you’re weightless, kind of like a split between flying and floating on water.”
It’s an ancient, million-year-old riddle, kind of like the chicken or the egg: which came first, the English major or a big steaming pile of bullshit?
“Did any of you see that Jodie Foster movie, Contact?” I said. “Well it’s like that—like when she’s falling in that metal sphere, and all she does is fall for two seconds but in her head she’s gone for like an hour, to some extraterrestrial beach where she stares at a sky full of stars and even gets to chit chat with an alien that’s wearing her dead dad’s skin. That’s what it’s like,” I said, kind of biting my lip and trailing off. “Yeah,” I said. “Just like…that.”
What does a bullshit detector sound like anyway? Quiet like sonar? Or does it blare like a red alert?
My friends were speechless—out of astonishment or embarrassment or sympathy, I had no idea. I didn’t want to know either. It didn’t matter, we still didn’t have any water. I decided in the morning I’d put some water in a gallon jug and tie it to a belt loop or something. It had gotten dark in the desert and we would be leaving for home in a few days. It was cool now but it’d be hot again tomorrow. In the morning, I wouldn’t drink a drop of Chablis. In the morning, I’d wake up and try to find the spot where I’d fallen. You know how serial killers are supposed to return to the scene of the crime? Well, I’d sit down right there and listen to music, be quiet for a little while. Maybe that big girl with the round face would come back to the scene of the rescue. Plus, I hadn’t said thank you. Maybe it was better not to say anything once in a while. Either way, I wanted to at least say I was sorry about all that.