Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Brownout King

Shortly after my arrival in Bolivia as a Mormon missionary my companion told me about a legendary figure in the mission whose nickname was the Brownout King. If you look on Wikipedia or Webster then you'll be informed that a brownout is a period of reduced voltage of electricity caused especially by high demand and resulting in subnormal illumination. But this legend has nothing to do with electricity.

In our mission a brownout was when you crapped your pants. Needless to say, this is a little embarrassing. The Brownout King was an assistant to the mission president (AP or ape). In his former life he was a southern California surfer. It seems that in an unfortunate surfing accident he landed on the skag of his board and it went up his rectum and cut the sphincter muscle that keeps the brown stuff inside. Apparently this left him with less than perfect control and combined with the effect that Bolivia has on your gastrointestinal tract made him prone to brownouts. In one infamous episode he and his companion were sitting in the back of a packed microbus when the King announced that he needed to get off the bus NOW. But the crowd of people prevented the agitated gringo from even standing up. His struggles quickly ceased and he sat back down with a resigned look on his face as the bus miraculously emptied and his companion desparately tried to follow the crowd of people now eager to exit the bus and let the missionaries off. This was one of many such incidents that followed the Brownout King throughout his mission and gave him legendary status.

My companion swore that he'd drop his trousers in the middle of a busy street before he ever browned out. I agreed that that would be the preferred choice. Neither of us expected to ever be faced with that choice.

Fast forward a couple of months.

One pleasant evening we were out in our area visiting some families. Between appointments my companion announced he had to go to the bathroom. So we headed back to the home where we rented a room. By Bolivian standards this was a very nice middle-class home that was lived in by a very respectable Mormon woman and her extended family. I was informed when I was assigned to Obrajes that I should enjoy it because the rest of my mission would all be downhill. Anyway, my companion headed down the hill toward our home at a brisk pace. I knew he was really in trouble when he was nearly run-walking and then he suddenly froze like a soldier at attention. I could see his swedish knit pants get tighter as his butt cheeks clenched. After a few motionless, breathless moments he took off race-walking again chased by my laughter. This pattern of walk, freeze, walk, freeze continued at an increasing pace as the walking became less and the pauses became longer and more frequent. Finally, he momentarily froze and then broke into a dead sprint up the last hill to our house. When I caught up to him he was wiping his shoes off on the little patch of grass in front of the porch. By the entryway light I could see the crap covering the tops of his dress shoes and I couldn't stop laughing.

My amusement was only increased when we opened the door and discovered that the owner of the house was having a party and the entire downstairs was packed with dressed up ladies. They warmly greeted us as my companion side stepped into the room and scooted towards the stairs with his back up against the wall. The ladies didn't understand why I was smiling so broadly and then they got puzzled looks on their faces as they noticed the smell my companion was leaving behind as he inched past them. He made it to the stairs, turned, and dashed up to the bathroom to clean up the mess. When faced with the critical decision of run or drop trow, he'd blinked and added to the Bolivian mission lore. I renewed my vow to never let the same thing happen to me.

Fast forward again. As predicted, my home in Obrajes was the pinnacle of my missionary apartments and it all went downhill after that. It was September and I was assigned to Munaypata. Our apartment was over the hill from our area so we didn't have access to a restroom except in the morning and evening and during lunch. If we got in a pinch we could go to the church in our area. Most of the adobe homes in our area lacked indoor plumbing and a hillside in the middle of the area served as the communal public toilet. Even the restroom at the church left something to be desired. It had no running water and was simply a closet with a hole in the middle of the floor. You squatted over the hole, did your business, and then washed it down with a #10 can of water. Toilet paper was disposed of in a cardboard box so you didn't plug up the works. Suffice it to say that bathroom facilities were limited.

One dark night we were headed from our apartment to the church for a meeting. About halfway there I needed to go. I started the walk/freeze cycle much to the amusement of my greenie Bolivian companion. I was sure I could make it, but as the bulwarks were beginning to breach I jumped off the trail, dropped my trousers, and started hunting through my knapsack for a missionary tract to wipe with. "The First Vision"? No, what would people think if they came across a poop smeared copy of the visit of God and Jesus to Joseph Smith? I hunted and think I finally selected "Meet the Mormons" as the tool of choice. A few pages of reading material later and we were on our way and were only a few minutes late. So, I passed the test. With only a couple of footnotes, I managed to survive without browning out.

The footnote occurred during my bout with typhoid. I made it to the toilet the first time. It was close, but that pretty much emptied everything. After that I made it to our bedroom door before the floodgates let loose. To my semi-relief it was just green gastric juice. The next time I only managed to sit up before it hit. After that I just stayed in bed and waited for the good doctor to show up to administer IVs and antibiotics. But that doesn't count. It wasn't brown. It was green dammit and green doesn't count as a brownout.


La said...

K, the Bolivia stories from you and JLO are getting GROSS!!!

The very sad thing is that these are all stories that my family would be discussing at mom's dinner table. Oh, how you'd fit in at our house... :)

Bull said...

Why do you think my wife prohibits me from telling missionary stories in public? I have sooooo many more...

Joseph's Left One said...

Wow, that one grossed even me out. I never used pamphlets, however. Just money.

Michelle Allred said...

As I fondly recall, the first time I heard these brownout stories, it was at the dinner table!! Still, they never stop being hilarious. My sides ache right now. On a not-so-funny note, my soon to be 5 year old has sphincter control issues, with no cool surfing accident to blame!