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  • Blowback


    My Mom took the wheel with Mike and I in the back seat and our baby brother Josh up front. It was a summer evening around 1959 - as we drove past miles of tall cornstalks - a sweet-smelling breeze rinsing through the Chevy as we made our way from Peoria, Illinois to Iowa City, Iowa. We were going to visit our cousins and Aunt and Uncle for the first time since they moved there.

    Maybe she was distracted by thoughts about her younger sister, or our dad, but when we stopped for gas, Mom forgot to insist that we all use the bathroom. She bought Mike and me each a small bottle of Coca Cola. Not long after I’d sucked down my last delightful swallow I asked her to stop at the next gas station so I could pee.

    Her angry response took me by surprise. “What are you talking about?! We just stopped not fifteen minutes ago. I’m not stopping again. We’re already behind schedule.”

    “But I have to pee Mom.”

    “Well, do it in the Coke bottle. You should have peed at the gas station when I told you to.”

    “But I didn’t have to then.”

    “Don’t tell me you didn’t have to. Use the bottle!”

    These were pre-seatbelt days so I could pretty much get down on my knees behind the front seat and reach under to fetch the Coke bottle where it had rolled. It seemed like a very strange thing she ordered me to do, but it did have an intriguing dimension. Peeing somewhere other than a toilet was always unexpected, appealing, and satisfying. The fit was no problem and peeing was a welcome relief. Mike was quiet throughout, not wanting to escalate Mom’s temper or get in its line of fire, but he was wide-eyed and interested in this new way to pee. I knew he was thinking about his own Coke bottle that he still held while rationing it sip by sweet sip. I managed to zip up without spilling any pee from the Coke bottle. Then I held it up so the moonlight could shine through the incongruous yellow. Mike was transfixed. Mom looked back, but her face was still all business.

    “Okay, now throw the bottle out.”

    That gave me pause. These were the days when PSA’s were on TV all the time teaching us not to be “litterbugs.” (Today, it seems bizarre that we would casually toss bags of fast food wrappers, overstuffed ashtrays, and empty bottles out the windows of our cars, trashing our own neighborhoods and highways. But, on the other hand, fifty years later we still spew pollution into the air we breathe like there's no tomorrow.)

    “Mom, I don’t want to be a ‘litterbug'. It’s wrong.”

    “I’ll give you 'litterbug' right where you don’t want it, if you don’t throw that bottle out. You’ll spill it way before we get to Iowa City. Toss it right now.”

    “I can hold it ‘til Iowa.”

    “Throw it out NOW!”

    Her voice had reached the decibel where Mike and I both knew that a spanking could be imminent. I rolled down my window all the way and I reached my arm out with the bottle. The wind was whooshing and the narrow highway was rushing below our car like a dark stream of water. The thought occurred to me that I could just pour the pee out on the road and bring the bottle back in. Everyone would be happy.

    I reached my arm out further and tipped the bottle down. The wind blew urine right back onto my face. There followed a couple of unpleasant, warm-wet, and confusing seconds of blowback. I dropped the bottle. I was a litterbug. Environmentalism would have to wait until I grew up more, or at least until they came out with the 2 cent deposit.
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