Peggy’s first adventure with bears occurred while camped in the Arizona desert (the place was named the Coronado National Forest because of its ten-foot tall trees). Our camper consisted of a bear-defeating aluminum canopy mounted on the bed of a pristine white ’73 Datsun truck named Lolita. I so loved Lolita that I at least sponge-bathed her daily when we were away, including the engine compartment. Such compulsion is burdensome, but I couldn’t imagine driving down the road in a truck that wasn’t sufficiently clean for surgery. Peggy later complained that our photo album contained more pictures of Lolita than of her. This was true, but it was also true that I hadn’t followed-up on my plan to put a wedding ring on Lolita’s cute little distributor cable, and that the only presents I had given her were things like spark plugs and oil filters that Peggy didn’t care for anyway. To make a long story less long…
There we were, in the middle of the night, camped sixty miles from the Old West town of Tombstone, when my young bride suddenly and inexplicably announced that she had to “tinkle.” The park service had thoughtfully provided an outhouse for such troublemakers, but between us and it gamboled a large flock of feisty bears who were pursuing their hobby of emptying garbage cans and demolishing coolers. As Readers’ Digest regularly reminded its readers, what bears most enjoy doing is killing attractive young women—a description that still fits Peggy perfectly despite her advanced years—by hiding in outhouses and ripping-off their arms, legs, and heads before working-up to serious damage.
Aside from sunny and safe Sunday afternoon outings to the Jackson, Mississippi, zoo where the bears are tastefully locked behind stout iron bars so that courageous adolescent boys can impress wide-eyed adolescent girls by taunting them (the bears, I mean), Peggy and I had never laid eyes on an actual, in-the-flesh bear. Worse yet, these Arizona bears were nothing like the Jackson zoo bears in that these bears were looking high and low for innocent young camperettes. What’s more, they had us surrounded, and the moonless night was every bit as dark as a moonless night.
Despite these unhappy statistics, Peggy remained grimly determined to pee. Such stubbornness represented a side to her that I hadn’t seen, and that troubled me greatly because, as I told myself, any woman who becomes this stubborn over a trivial matter like peeing would be capable of committing any manner of faux pas in the face of something important.
Having nothing better to do at the moment, I decided to approach Peggy’s problem through the application of intelligent thought. Specifically, I thought about the following: (a) Our bed occupied the entire interior of the camper; (b) The canopy roof was too low for Peggy to squat over a jar; (c) Peggy might find it impossible to pee safely and effectively within the confines of a space that rendered safe and effective peeing impossible; (d) The solution to Peggy’s problem lay in solving for X when X=a+b÷3.14-7. Because I had no idea how to solve for X, or what solving for X would even accomplish, I regrettably concluded that intelligent thought is a waste of time except when boiling popcorn.
However (and it was BIG however), I saw in a flash that the cerebration of the stupidest man who ever lived is so superior to that of the most brilliant woman (Peggy), that I had no choice but to cancel my subscription to Ms Magazine. “What are you talking about?” you ask. I am talking about how a man, any man, could, in three easy steps, solve a problem that had short-circuited the brain of the female genius who lay squirming at my side with yellow liquid sloshing against her teeth. Here are those steps: (a) raise the camper door (this is extremely important); (b) lie on one’s side; (c) pee through the open door!
Irrefutable though my reasoning was, I knew it would be ill-advised to share it with a member of a gender that becomes overcome by feelings of feminine inferiority in the face of male rationality, so I settled for suggesting to Peggy that she tell her bladder to stop whining until the bears had gone to bed. I shed a tear when she promised to do her best because, inadequate though her best would be, not even a man could do more than that. Unfortunately…
As time passed, Peggy’s moaning and squirming achieved the desperation of a sugar cube in boiling water. Between moans, we could hear the bears snickering as they awaited her emergence, but we could tell that some of them had moved to another part of the campground. It was then that a plan presented itself. Peggy said it was time for extreme measures, so she would get out of bed and pee by the back bumper while I stood lookout. “That doesn’t sound like much of a plan to my male brain,” I said, “but if it’s what you want, I’ll lie in bed and protect you,” To my dismay, she made the power-hungry argument that I could best protect her by getting out of the camper for a less obstructed view, and to be on hand to eviscerate criminally-disposed bears. I told her that she sounded arrogant, masculine, and shrill, and it was then that the air became pregnant with tension.
Peggy finally said that I could do as I pleased, but that if I stayed in bed, she too would stay in bed, and her side of the bed would most assuredly remain dry. Dry from what, I didn’t know, but her tone sounded ominous, so I offered to accompany her. We knew there were no bears behind the truck because there was no noise behind the truck, so I exited first—Peggy was insistent on this point—and chivalrously helped her to exit. Once on the ground, it was my job to stand beside her as I leaned from one side of the back of the truck to the other so that no bears could sneak-up on us.
As I was heroically occupied in doing my job, Peggy busied herself by keeping a bone-crushing grip on my calf while tinkling as fast as she could go. Simple though these tasks were, she performed them admirably, although I later found it necessary to chide her for bruising my shin and calf. I also took issue with the fact that she had peed on my foot. “How could this have happened?” you ask. It happened because I had been so dedicated to doing my job properly that I took no notice of Peggy’s failure to do the same, the result being that when warm liquid ran across my foot and made mud pies inside my dusty flip-flop, I didn’t immediately divine its source. The situation could have been worse, of course, had the bears found the odor so maddening that they charged us like Crazy Horse charged Custer.
What I learned about peeing that night was that, on the one hand, abject terror can make peeing impossibly unavoidable; on the other hand, it can make it unavoidably impossible. Such considerations notwithstanding, Peggy stuck to the task at hand. When she emerged victorious, I said that, in the interest of companionability, I too would pee, and that, in the interest of chivalry, she would guard me as I had guarded her. When she didn’t respond, I looked toward where she had been and found myself alone in a moonless wilderness.
I naturally concluded that bears had martyred my beloved, so imagine my dismay when I happened to glance into the camper and found that she was cleaning her facial pores with witch hazel. When I, too, had returned to our snug fortress, I respectfully inquired, “Had I been massacred, Dear, would you have pulled my corpse to safety or left it for the rangers to stumble upon while you toured the Grand Canyon?” Snores prevented her from answering, so I broached the subject again over breakfast, adding that she should have informed me of her proclivity for snoring before we were married, so I could have decided upon the advisability of a shared future. I also asked if she had withheld other fatal flaws, but I regretted my cruel words a moment later when her pretty face reflected the anguish of a sensitive soul who was too remorseful to speak. I have no idea why, but everyone else on earth mistakes the expression for boredom.
After moving to Oregon, Peggy and I camped every other week in pretty weather, staying out for 2-3 nights at a time in areas so remote that we seldom saw anyone (in Oregon, such places are easy to find). When sleeping in Lolita became uncomfortable for my beloved’s constantly aging joints, I magnanimously surprised her with a vintage 3/4 ton van with almost no dents and a high ground clearance for traversing rutted logging roads. On this occasion—as on many others—she was so overwhelmed by gratitude that she went through four stages of self-expression.
Stage 1: Peggy is unable to make a sound.
Stage 2: Peggy makes sounds resembling speech, but no one knows what they mean.
Stage 3: Peggy jokingly asks if I can get our money back.
Stage 4: Peggy jumps up and down in her characteristic happy dance; smiles her grimace-like smile; and pours out her gratitude with such playful teases as, “I hope you bought me a parachute so I won’t break a leg getting out of the _____ thing.” Many people claim that Peggy’s childlike humor is her most endearing quality, and that they hope to experience it someday.
By happy coincidence, Oregon’s black bear population abounds alongside salal, currants, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, salmonberries, huckleberries, and hazelnuts. On the joyful day in question, we were biking down an abandoned coastal logging road when I spotted three bear cubs not twenty feet away. I threw on brakes and exclaimed, “Sweetheart, bride of my youth, look, oh look, at the darling little bears!” I naturally interpreted her silence as the product of unspeakable delight, so imagine my dismay when I turned toward where she had been, and found that I had been speaking to a tree. I naturally assumed that a bear had eaten her and was busy accustoming myself to widowerhood when I chanced to see a woman who resembled my late wife receding into the distance as fast as her pretty legs could pedal her sexy red bike. Because I knew that Peggy would want me to love again, I set out after the mysterious “woman on red,” but a race horse couldn’t have caught her.
Some might say that Peggy, unlike her husband, behaved rationally given that mother bears tend to annihilate anything that comes near their cubs, trees included. I would respond that there is not a single record of a single black bear killing or injuring a single person to protect a single cub (although their predilection for human flesh often inspires them to peel people like bananas). What black bears are on record for doing is running rapidly away from their little ones at the merest hint of danger. Therefore, if you should someday sneeze while walking through the woods, you should immediately recite whatever prayer you remember (“God is great; God is good; let us thank God for our food” became favored by many after a news report claimed that no one who used it reported being killed by a bear) because you are in grave danger of being flattened by one or more fleeing bears...The image of a female abandoning her loved ones brings my thoughts back to Peggy.
“Why,” I demanded, when I finally found her cowering in her bedroom closet two days later, “did you abandon me to certain death?” “I didn’t abandon you,” she mumbled while staring at the floor. “Like you, I wanted to get all drippy while schmoozing with Pattington Bear’s mother, but because I love you, I gave up what I wanted in order to get help for you in case she turned out to be half grizzly.”
The realization that my wife held my physical prowess in such low esteem that she didn’t trust me to protect her from a buttress of brutal bruins hurt my feelings twenty times worse than had she proclaimed me a bear-destroyer par eccellenza, but I was too scared to tell her that, so I rhetorically asked, “My gentlest darling, was that really why you rode away as fast as your wrinkled legs could pedal your sexy red bike?” “How could you have doubted it?” she cooed. “After all, Snowie darling, you know what grizzlies are like because we almost saw a whole gaggle of them on that trail in Canada. If those hikers we met hadn’t told us that there were bears ahead, and if we hadn’t run to the car and stampeded back to Montana without even stopping at the border station, you would have shown those Canucks what you were made of, and it wouldn’t have been pretty.” “You’re right, my brown-eyed nymphet. If I hadn’t gotten homesick for the Home of the Brave, I might have pixillated every bear in Canada because I’m so intimidating that there are days when I don’t dare look at myself in the mirror.” It was here that she kissed my cheek. Most people mistake Peggy for a total hard-ass, but she can be half nice when she puts her whole heart into it.
Next time All About Peggy: Part 3: Peggy Abandons Me to a Flurry of Hawaiian Wolverines