|By: Paul S. Cilwa||Viewed: 2/22/2019
|Topics/Keywords: #AlienAbductions #GrandCanyon #WhitewaterRafting||Page Views: 3022|
|In case I needed reminding, some humans are far weirder than some aliens.|
The word that there was an alien abductee among the passengers spread rapidly. By the next morning, everyone seemed to know and they also seemed to know it was me. I was surrounded by expressions ranging from sympathy to simple disbelief to disgust.
One person who seemed more annoyed than anything else, was Judy, the large Spandex lady, as I learned when Liz and I rode with her in Mike's boat. (Judy was so large she took up the space of two passengers.) Judy took one look at me as I climbed into our raft, frowned, and announced in her adenoidal voice, "We will not be talking about alien abductions on this boat."
"Fine with me," I growled, still annoyed over being outed the previous evening.
Mike, our boatman, may have been the only person on the expedition who had no idea what she was talking about. "Alien abductions?" he said. "Really? Who?"
"Me," I admitted. "But let's talk about it another time. Let's talk about you. Where are you from?"
"Alaska," the young man answered promptly. He resembled Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, with a shock of dark hair, bright eyes and an open smile.
"I've been to Alaska," Judy announced. "I got stranded on a glacier." She sighed loudly. "Everything always happens to me."
"I've always wanted to visit Alaska," I said. "Have you been away from there long?" This was very pointedly directed to Mike. I had no issue with Judy's weight, of course; but her personality seriously rubbed me the wrong way.
"No, just flew down here to run this trip, in fact," Mike said, as he pushed the raft into the river and nimbly hopped in to take his place at the oars. "Two weeks ago I was running the Tatshenshini."
Liz sighed in admiration. "That must be a challenge," she said.
"It's a great river," Mike admitted. "Alaska is the only place I know where humans are in the middle of the food chain. But Grand Canyon is even more spectacular, as far as views go. That's why I love running it."
We joined the lazy string of rafts drifting down the mirror-smooth water, a sign that the river here was very deep. "So," Mike said to Liz, "tell me about yourself."
Liz explained that she was an editor for People magazine, as she had when she and I rode on Turtle's boat the first day. I gave my usual bio. Then Judy gave hers.
"Well, I work for the World Bank," she said. "I'm in charge of making transfers between subsidiary banks and I get paid commission, so I'm basically richer than God. I get to travel all over and I love it, even though the most awful things always happen to me."
"Like what?" Mike prompted, clearly aware that Judy was going to tell us whether he asked or not.
"I fell into a canal in Venice," Judy said. "Soaked to the skin, and I was wearing a silk Armani dress. And I had to have my stomach pumped. I told you about the helicopter forgetting to pick me up on the glacier in Alaska. Apparently the pilot had a death in the family and forgot to make arrangements for someone else to get me. And I was mugged in Cincinnati—me, a New Yorker!—and my parasail tether broke in Cancun…"
I tuned her out and enjoyed the delicate coloring in the sheer rock walls that rose from the silent water to the brilliant blue sky so far above.
We stopped for lunch and a hike, which everyone, even Judy, went on. At the steepest places she needed help; three boatmen got behind her to push, their arms disappearing up to their elbows in her Spandex-covered butt. Thanks to them, despite her concerns, nothing "happened to" her.
Back on the raft, Mike offered an afternoon snack of trail mix, which the guides called "gorp". The gorp consisted of nuts, raisins, dried banana chips, flakes of coconut, and M&Ms. Judy strip-mined the gorp for M&Ms: she took a big handful, picked the M&Ms out of it, and poured the tailings back into the container. Mike was horrified. "Donít put that back into the canister!" he cried.
"But I donít want it," Judy explained, as if that was all that need be said of the matter. Mike stared as the M&Ms melted in her mouth, not in her hands. "Well, should I just drop the rest of the gorp into the river?" she asked, annoyed.
"No," Mike said, his smile frozen. "Just give it to me. Iíll eat it. But you canít put it back into the container." Judy was incensed. She couldnít understand why anyone might prefer not to eat her leftovers. That night, I overheard her tell Robby how rude Mike had been to her that day, and how she would never ride with him again. I made sure, afterwards, that Robby knew what had actually happened and how Mike had been a perfect gentleman, far past the point where I would have pushed her into the river.
After dinner Rusty again sat with me and made sure the conversation turned to abductions. By now, the people interested in the subject knew to hang around me for interesting night conversation; people who were disinterested—or, like Judy, preferred the conversation to revolve around themselves—formed their own little cliques, which was fine with me.
The next day I rode with Tony, finding out too late that Judy had also decided to ride with him. We reached a place called Vesey's Paradise, where a waterfall gushes from a clear rock wall, providing water for an explosion of plant life, some species of which grow no other place in the Canyon.
"Where does the water come from?" the third passenger asked.
"There's an aquifer stretching north of here some two hundred miles," Tony explained. "It's been filling with water for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. It just so happens the Canyon wall has worn away at this point, so that the aquifer is exposed. So the water pours out here."
"Cool," I said, a sentiment that was echoed by the other passenger. However, Judy didn't get it.
"But where does the water come from?" she asked.
"The aquifer," Tony repeated.
"But where does the water come from?"
"Ah. It rains," Tony explained, "on the ground, here and there, and water collects and dribbles through little cracks in the ground until it collects in the aquifer, which I'm sure you know is made up of porous rock surrounded by non-porous rock. So when the water makes its way into the aquifer it has nowhere else to go—and it comes out here."
Judy still didn't understand. "But where does the water come from?" she asked again, frustration evident in her voice.
"Well, it rains," Tony repeated, also fighting frustration. "Above the whole aquifer. Between here and two hundred miles north of here."
"But where does the water come from?" She was starting to get angry. I was enjoying myself; it was almost as much fun as watching a car wreck.
"The sun shines on the ocean," Tony stated, a glazed look covering his eyes. "The heat makes water evaporate, which makes it turn into clouds, which drift over land—including the aquifer that stretches two hundred miles north of here; and when the conditions are right, the clouds condense into rain, which falls on the ground and seeps down into the aquifer and eventually, comes out here."
There was a pause. The roar of the waterfall at Vesey's Paradise was receding behind us. Then, we heard Judy say, from between gritted teeth, "But where does the water come from?"
Tony sighed. "There's a big cistern on the rim, and the National Park Service fills it up with a fire hose every three months."
"There!" Judy cried triumphantly. "Now, was that so hard?"
The other passenger and I exchanged astonished looks and stared intensely at the water, holding back laughter.
Near the end of the first week we came to the Little Colorado. This tributary was bright blue, an unreal azure due to its high magnesium and calcium content. It also contains radium, so we did not drink it. The minerals form a pure white compound called travertine that coats the rocks of the river bottom. But the water was about twenty degrees warmer than in the Colorado proper, and the boatmen led us to a natural waterslide that we splashed in for a couple of wonderful hours. Or, at least, I did. Most of the other passengers tried it once or twice then retired to the bank of the river to relax. Somewhat sarcastically, Rusty asked me how many times Iíd ridden this flume?! I retorted, "I have no idea—but I didnít stop having sex after the second time, either!"
On the way back, I walked behind Judy and her new best friends, the closeted gay doctors. I wasn't right behind them; but the oddly sculpted canyon walls reflected the sound of their conversation to me with unnatural clarity. One of the doctors was telling Judy about his fiancťe, who, he said, was from Buenos Aires and "that's why she couldn't make it on this trip. Buenos Aires," he added, "is like another world."
"Talk about someone who's from another world," she said. "How about that Paul guy. Abducted by aliens? Really! Aliens wouldn't have him!"
My jaw dropped. Obviously she had no idea I was right behind her. (Or maybe she did.)
The other doctor said, "You never know. There's a surprising amount of literature on the topic of abductions. It hasn't all been proven to be hallucination, you know."
"I don't care whether it's hallucination or not. It can't be real, because if it was, it would have happened to me. Everything…"
"…always happens to you," the doctors chimed in.
"No, I mean it," Judy said, stopping to rest. The doctors stopped with her. "Even if it's real, he's got to want it. I'd like to see the alien who could get me out of my bed against my will."
At this point I passed the three of them. "Honey," I said, "forget aliens. A fork lift couldn't get you out of bed against your will." I kept walking, and I must admit I felt a whole lot better.
Before I reached the mouth of the Little Colorado, I overtook Kathleen, the other heavyset woman who I had originally thought was traveling with Judy. "What is with that woman?" I said, slowing down to match her pace.
"What woman is that?" I told Kathleen what Judy had said, and then what I had said, suddenly blushing as I realized I was telling a fat joke to a fat woman.
"I'm so sorry," I said. "I didn't mean it. She's just so hateful, and I was returning hateful with hateful."
Kathleen patted me on the shoulder. "That's okay," she said. "I don't blame you. She's been rude to me, too, since the first day. She hated that I was wearing Spandex."
"She wears Spandex," I pointed out.
"Yes, but she owns the company," Kathleen said.
I stared. "No, she doesn't," I corrected. "She works for the World Bank."
Kathleen shook her head. "No," she said. "I rode with Judy on Wednesday, and she introduced herself to us by saying she owned the Spandex Corporation, and was basically richer than God."
I repeated Judy's Tuesday bio, and added, "What kind of person would be compelled to make up stories like that?"
"One who is very insecure about her real self," Kathleen surmised.
Judy had complained that everything always happens to her and yet, except for the M&M chastising and my joke about the fork lift, nothing had happened to her. She had gone on almost every hike—hikes a 400 pound person couldnít reasonably expect to complete—yet the boatmen, by getting beneath her and pushing and pulling, sometimes three of them involved in the effort, had seen to it she completed the hike successfully.
Now it was the last day of the first half of the trip. Several of the passengers, including Judy, would be leaving tomorrow to be replaced by a fresh group of passengers for the second week. One by one, Judy had alienated each of the boatmen until none would allow her in their boat but Anne, Tony's wife. Anne was slightly built but strong as Supergirl. Even so, she had asked Judy several times to sit in the front of the raft, where the concentration of her weight would make the boat easier for Anne to control. Judy simply ignored her and sat in back.
Before running the infamous Lava Falls, the boatmen pulled to shore to check how it was running (which changes depending on the flow) and map a route through it. This monster rapid drops forty feet in its relatively short run and is booby trapped by hundreds of standing waves, holes, and wildly churning currents that in the past flipped many boats and even killed a few unwary boatmen. While today's rubber rafts and experienced boatmen make traversing it a recreation rather than a life-threatening activity, Lava Falls is still something to be respected.
Robby had specifically asked me to ride with him on this day. I accompanied him and the other boatmen to the edge of a bluff that overlooked the maelstrom. They agreed on a route, and I walked back with Anne. "Will having Judy in your boat make a big difference?"
"I wish she would ride in front," Anne replied. "But, no, not a big difference. I'm not as strong as the guys, so I make certain I enter a rapid precisely where I mean to. They can use their strength to make up for sloppiness; I can't. So I've gotten to be very good at being technically perfect."
I rode in the front of Robby's raft as we led the way into the sea of churning water. We got wet; it was loud; we were buffeted and tossed and dropped. Through it all, Robby never lost control. And presently, we emerged into the quiet water beyond, and Robby steered us into an eddy so we could watch the others come through.
"It's for safety purposes," Robby said. "This way, we're in position to help if anyone should capsize."
"Has that ever really happened?" I asked, because I'd never seen it.
"There are two kinds of boatmen, Paul," Robby told me. "Those who have flipped a boat, and those who haven't flipped a boat…yet."
Tony came through Lava and pulled up alongside us. "She's running pretty rough today," he said.
"Got that right," Robby agreed.
Mike came through, and Brian and Phil. The baggage boatmen, Rusty and Cathy, floated through, taking a safer (but less entertaining) route. Finally, Anne lined up for her entrance. There she was, sitting like a queen on her oar frame, the gay doctors in front and Judy crouching in the well in back. The current drew Anne in.
Then we all gasped as Judy rose from the well and sat herself on the inflated tube, directly behind Anne. What's more, she didn't even try to hold on; she sat with her arms folded, staring defiantly at the waves from her perch.
The ejection seat.
There wasn't a thing any of us could do. They were too far away, and Lava was too loud, for us to be able to warn Anne. The raft dropped into Lava, bounced, and then Judy came flying through the air like a human cannonball, disappearing into the surging water. We learned later she had landed near the raft, and grabbed hold of one of Anne's oars.
"Oh, my God!" I cried to Robby, seeing Judy hanging on. "They're going to have to drain the river and bring in a crane!"
Normally, if a passenger falls into a rapid, they are left to float out. After all, we all wear life jackets for just that purpose. However Anne, unable to steer with Judy's grip on the oar, had to do something or lose the whole boat. We saw her pull Judy into the raft by the fastenings of her life jacket, Judy landing on top of her like a beached whale. How Anne got out from under her I'll never know, even with help from the doctors.
When they reached us, Anne was clearly in pain, to which Judy was oblivious. "Wouldn't you know it," she said. "Even here in Grand Canyon…everything always happens to me."
"Well, it would," I blurted, "when you sit on the ejection seat just like you were warned not to. Of course you fell overboard!"
Robby put a hand on my shoulder, his expression telling me to keep it to myself. I clenched my jaw and said no more.
That night, during the goodbye party for the first-week-only passengers, Rusty sat beside me as I glared in the direction of Judy and her clique. "…always happens to me," her annoyingly loud voice continued to recite, while her trip friends agreed.
"She's a piece of work, isn't she?" Rusty said.
"No shit," I agreed. "Is Anne all right?"
"She seems to be. I think she pulled something. One of the doctors checked her out. He doesn't think it's serious but recommended she get checked out when we get back home."
"I can't believe Anne pulled her into the boat," I said. "She should've just laid down a trail of M&Ms. —How the heck is that woman going to hike up Bright Angel Trail?" I added rhetorically.
"I have no idea," Rusty said. "But guess who's going to be hiking down?"
"Four generals," Rusty said. "Three of them retired, and Norman Schwarzkopf, himself. You've heard of him."
"Of course," I agreed. "What's he doing here?"
"Rafting trip, same as you," Rusty said. "But that's not the point. The point is, now's your chance!"
"My chance to what?"
"Your chance to find out what the government knows about UFOs!"
I laughed out loud. "Rusty, they aren't going to tell me anything!" I scoffed. "Generals? You think they don't know how to keep a secret?"
"Well, you should talk to them, anyway," Rusty insisted.
"I'll be polite," I promised. "But I'm not going to grill them on a subject that I already know they can't talk about. It would only be uncomfortable for them and fruitless for me. Hell, unless one of them actually works with aliens, I probably know more about abductions than they do, anyway."
"Well, then, you can tell them," Rusty pointed out.
I looked at him levelly. "If you want them to know about abductions so badly, you tell them what you know. Leave me out of it."
"But they might need to know what you know," Rusty said. "Hey, maybe they're even here because of you."
I pursed my lips. "Maybe you're here because of me," I said.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you're a police officer. You said you used to do undercover work for the DEA. Maybe you're doing undercover work now."
"But if you were, wouldn't you say the very same thing?"
"Yes, I would," Rusty admitted.
"So, see, I don't know you're not a spy of some sort, here to 'out' me as an abductee just to see how I'd react, or maybe to see how everyone else reacted."
"Well, I'm not."
"We've established that such a statement is semantically void," I said.
Rusty shook his head. "Well, I still think you should talk to the generals," he said. "It's a great opportunity."
"…always happens to me!" came drifting from the increasingly inebriated Judy.
"You want to talk to a real alien?" I challenged Rusty.
"Sure!" he said.
I pointed to Judy's Spandex-bound silhouette dancing in front of the firelight. "There ya go," I said. "She's all yours." And, saluting him goodnight, I went to bed.