To this day I find traveling by bus nearly impossible to tolerate. During the Navy I had developed a strong aversion to travel by bus. But a” harmless” college field trip by bus with my German class to New York city to see the UN in session cemented my feelings about bus travel once and for all. Being unaccustomed to city life, I had what I believed to be a healthy nervousness regarding being in a city – but what could go wrong while on a bus?
As I eased myself into the seat next to my female friend, I expected a long uneventful even boring bus ride to the city. For half of the trip it was just that ‘” uneventful. Gradually I came to the realization that a trip to the room-of-necessity would soon be required. Hating the thought of using a portable bathroom which was traveling at 65 miles an hour, I made my way to the door of the device.
Naturally, the space on the bus that the toilet occupied was very small ‘” it seemed to be intended for munchkins. As I am not a munchkin, it took some maneuvering to complete my task. As I stood up to readjust my clothing I heard an ominous sounding splash. I turned with foreboding and as I feared saw my wallet floating in the three-foot deep chemical toilet. I stood frozen in place and tried to think of any possible alternatives to what I knew must be done. I left the room and sat down across the way next to a guy I did not know and continued mentally to search for options. The money in the wallet was to buy dinner for four people, so it had to be retrieved. I knew what must be done. With stony determination I stood up and said aloud to no one in particular, “It’s all I can think of and it must be done.” At this time I removed my sports coat and tie and rolled up my right shirtsleeve. Although the guy I had been sitting next to said nothing and would not look at me directly, it was clear that I had his full attention. Having laid my jacket and tie on the seat, I reentered the stall and knelt on the floor as the room was very small my feet stuck out the door into the passageway.
Fixing my eyes on the wallet I reached down into the darkness of the toilet but the bowl was so deep that I had to turn my head and rest my cheek on the seat to it. Unfortunately this also meant that I could no longer look at my goal but had to “go by feel”. After feeling around for the wallet in the bouncing stall for what seemed like hours, my fingertips fastened on my soggy wallet. I extracted it and saw that the liquid draining from it was dark blue. Oh well, I thought, at least I had it and was not still fishing in the toilet bowl.
I opened up the wallet and discovered that everything in it had been dyed dark blue, all my cards and all the money. While contemplating the implications of this dye job, which included the fingertips of my right hand, I spread the contents of the wallet out on the sink to dry.
I felt that at least I could wash my hands tidy myself up and face the consequences of this accident with some dignity. To my dismay the faucet offered up no water and the soap dispenser was empty. Given this new information, I could see what little dignity I had hoped to save fading into the distance.
Having nothing else to do but wait for everything to dry. I returned to the seat across the hall from the toilet. As I sat down with my right sleeve still rolled up and the tips of my fingers dark blue, the man sitting in the other seat gave a startled look and then quickly looked away. For, I think the first time, he understood what I had done but had no idea why I had done it. It never occurred to me to explain, as my mind was filled with many other things. How would I explain this to those who trusted me to care for their money? Disgust with my current lack of cleanliness. Would the money still be acceptable? – And on and on.
For the time it took for the wallet and it’s contents to dry, the man spoke not a word. He sat starring out the window, I’m sure pretending I did not exist. I, of course, was totally oblivious to my surroundings and making believe nothing had happened.
After a half an hour, the contents of my wallet were dry. I put them back into the wallet and after tidying up as well as I could I returned to my seat. My female friend turned to me and said, “Where have you been and what happened to your hand?” The whole experience washed over me like an emotional tidal wave. I stuttered, “my wallet, in toilet, had to get it out, no water in sink — .a long story”. She paused and then said, “I’m sure”. And with that the subject was dropped for the time being. It must have been the look on my face.
The bus arrived at the United Nations Center without further incident and even though I received some strange looks from some of the delegates, I was able to clean my hands. Having done this, I felt much better and thought things would be fine now.
After observing a session of the United Nations General Assembly, our whole group reboarded the bus and went to a restaurant located in New York City’s “German town”. The idea was that we German language students would be able to use our budding German language skills in a real-life setting and have some fun at the same time. That was how it was working out. The bus problem had faded into the back off my mind, escorted there by a couple of beers.
But then the check for the dinner arrived. I gladly handed over enough blue dollars to cover the bill and a generous tip; pleased with myself I sat back. The waiter walked away muttering something in German. I think it sounded like “Oh my God this money is blue”. Seconds later a man I presumed to be the manager/owner came to the table looking very upset. He thrust my money at me while loosing a volley of German words, few of which I understood. Near as I could figure, he was not pleased with my money and there were words that seemed to question my birth status. I tried to calm him indicating the money was good and all I had to pay the bill. As my German was not so good, I repeated this several times. But each repetition seemed to excite him even more. Soon he was purple with rage and using words in German that I had never heard but from the sound of them were not friendly. Just as I thought I would have to defend myself from a physical attack, another student came over took the blue money from the man and gave him the same amount in regularly colored money. The student said a great deal to the man in German. Again I understood little but I think I heard something about blue, toilets, wallets, and some reference to crazy.
This seemed to satisfy the man who looked at me with what seemed like pity and walked away. After making a hasty exit from the restaurant reboarding the bus, I thanked the student for his help. He said not to worry his mother worked in a bank and would be able to exchange the blue money. He never told me what he said to the man in the restaurant and I did not ask.
Everybody on the bus had been drinking as college students have been known to do. About half way back I felt nature call and so started to that terrible room. I did not get far. Several students blocked my way and demanded my wallet before they would let me use the facility. Feeling bereft of dignity left, I surrendered my wallet, preformed my needed function, and retrieved my wallet on the way back to my seat. I tried with little success to avoid being the center of attention for the rest of the trip. By the end of trip, the students were making up songs about my misadventure.
The next German class I attended, the professor met me at the door and said, “WO is ire brieftasha” (where is your wallet) to which I replied “immer in den toileten” (always in the toilet).