Don’t Drink the Water

By: Gary Gray

Having survived a number of life’s shipwrecks with little more than my dignity and my job, I’ve concluded that my destiny is to suffer in silence, an endless stream of private torments whilst those around me enjoy their lavish and extravagant lives. Each day borne of new hopes, ends with the feeling that I am afflicted with bad luck and that; perhaps, tomorrow may bring some minuscule improvement to the disposition of my life.

The dust of my life slowly settles in my head as I sit gazing through the office window at the long leafy shadows that dance across the brick wall. My phone is ringing. The number on the display is the boss, Sam.

Sam is a decent fellow. He started with the company a few years before me and he knows the ropes well enough. We’ve worked out an informal agreement, I keep him up to date with what’s going on in my department and he won’t bother me with mundane matters unless the higher ups are pestering him. Today, the higher ups are buzzing about something.

“Lang?”

“What?” I think I may have been a little short with Sam. I hate being disturbed in the middle of my work.

“Do you have that project outline for me yet?”

Oh yes; the project, my outline for corporate success. I don’t have a clue what senior management is expecting, but a wordy document with lots of calculations, figures and graphs of corporate productivity will make any middle manager slobber in anticipation. With the aid of my newly purchased computer, I’m well prepared.

“Yes sir. Well, almost. I’ll have it to you before I leave today.” My outline for corporate success was actually complete days ago. I didn’t want to submit it until the last minute on the day I left for vacation; it’s a technique I have learned throughout the years and if used properly, helps keep the questions and work load to a minimum. Besides this most recent “project outline” is nothing more than a rework of the last “project outline.” We seem to go through this exercise every four to five years. I think it’s because of new management and turnover. Only we crusty veterans who have been around for an eternity know about these cycles. Those fresh out of college or hired from outside the company must experience project outlines for the first time. They are generally oblivious to the foresight of the elder statesmen among them.

“I wonder if I should take my golf clubs with me to Mexico.” I whisper.

“What’s that?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about something else.”

“Great Lang. I’ll review it and we’ll talk about it when you get back from vacation. You need a vacation man; you’re getting a little edgy.”

“Yea, I know. Sorry.”

Otis the Superintendent saunters into my office daily. He’s a good fellow but a little preoccupied with leaky faucets and curling floor tiles. I’m his supervisor but I don’t spend much time supervising unless there’s a conflict with vacation requests or somebody has sliced their finger off, in which case I have to do paperwork and order replacement gauze.

“Hey Lang, how about a cup of coffee?” Otis is the only person in the office that drinks as much coffee as I do. Any time he sees an empty Styrofoam cup sitting atop my desk, he jumps at the opportunity to fetch another for me.

“My fourth of the day. Okay, sure.” Maybe I shouldn’t drink so much coffee, but I need it so badly. If I were to stop my massive consumption rate now, my body would fall into withdrawals like a blind diver stumbling from the cliffs of Acapulco.

Otis returns with a brimming hot cup of Java and places it on the desk before me.

“So, you’re starting your vacation tomorrow? You need a vacation. You’ve been a little edgy lately.”

“Thanks Otis. For the coffee that is. Actually, I don’t leave for a few days, but I figured I would take a couple of days to prepare before I left. You know, unwind, rewind, that sort of stuff.”

“Yea, I don’t blame you. You’ve been a little edgy lately. So, you’re going to Mexico. They say you shouldn’t drink the water down there.”

“Thanks for the support Otis. What’s that you’ve got there in your hands?”

“I’m fixing the soft drink machine.”

“What’s wrong with the soda machine? It was working fine for Darlene twenty minutes ago.” Darlene is one of the ladies in the front office. She spends most of her time walking between her desk and the cafeteria. She’s a major source of income for the vending machine company. She probably drinks more soft drinks than I do coffee. We all have our vices I suppose. I never understood why she was so fussy about eating her low calorie frozen noodle lunch entrée but would subsequently go through a twelve pack of soda every day. Weight Watchers would be proud of her.

“Oh, it works alright. The Cherry Coke button isn’t right though.”

“So, you’re going to fix it with a pair of metal shears and an empty Coke can?”

“Yep, that’s right.”

“OoooKaaaaay. Can you elaborate on your plan for success a little?”

“Yea. The button says Cherry Coke, but when you push it, you get a regular Coke. I’m cutting out the Coke logo from this empty can and I’m gonna put it in the window behind the button. Then it will say Coca Cola instead of Cherry Coke, it’ll work perfect. Darlene will quit complaining and everybody will be happy.”

“Otis, that button’s been like that for two years. Why fix it now? Everybody knows it’s gonna spit out a regular Coke.” I’m sitting here wondering why he doesn’t just cut out the Coke logo from the box. Never mind, it would be pointless to debate the subject in greater detail.

“I heard Darlene gripe to Sam about it. Figured I better change it before he complained about her carping.”

Screeeeech. Otis’s two-way radio wailed an obnoxious tone. Simultaneously, Otis and I cringed, as if a school teacher had run her long painted fingernails across a chalkboard.

“Otis; can you check out the toilet in the ladies room? Darlene says it’s plugged up and overflowing on the floor.”

Otis whisks his hand to the microphone clipped to the shoulder of his shirt. “Ten-Four Betty, I’ll get right on it.”

“Great! Looks like I have an emergency to take care of. I had better grab some Tampon’s from the supply room before I run up there. Same damn thing happens every month.” Otis shakes his head.

“Good idea Otis. I’m glad I hired you. You’re a guy that can think on his feet. The company likes proactive employees. I’m going to finish my project plan now but good luck and don’t cut your finger off. The gauze order hasn’t arrived yet.”

Now let’s see. Where was I before the Boss and Otis decided to distract me?

I’ve been nurturing a new relationship with Trish. Intimate dinners and dating have the potential to divert anyone from their job and I’m no exception I suppose. I had no intentions of taking a vacation this year, but my lady friend was preparing for hers and felt comfortable enough with our flowering relationship to ask me to join her. Our destination was to be Cancun, Mexico.

Other than a few short fishing trips into the mountains around the state or visiting relatives, I haven’t been on a vacation in so long I had forgotten what it was like to escape from my daily work life. It took me all of fifteen seconds to formulate an answer. “Okay, if I can afford it.”

Exactly at 5:00 PM, I dropped my outline for corporate success off with Betty and then made my way out the door with no fancy drawn-out goodbyes.

“Make sure and get this to Sam before he leaves for the day. I’ll see you in two weeks.” Betty didn’t look up from her desk.

“Have a good trip and don’t drink the water.” Betty mumbled.

I scurried to my car and left a blistering trail of rubber on the pavement of the parking lot.

Once I accepted the gracious offer that Trish extended, I notified my mother and daughters of my plans. Knowing that I’m on the verge of insanity, they each like to monitor my life. They love me well enough, but I can’t help but feel like it’s more for entertainment purposes. Good family gossip is a premium service. I imagine they have wagers among themselves on which day I go over the edge.

During a subsequent telephone conversation with my mother, she imparted on me her sage words of advice.

“Have a safe trip honey. Bring me back a souvenir and don’t drink the water.”

The souvenir part would be easy enough, but how do you spend a week in a Caribbean jungle without drinking the water? This was a conundrum to me and not yet fully within my intellectual grasp.

In preparation for the grand escape to Cancun, I was compelled to organize my ground rules for the trip. The first rule was easy to conceive; don’t take a cell phone. The basic idea is to utterly remove myself from any intrusions from the real world and allow myself to be immersed in my new locale.

Another rule quickly came to mind; don’t drink the water. I was becoming petrified and this seemed like a good rule to implement.

Now free from the shackles of work and with only a few days before my scheduled departure, anxiety takes control of my untethered mind and the dreaming begins.

The first dream was of a trip to the doctors’ office. He said to me “you have an incurable bone disease.” I can’t remember much of the rest of the dream except there was a Taco Gong next door to the doctors’ office. As each day worms by, I become more superstitious and aware of the supernatural omens that I sense. I look for an advantage at every angle, for the things in life that will give me the slow turning ceiling fan of good fortune. Upon waking, I took an extra Calcium pill with my vitamins; no sense in taking a chance with the bone disease thing, I thought. It was going to be a busy day preparing for our trip.

“Sweetie, can you run to the store and pick up a few things for the trip today?” Trish’s’ list was two pages long.

“Why sure.” I had my own list and I was anxious to please my newly found lover. As I browsed each isle at the store, I came across a duplicate item on the list. Bottled water; we both had put bottled water on our lists. Maybe I’m not loosing my mind. She’s heard about the water in Mexico? Of course she’s heard about it, why else would she put it on the list? Everybody knows about the water in Mexico. I’m smugly pleased. I’ve selected a partner with a brain and she’s conscientious as well. She doesn’t want her new love to get sick. I’m becoming more pleased. On the other hand, maybe she’s worried for herself. My ego deflates. I purchased two cases of water, 48 quarts in total. That should be enough. We spent the remainder of the day preparing our clothes and started packing. I was bone tired when I went to bed.

A second dream came to me. My mother was sitting on her sofa crying while I sat across from her eating ice cubes. There was no conversation, just her clutching a tissue as she blubbered and my chomping on ice cubes. I woke sweating and quickly ran to the kitchen for a glass of water. My mouth was very dry for some odd reason. I stared at the forty eight quarts of water, sitting ominously on the floor in the kitchen. I wondered why I intended to lug forty eight quarts of water to Mexico. I haven’t heard any news stories concerning mass outbreaks of disease from Cancun. Wouldn’t something like that be on the news?

We were busy preparing throughout the day, we confirmed our flight reservations, stopped the paper delivery, and drank the last of the milk in the refrigerator and walked about with little white mustaches for a while. The bags were packed, the lawn was mowed, and the dogs were taken to the kennel. We are finally ready. Oh, the bank. I had better get some cash for the trip. It’s almost Five O’clock; the bank will be closed if I don’t hurry.

“What type of bills would you like?” The drive through teller asked me.

“Twenties. Can you do Peso’s?” I replied.

“Sir, this is the United States, not Mexico.”

“I know that. I was just wondering. I’m going to Mexico tomorrow and figured I’d get a jump on the currency conversion thing.”

“Oh, Mexico. My sister just got back from Mexico. She said it was wonderful.”

“Really, what a coincidence.”

“She’s sick as a dog now; been on the toilet for days.”

“Yuck.”

“Here’s your cash sir. Have a nice trip and don’t drink the water.”

Okay, that’s it. I’m lugging forty eight quarts of bottled water to Mexico, it’s settled. I phoned Trish about the encounter at the bank. Now we are both determined to be extra special careful not to get sick in Mexico. She immediately phoned her pharmacy to see if her prescription for antibiotics was filled. It was ready and she scurried out to get it. By midnight on the eve of our departure, we had done everything possible. The next day was travel day. We figured it best to get as much rest as possible. We had to be up at 3 AM to go to the airport.

I lay awake in bed forever. The excitement of the trip was on my mind. White sandy beaches, cool drinks, palm trees, crystal blue-green waters, Mayan pyramids, Bikini’s, lovely girls in Bikini’s. Every possible thought coursed through my head. I fell asleep at 1:30 and instantly began the third dream. I was sitting on top of an abandoned pagoda in a jungle eating Peach Marmalade from a jar. Sown about me amongst the leaves and twigs on the floor of the jungle were dead Owls. When the alarm went off at 3:00 AM, I was licking the spoon.

We arrived at the airport in Cancun, Mexico at 5:00 PM. The heat was overwhelming. It felt like a hot wet blanket had been wrapped around us. I know why they call it luggage, because, I lugged at least four bags with me for 12 hours. One bag contained forty eight quarts of bottled water, the rest was shorts and tee-shirts. The water must have weighed a hundred pounds, my shoulder was bruised from the weight on the strap. I managed to drink two quarts before we made it to a taxi cab for the hotel.

After unpacking, we mused about our room. I relaxed in a chair admiring the beautiful view from the balcony, overlooking the Caribbean. Trish was dancing her Cancun dance in the room behind me, shaking her hips back and forth, and waving her arms around her shoulders. I was reading the hotel brochure when there on the second page was a blurb about the water.

“Trish. It say’s in the brochure that we don’t need to worry about drinking the water here. All the water in the hotel is purified and filtered.” What a relief.

“Really? Well I guess we didn’t need to bring all that water with us did we?”

“We? I’m the one who carried it.”

“You know what I mean.”

For the first two days in Cancun, we enjoyed the numerous sites and festivities without incident. The hotel water appeared to be safe, as promised. We made a reservation at the best restaurant in town for dinner, a romantic evening alone listening to Mariachi music and dining on fine Yucatan Seafood.

Trish ordered the scallop plate and I ordered the lobster specialty. We sipped our Spanish wine and bathed in the delightful atmosphere. About us were tourists from England, Japan, Argentina and just about every other country I imagine. I had been drinking ice water in quantity and needed desperately to go to the bathroom when the waiter delivered our meals.

“Here are your scallops Madam.” He said, placing the plate before Trish. “Your lobster sir. Would you care for some more wine?” He continued. The service was superb. A dirty fork was exchanged for a clean one before it hit the table. The water glasses were kept full; the wine was chilled to perfection and never allowed to dip below half empty.

“Gracias Senior.” I was being cosmopolitan, trying to speak Spanish with the only two words in my vocabulary. The waiter smiled and nodded, appreciative of my effort. I could see though that he knew I couldn’t hold a conversation worth a hoot. By now Trish and I had consumed a bottle of wine and were well into the second bottle. I thought briefly about taking a bite of lobster but my need for bladder relief was increasing.

“That looks good.” Trish said, curiously eyeing the lobster on my plate. “I should have got that instead.” She added. The wine was taking its toll on her, I could tell. I began thinking of the hotel after dinner.

“I’m going to the restroom. Be right back.”

When I returned from the restroom, I immediately noticed that my plate was missing something.

“What’s the matter Honey?” Trish asked, trying in vain to hide her wine induced giggle.

“Where’s my lobster?” I asked.

“Oh, He got up and walked away. I don’t think he liked sitting there by himself.” Trish still had a tiny piece of white flaky lobster meat dangling from her lip. It had a little bead of butter dripping from it. “Isn’t the music wonderful?” She was trying to change the subject.

“You can never trust a lobster.” I said, sitting and pulling my chair to the table. “Yes, the music is wonderful. Everything is wonderful tonight.” I added. The scallops were delicious; lobsters are never loyal.

We made it to the hotel by means of the bus ride from hell. The bus driver must have been 16 years old and spoke no English. He weaved in and out of traffic as though he was driving a sports car at speeds approaching mach-one. Tourists fled the roadway screaming in fear as we careened along; cars honked their horns and flashed their lights with each lane change he made. The passengers in the bus gripped their seats in fright; their knuckles white from the strain. I suppose that’s what one should expect for six Pesos.

Our last day in Cancun and we’ve made it this far, drinking hotel and restaurant water. Nobody has fallen ill. Only one more day and we’re home free. This day would be the challenge though. We had scheduled a trip into the Mexican jungle to see the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. It was hot, close to one hundred degrees and we would be drinking water all day. We each took two quarts of bottled water. That should hold us; so we thought. The water was gone by the time we finished our 130 mile bus ride through the jungle.

Our tour group followed the guide around the ruins for an hour and a half. We tried desperately to stay in the limited shade of the trees, but it was a large site and most of the ruins were out in the open ground. By 1:30 in the afternoon, we were all parched and had no water. Fortunately, a young man was making the rounds with a cooler full of ice water and paper cups. As he approached our group, a lady from Texas asked.

“Is this water purified?”

We were all thinking the same thing. She just beat us to the question. The young man stood in silence for a moment.

“Yes lady, the waters purified.” He turned and looked at me.

I could see the disgust on his face. He must have answered this question thirty times every day. I returned his gaze with a sympathetic grin as he stepped closer.

“What is it with Americans always wanting to know if the waters purified?” He asked.

I’m feeling very wise so I respond. “It’s a myth in America that any time you drink Mexican water you’ll get diarrhea.” He looked at me curiously as I continued. “You see, everyone believes that they’ll get sick when they come to Mexico. Don’t let it bother you, it’s mass hysteria and can’t be controlled.”

“Okay, I understand. I’m thinking you people are strange or something. I mean, I drink the water all the time, I don’t get sick.” He says.

The horror of Mexican water is well known throughout the States as the dreaded “Montezuma’s Revenge.” The saga goes, there’s something about water in Mexico that gives visitors from the United States serious dysentery. How can I explain this to the young man without insulting him?

“Well, it’s not that simple. You have microbes and such in your water that your body is used too, but our bodies are used to the water in the U.S., so we react differently.” I’m on a roll now. I’ve committed myself to drinking from the cooler and I’m just as scared as the lady from Texas about drinking this water. “You have any more cups?”

Now I am doomed. I drank Mexican jungle water. My last day in Mexico and I’ve crossed the Rubicon. It’s too late now. I’m going to be dieing of dysentery about the time I get on the plane for the States tomorrow; I know it. It’s my destiny.

We made it back to the U.S. after a tumultuous trip through the Cancun and Houston airports. I didn’t die either. I didn’t even get sick and neither did Trish. The water in Mexico was no big deal; I’m living proof of it. My bold speech to the attendant at the Mayan ruins turned out to be true. I drank and drank and drank Mexican water for an entire week with not a hint of disease. Maybe my luck was changing. Meeting Trish, vacationing in Mexico, having the time of my life, yes, my luck had changed. I was a new man, full of confidence.

Upon my return to work, Betty greets me. She was sitting at her desk.

“Nice tan. Did you have a good vacation?” She asks, never looking up from her desk.

“It was fantastic. Best vacation I’ve ever had.”

“That’s nice. Did you get sick?”

“No. Not in the least. I drank the water and everything, didn’t bother me a bit.”

“That’s nice. Sam wants to see you when you get settled.”

I’ve been out for two weeks so there’s no telling what has happened in my absence. I hate the first few days in the office after a vacation. It’s like walking into a surprise lynching party and you’re the guest of honor.

“So, Lang, while you were gone, we reviewed your project plan.”

Great, my outline for corporate success had made the rounds through upper management and now I get to hear about the aftermath of its dissemination.

“And?”

“Well, after reviewing all of your recommendations, we’ve concluded that you have some good ideas here. We’re especially impressed with your cost savings suggestions.”

“I’m glad. I put a lot of thought into that.”

“The suggestion about the company switching to biodegradable tampons went over well. Your estimate that it will save the company $300,000 in plumbing repairs over a five year period really got their attention.”

“That’s great Sam. Was anything else brought up?”

“Well. The V.P. of Human Resources was opposed to the idea. She didn’t like the fact that we were switching to a tampon that was technically an inferior product. She complained that they were ineffective in performing its design task. She said something about how they dissolve too quickly and aren’t very good products.”

“So, we’re not going to use them then?”

“NO. We are going to use them. The board overruled her objections. Three hundred thousand is a huge chunk of change. Sam smiled. “You’re a lucky guy. You get a reward for the best cost saving suggestion.”

A reward! I love a good reward. A bonus perhaps; images of a return to Cancun immediately flash through my mind. Sam opens his desk drawer and removes a white envelope and hands it to me.

“Good work pal. Enjoy.”

Wow, my reward. The excitement overwhelms me. I’m back in the office for twenty minutes and the company is celebrating my return with a reward, in a sealed envelope no less. As Sam sits grinning, I quickly tear it open. I’m flabbergasted.

“Taco Gong?”

“Fifty dollars worth.” Sam replies.

“I save the company three hundred thousand dollars and I get a fifty dollar gift certificate for Taco Gong as a reward?”

“Something wrong?”

“Well, ah, err… Sam, I was thinking a little higher I suppose. I mean, it’s appreciated and all, but Taco Gong gift certificates. Seems a little, err, low end doesn’t it?”

“Lang, I understand.” Sam replies. “It’s all we had left in the reward budget. You know, we just had Secretaries’ Day and spent most of our budget on flowers for Betty. The money is just about gone for the year.”

Now, I’m kicking myself in the ass. I formulated that part of the budget for this year and I wasn’t expecting to do anything more than our normal flower order. I’m now realizing that all along, I’ve unwittingly been the architect of my own demise.

Three hours later, I’m sitting in my office having just finished sifting through two weeks of unread e-mail and Otis appears at my door.

“Hey Lang, nice tan.”

“Hey Otis. How are things?” I notice a large gauze bandage on his left hand. “What’s wrong with your hand?” I ask.

“Oh, that. Well, I sliced my finger pretty bad. It took twenty stitches’.”

“How did you manage that?”

“Remember the Soda machine?”

“Oh, yea. Hey, I’m about to go to lunch, care to join me? I’ve got fifty dollars worth of Taco Gong to burn through, I’m treating?”

“Naaa, not today. I’m fixing the toilet in the ladies room and I’ve lost my appetite. Thanks anyway though.”

Taco Gong is just down the road. For lunch I splurged. I ordered two Burrito’s, Nacho’s, Taco’s and a large cup of ice water. As I’m waiting for my order, I’m wondering why the food in Mexico wasn’t like this? Taco Gong is an American creation, served up by Mexican immigrants. How ironic. I don’t even like Taco Gong. How will I ever go through fifty dollars worth?

Three hours later, I’m winding up my first day back in the office. Otis has finished his sixth repair of the month on the toilets in the ladies room. Sam has left for the day, enjoying a round of business golf and Betty has her head buried in her paperwork, ignoring everyone else as usual. I am thinking about my evening with Trish, a movie and a late dinner perhaps, when the first rumbles in my abdomen begin. The tacos from lunch are making their presence known. I continue working, hopeful I can leave a few minutes early, but the rumbles are turning into cramps, serious cramps. Beads of sweat are forming on my forehead. A drop dangles from the tip of my nose wiggling for a moment. I stare at it with my eyes crossed. It splats on my desk as I realize I am in serious distress. I rush to the men’s bathroom, barely making it to a stall before my butt explodes.

Thirty minutes later, I leave the bathroom with my gut aching from the strain, my shirt soaked and the strength sucked from my body. Otis greets me in the hallway.

“Man, you don’t look so good.”

“I think I have food poisoning.”

“Mexico catching up with you?”

“No, I don’t think that’s it. I had Taco Gong for lunch. I think that’s where I got it.”

“You should go on home. Anything I can do for you?”

“There is one thing Otis.”

“What’s that?”

“I think the toilet in the men’s room is plugged up.”