The call took me by surprise. Nearly three years after I’d left The Register-Guard to write books and do other feast-or-famine work, the paper was offering me a part-time position as an associate editor.
My main task, besides writing an occasional editorial, would be editing the letters to the editor, which, in politically charged Eugene, is a little like being a referee in a tug of war.
I said yes, in part because the new challenge intrigued me, the job required only 20 hours a week and the post-RG feast had, in recent months, turned abruptly to famine.
“We’ll need you to take a drug test,” human resources told me.
“No problem,” I said. “I’m leaving town right now but I can do it next week.”
Sorry, I was politely told, I needed to do it now, so the test wouldn’t miss anything currently in my system.
I gulped. My only chance was to leave the specimen on my way out of town — like right then — but there was a major problem: I’d just gone to the bathroom.
I was confident I could pass. I was less confident I could pi — provide a sufficient sample.
“Here, take these,” said She Who Thinks Big, handing me a couple of bottles of water as I headed out the door.
I drove and drank. Not only the two bottles but half of a third that I had in my pickup. I mentally urged the water to make haste to my bladder — the first time in my life I remember doing so.
Still, by the time I arrived at the lab, I was like a high-Cascade lake with a vibrant inlet stream but no outlet. I sensed no urge to purge.
I was living one of my nightmares, which often involve standing on a tee at a beautiful golf course but not being able to swing the club. (No, that’s not metaphorical for anything else — and shame on you for thinking so.)
With dread, I walked up the stairs to the lab. I’d been told that there shouldn’t be much of a wait. But I was about sixth in line and each person’s paperwork was taking the kind of time signing re-fi papers does — meaning forever.
Wait, I told myself, that’s a good thing. More time to prime the pumps. I relaxed.
Outside, thunder suddenly cracked — remember that June 14 rainstorm? — and the skies opened up. Water pounded outside on the pavement. Whether subconsciously inspired, I suddenly had to pee like a sailor after a six-pack. Like. Right. That. Moment.
I fidgeted from my back-of-the-line position. Couldn’t they bring in a few more clerks to process people faster? Come on, folks, I’m not rocking back and forth because of some ear-bud tune.
Decision time. I needed to leave the line and go to the bathroom.
No, wait, I couldn’t do that. I’d lose my place. And even if I didn’t lose my place, what if, in relieving my bladder, I relinquished my sample? It’s not as if I could replicate a garden hose with an on-off valve.
I would need to release enough to prevent me from embarrassing myself in front of a room full of adults but not so much that I could only shrug my shoulders when handed the cup.
The dilemma renewed my appreciation for the Army Corps of Engineers folks who must allow enough water through Fern Ridge Dam to appease the farmers down river and yet leave enough to satisfy the sailors — and their keels — on the lake.
Could I plead hardship and go to the front of the line? Too embarrassing, even if later writing about it in front of tens of thousands of readers doesn’t seem to be.
Could I reschedule? No way.
Could I —.
Has a more beautiful word ever been uttered?
Speaking of which, my bladder, I now imagined, had swollen to cow-appendage-like proportions.
I raced through the written part of the exam with the haste of filling out forms at a rent-a-car counter, jostled down the hallway behind a beckoning technician and bit my lip as she started going through the most detailed instructions I’d ever heard.
“OK, first you need to remove that outer shirt. You can only have one — .”
“Just give me the cup!” I wanted to say.
In a departure from the column thus far, I’ll spare you the details that followed. Suffice it to say I’m glad I passed on the first try.
Welch writes books, teaches classes and gives inspirational talks. He can be reached at email@example.com. He will head up “Bob Welch & Friends at the Hult” on Oct. 22-23 (hultcenter.org).5