Back in the day, the Whatever Race in Augusta, Maine was a water fight free-for-all. Folks would race (read meander, really) down the river from Augusta to Gardiner in whatever they had that floated. Drinking, hell raising, and water fights were the object of the exercise. The first year for me was a hoot. My best friend, Chip, put together a raft of pals on some lumber and scavenged foam. I'm thinkin' tequila was the fun-fuel that year, and fun we had. Five gallon buckets were our weapon, and in the milling about at the start of the "race", two or three of us working in concert could swamp a canoe in nothing flat. That year, the high point of the day came when the "judges" toodled alongside on their canopied pontoon boat to "judge" the merits of our craft. There was apparently some competition for artistic, original, unique qualities of the participants' floats. We cared not for their appraisal of our admittedly crappy craft. We threatened them with our buckets. They reminded us that they were the JUDGES. It was delicious. We let them have it. They screamed. We screamed. Did I mention delicious? the tequila fueled anti-authority attack was the gleeful subject of weeks of recounting our pirate-like bravery. We gained committed recruits for the following year. Next year: bigger raft, more pals, more booze. Hooray! It really went much the same way. This time though, the competition for artistic, unique, etc. had ramped up. A local bank had sponsored a float, and had done a fine job of crafting a floating version of Augusta's Fort Western. Banker mucky mucks and their coiffed wives sipped cocktails on the two story beauty. Chip and I and our hillbilly buddies stared in awe. Momentarily. It was a fort. Consensus coagulated. We must attack! With military efficiency, we drew alongside and boarded. Stunned bankers offered little resistance as we grabbed at nibbly-bits and ogled wenches. Duncan reached the second deck and lowered their flag and dove into the river with it. We retreated as the bankers mustered their outrage. A rake aimed a roundhouse at my head as I stepped back onto our raft, and went into the drink for his trouble. We made off with our booty in high spirits and mucho adrenaline. Our successful getaway was dampened though: a canoe with two undercover or off duty cops drew alongside and demanded the return of the flag. We of course denied having any such flag. The cops decided to board and investigate. Big mistake. By their own incompetence, they both ended up in the water when they flipped the canoe. We left them to sort themselves out, and floated away scot-free. Passing by the town of Hallowell, the only real challenge to our maritime superiority came from the three story apartment buildings that line the western shore. Some clever lads there had set up fabulous water balloon slingshots and were doing a not bad job of bombardment. That set the stage for the next year.
We figured we needed superior weaponry. Really superior. A friend at an industrial sales and rentals outfit (you figure it out) made us a deal on a powerful gasoline driven water pump. Way powerful. With fire hose kind of capabilities that made me salivate thinking of wielding that kind of aqua-armament. We built the biggest raft yet, and concealed the pump and hose in a doghouse at its center. Of course we had our five gallon buckets and such for minor skirmishes, but the idea was to hold the pump in reserve for whatever victim(s) seemed deserving. Race day we launched into instant melee under the bridge at Augusta. Almost immediately an officious Marine Patrol lieutenant approached the raft and announced his intention of removing the pump. He'd somehow penetrated our security and knew of the weapon. "It's safety equipment", we protested. "We've every right to carry fire suppression systems, so leave us be." He wasn't so easily deterred, so someone aboard pushed his boat off before he could come aboard. He brought his official Marine Patrol vessel around for another try. We pushed him off again. This was too easy. Minor water fights were going on all around us, and he was getting frustrated as we easily pushed his boat away each time he maneuvered alongside. Something about his dictatorial dickishness pushed a button in both Chip and me. We exchanged a wordless look and committed. As he came alongside yet again, we simultaneously let him have it with full buckets of river water. Bullseye. Oooh that was sweet. His lackeys sniggered. The onlookers gasped. Our fellow pirates roared (some of the wives aboard not so much). Pissed? oh yeah. He screamed to anyone listening "Arrest those two!" He called in all the available law inforcement on the river. Cop boats bore on in. Our bravest continued the strategy of shoving them away. Things were beginning to look bad for us. Chip dove into the river. Lieutenant Drippy was wrecking his propeller in the shallows trying to get to Chip. The Man was closing in on me as well. I surrendered, partly for the futility, and partly for the sake of my friends who were now openly defying Law Enforcement to protect me. Chip was plucked from the river and cuffed. We were both led in irons up the wharf past crowds of onlookers to cruisers which took us straight to jail. In the Pokey, we were processed in and relieved of our belts, presumably so we wouldn't hang ourselves in a paroxysm of penitence.
I'm six foot three, two hundred some odd hairy pounds, and I've bright red painted toenails. This incongruity was good for a laugh when I showed my friends, and so, I did. After pleasantries, toes would need some air, and the raised brows would get the back story: My dear, hip, youngish grandmother Jill had given me a pedicure for my birthday over a month ago. She'd counseled me to ask for Cathy, whom she'd found to be bright, and beautiful and married. Feet were dragged, but after a fashion found themselves bathing in a warm, bubbly bath just for them. Cathy was way babe, and she'd made no discernible gak of revulsion; this was fine. She chatted breezily, doing her thing. Clippers, wooden chisels, files, lotions... oh the lotions. It was heavenly. She got to the point where she'd typically apply polish and queried me about my preference; " some guys opt out or get clear." I was delirious with pleasure. "In for a penny", I said, "Give me the brightest red you've got". So when I showed and told lady friends of my new fondness for pedicures (and Jill), they thought it all fun and funny, and maybe sexy, too. Emboldened, I showed some guys, too. Sometimes even in groups. It was all cool. I was cool.
Monday came, and first thing, I went to the gym. Oh oh. After the workout, I'd occasion to be naked in the locker room with men. Some I knew, sort of. I opted for the pre-emptive strike. "All right, you homophobic xyz's, I don't want to hear it about twinkle toes. There's a reason." I told them the back story, emphasizing the beautiful woman. Cool, right? Subsequent days, though, different guys. No chance for inoculation, no foreknowledge of the back story. The toes came out, and a pall fell. The change in the room was palpable. It sucked. I really didn't like it one bit.
I grew up white and straight in ruralish Maine, so any empathy I've felt for discriminated classes was purely intellectual. My sensitive nature, and all. Now, I felt a visceral kind of empathy for the first time. It was just some red frikken toenails.