NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED


We didn’t have a long day working at Dorris Ranch, a Springfield park by the bend of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River.  It rained a little, but not much, and we knocked off at about 1:30, after four and a half hours of trail building.

We originally went out to do drainage work on a stream and discovered a trail which was muddy, eroding, and not useful.  Instead of drainage work, we built a new trail, connecting it to two others.  Such work necessitated one’s hacking out some grasses and shrubs, another’s digging down to bare soil to make a path a couple of feet wide, followed by more of us enlarging the path, moving the dirt off the trail, trying to save as many endangered Oregon Grape plants as possible, all the while avoiding poison oak plants standing like sentinels, waiting for the unwary to brush against them and carry the poison off on their skin or clothing.

I was especially attuned to poison oak, for two weeks earlier, I neither saw see the leafless plant at another park where I worked, nor did I wipe myself with isopropyl alcohol at the trailhead to denature the toxic urushiol.  I didn’t smear Tecnu lotion on myself when I got home and missed the last chance I had when I didn’t shower with Dawn dishwashing liquid.  Four days later, I broke out with a rash and was sentenced to two weeks of a itchy rash on my arms, inner thighs, chest and neck.  For this payment, I worked hard as a volunteer. 

I was ready to stop digging when the crew leader suggested we all knock off for the day.  I walked back to the car, trying to wash the mud off my boots on the way.  I found a small stream and stood in it for a while, cleaning the shovel, the hoe, and the McLeod, a large hoe on one side, and a serrated rake on the other, created by a USFS ranger in 1905.  

Back at the car, I knew I had errands to run, and I also needed to go to the toilet.  I looked around, saw a nearby restroom and walked up a short hill to get there.  The door was blocked wide open, floor damp, meaning it had been cleaned, so I unblocked the door, closed it, did my business, telling someone who rattled the door I was in there, washed up and walked out, not thinking to block the door open again because I knew somebody was waiting.  

A young woman wearing a park hat was waiting. She did not look pleased.

“We blocked the door open because the chemicals in there need to dry,” she said.

I thought to myself: “It’s really humid today–like drizzling–nothing is going to dry.” I answered, “I was going to block the door,” not adding, “until I saw that someone was waiting.”

“No you weren’t,” she retorted. “You were walking away.” The woman had gone from retorting to severely reprimanding me, and she was coming very close to outright berating me.

My father always told me not to get into a pissing contest with a skunk.  But I was tired and had just pissed, so I continued, “Excuse me.  I  just spent four and a half hours building trail for you guys and I needed to use the toilet.  Next time, I will use the woods.”  I walked away.  

It’s better not to argue with those who won’t change their minds, be the issue climate, what you think of the president, or whether you committed a sin by using a bathroom that had just been cleaned and then deliberately walked away without re-blocking the door.  It’s easier and saves energy. 

For the record, I clean toilets—men and women restrooms—at Rowe Sanctuary every spring, and if people need to use one and the floor is wet, I tell them that.  I don’t tell them to hold it because the floor has to dry.  I even put up yellow signs on the floor.  They are in two languages.  I don’t reprimand “offenders.”

I don’t know whether the woman thought I was homeless.  I could have looked it with mud on my clothes and my hair not exactly combed.  My hard hat was in the car.  What was I supposed to do?  Wait?  I think so.  She was young, perhaps not realizing that some older men need to use the toilet and can’t wait.  I have been in that latter situation before, although I wasn’t in it today.  

Sadly, I let the incident get to me that afternoon and for the next couple of days.  I was going to write this post saying I might not go back, and if I did, I wouldn’t use the restroom but the nearby woods, and she shouldn’t be poisonous to those who deal with poison oak as a volunteer in her park.  So there.

If I were on social media, where posts are too often made without thinking, unedited, and one has the “satisfaction” of “really nailing” an issue or a person, the ending would have been catchy, but a bit childish, which is a lot of what passes on social media these days, I guess.  I am a year away from Facebook, so I’m out of date.

In any case, I process slowly. What I think a few days after an incident is different from what it is the same day.  Yes, there should have been a sign saying, “Wet Floor,” but peeing in the woods in a city park is a bit much, even for me, unless I’m off my alpha-blocker.

I did go back to work at the park the following week. We finished the trail, hauled rocks using a wheelbarrow, and built a bridge.  Before we went out, I took the park person who was supervising our work aside and dispassionately told him my experience.  I said what was relevant and factual: “I did not see a sign,” does not exclude the fact that there might have been one.  I did not mention that the incident ruined an afternoon. That had nothing to do with the matter.  The supervisor understood that restrooms need to be cleaned, yes, but also that some times people need to use them before everything is perfectly dry.

After all, maybe the woman was having a bad day.  Maybe she had problems at home.  Maybe she was ill.  Maybe she even had a poison oak rash that annoyed her.  Yes, she needed to be thinking that perhaps this person really didn’t want to wet his pants, toilets are made to be used, and I wasn’t making a mess on the floor.  

She may still think I am a jerk, but I don’t have to make threats of what I will and won’t do in the future.  Those threats will hurt me, not the parks, except for maybe a tree’s getting too much nitrogen. I had a valid point, and she felt she had one, too.  Most importantly these days of polarization, I could see her point, even if I didn’t agree with it.  That’s not weakness, despite what many think. 

Maybe the next time, there will be a sign in two languages.  Maybe the sign will say “please leave the door open when you leave.”   Or even, “We aim to please.  You aim too, please.”

McLeod, good for trail work, pulling plants, beveling the sides, moving the dirt.


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