Some of the best and worst of humanity can be found at the crux of competition.
In a larger sense, competition over food, over territory, over commerce, occupies the macro, the endless ways in which groups all over the world serve their constituents, be it government for people, or public companies for shareholders..
At the personal level, we compete against each other for jobs and sustenance, for partners, for status within our group, each a micro-level expression of wanting to be worth something, to belong somewhere, to best our rivals. Competition is proving one’s worth.
What often motivates us is death, though not usually directly. No, it’s subtler, beneath the surface. Perhaps we compete to be sure this is not the day we die.
DIFFERENT CONTEST, DIFFERENT FOLKS
Men and women tend to compete differently. As generalizations go, those differences have exceptions, where traits thought masculine are found in a female, and vice versa, depending on the actors. There are plenty of feminine men and masculine women. So, we’re speaking of majority only here.
Thus, if Susan Pinker writes that women tend to maneuver covertly, using mean remarks, social exclusion, and by trying to win over your friends and allies, it’s not a rule set in stone for all women. In fact, these are strategies sometimes used by men. If not used by men, men can learn from them.
Men tend to compete slightly differently. They like to best each other straight up, mano a mano. But not always, for another way men compete is to put each other down. I remember reading in Scientific American some years ago about brain scan studies showing both approaches satisfy the same needs. Competing directly or by put-down lights up identical reward areas of the brain. One approach is social, the other not so.
Because one sure-fire difference between men and women is the level of their boasts. Perhaps this is the opposite of putting someone else down, boosting self instead. Men brag about being able to do something, as if to dare someone around them to challenge them on the spot. And they do. Invariably, they do.
Let me tell you about a guy named Dave and a bet he made.
We were doing time at a Burritt’s Rapids facility, also knows as the Rideau Regional Centre. It was a minimum-security place, a few dozen miles outside of Ottawa where I’d been sent for shooting a guy (which was out of character).
Discharging a firearm with intent to kill they called it, allowing them to sentence much more leniently, but which hardly disguised the original charge of attempted murder. Semantics maybe.
We lived in dorms, I think about twenty or so inmates in each. The dorms faced each other so you could see another dorm across the hallway through heavy wired plexiglass. When I was there, it seemed to be full. On any account, rather than work on the farm during the day, I’d managed to secure a job as a pool porter in a nearby town days (something I wrote about in an essay called Forms of Bliss).
We had some real characters in the place, and nothing anyone had done was all that serious comparatively, which is why they were in minimum security. And the fact it was out in the country meant we got the local crowd of country crooks populating the prison, some of whom were entertaining guys.
In the dorm opposite me there was a gay couple even. Well, that’s what you’d call them now. Back then they were just queers. It was a slight balding guy of about 30 and a younger guy of 17 or 18 or so I remember. The younger fella had the last bed, way at the end of his dorm where these two would sit and flirt with each other all during lights on time. No one much paid them any attention, and I remember they were protective of each other.
When everyone would be off at the gym or elsewhere, they’d sneak physical contact. Everyone knew it but just ignored them.
My father had taught me about homosexuals when I was just a boy of 10 or so. Not a formal lesson mind you, but just one of the half-dozen memories I have of him where he was a stellar parent. Before that, I had the usual homophobia of any young boy my age and of that generation, seeing it as a severe taboo, having a strong enculturated prejudice against it straight from the school yard.
I’d called my sisters lesbians and earned a trip to dad’s room for a talk. This was a time of luck, where a talk with pops was possible, instead of the usual, where violence ruled. During his discovery of me regarding the complaint which brought me before him, we found I had no idea what a lesbian was.
He explained it perfectly, telling me it was women who loved each other, just as men and women loved each other. He added it wasn’t a choice, but rather how they were made. More importantly, he mentioned these were people looking for love like anyone else. I remembered that last bit, it stuck. It was probably 1968-69.
The first pot growers I encountered were in this prison. These were like every pot grower I’d come to know afterwards too: indignant, righteous about their cause, feeling maligned by the state. Of course, they held my sympathies.
These boys had taken the seeds out of their Mexican weed and tossed them into the ground. Lo and behold, a few months later they had pounds and pounds of the stuff, for free! They were pretty hush hush about it all inside, because they didn’t want their “secret” to get out. Since I always had a gal bringing me hash on the inside no matter which joint I was in, I got the inside scoop.
That’s something laughable now but back then, the connection between the highly illegal pot being bought, sold and smoked, and the potential of the seeds that came with it (before seedless pot hit our markets), wasn’t well-known. In fact, growing yourself was a crazy good idea very few followed for many years later.
Another fella there was a short muscular red-head who had to be 30-35 or so, pure farming country good old boy. He was friendly, and always had a laugh to share as a steady ball-buster. That was the thing about prison. I’d been kicked out of the house at 15 when dad broke down and therefore lost access to my four brothers. I found lots of brothers elsewhere.
And what had country boy done? He’d gotten drunk with friends and they all were hungry. So, he went into a field outside Kemptville where beef cattle were kept. There he killed and butchered an animal for its best steaks, leaving the rest of the carcass behind and fucking off with the meat. When word got out the next day, someone remembered seeing his car on the road the night before.
If remember right, while recovering at home, and still shit-faced, buddy woke up to cops looking at all the blood on the seats of his wheels sitting in the driveway.
But back to Dave, for he’s the best example I know of male competitiveness. You see, Dave was a pimp. Or, at least that’s the gist of it.
It was back in the very early days of the escort business, where the Yellow Page folks finally allowed escort ads. It blew open the pimp business as gals and guys lined up to make money. There are always women willing to sell their body for a few bucks, but it can be dangerous work. They use men to set them up and drive to the appointments and make sure they’re protected. Dave did that for a cut.
He was a good-sized kid, maybe late twenties. He wore glasses and was smart enough, verbal. In other circumstances, he would have made a good manager or business owner. He also had a twinkle in his eye and a ballsy determination. Of course, he was in for assault—something about him and another guy beating up some john who had messed with one of his girls. The usual.
Dave always had some broad visiting. Not a good-looking gal mind you, but he got visits. We’d see each other in the visiting room and know I’d soon have shit for sale. His visits didn’t bring him much. He just didn’t have that kind of pull with people. Those who couldn’t smuggle would have relatives visit and leave them $50 bills. We traded goods for that currency. In every joint I’ve been in except county buckets, there was cash to be had for drugs. Dave had neither.
But, Dave was a determined-type, we had a lot in common that way. We weren’t content to do time and wait to get out. We were proactive mother-fuckers.
I’ve been to a few comedy clubs in my time. Especially since the advent of Yuk Yuks and place like that. I’ve busted a gut in a half dozen cities I’m sure.
But I have never laughed as hard as I have while inside. It’s the war-stories. It’s reports from the underground. It’s guys who are living at times, sometimes all the time, right on the fucking edge of sanity and insanity. It gets very funny, in an incredulous way. Oh, the shit people get into.
And those ball-busting war-story boasting sessions were just the kind of place where one-upmanship can be brought to a whole new level. It was at one of those gatherings of the haves, the ringleaders of the joint, where Dave uttered his infamous line, “I’d just about do anything for a $50 bill.”
Wasn’t long before suggestions were made. The usual, let a cat lick your nuts, diddle your cat, eat the pussy of a 300-pound fat chick, eat shit, etc.
“Wait a minute, did you say you’d eat shit? No way!”
Dave, not one to back down, flatly replied, “I’d eat a whole shit for a $50 bill.”
And wouldn’t you know it, guy pulls one out, red Mounties right there, waving it around while making sure the guards aren’t walking by. “I’ve got to see this. You’re on,” he says, calling Dave’s bluff in front of the boys.
Dave: “I’ll do it, wait until tomorrow when I have to go,” said matter-of-factly.
And so, the next day, I’m thinking this has been called off. Nope. Dave was in my dorm, so I got to witness the plan’s progression. During the day he’d smuggled out a plastic fork and knife and small paper plate out of the dining hall. He showed them to me, asking what I thought of by way of stash.
He signaled to me when he was going in to the toilets to get his stool. “If I’m going to eat shit, I’m eating my own,” he said. Couldn’t argue that at all.
Near after supper, he’d produced a lovely stool, decent consistency, and curling in a half moon on the plate replete with tapered end where his anus had pinched it off as it exited his arsehole.
There he was, slightly acne’d and puffy faced, a little soft but his muscularity from regular workouts now showing through his shirt, and his overall demeanour a curious look of high concentration. It was as if he was treating this as no big deal, indifferent to the challenge, wisely creating a conqueror’s mindset, long before that word ever entered popular psychology’s lexicon.
And I believed him. If anyone could do this, Dave could. He was a lower echelon dweller, from the projects, living among the poor and the profane, places where suburban realities did not exist. He had banged lots of fat girls, maybe even his sister (if he had one). For sure he had his red wings, an honour gained by eating the pussy of a menstruating woman, maybe his sister’s friend or the neighbour.
He was a gladiator of gall, a welfare warrior, and mercenary of mooch. He was a sick-fuck our boy, and we were proud of him.
Someone kept six at the door but didn’t linger. Instead they’d keep moving and walked across the hall while glancing up towards the offices as one by one, the guys from the night before filtered into the dorm, sitting at different beds pretending to be visiting a person here or there to not attract attention.
When the six-man signaled the guard was off the range and had moved into another one, it meant there might be twenty minutes before another appeared. It was then Dave nipped into the washroom to retrieve his prize.
The shit had congealed into a shiny, waxy state on the paper plate. You could smell it. It smelled just like shit. Only, you weren’t smelling your shit, which I presume you’re at least somewhat used to by now. No. You were smelling Dave’s shit. It was an entirely unpleasant experience. It reeked of bad food from a bad body. A ripple of moans and suffering remarks erupted from the gathered.
I insisted he do it on his bed. No way it was coming near mine. Finally, someone called him on: “You gonna do this or what?”
Dave asked to see the fifty. Then, there was the delicate negotiation of who would “hold” the fifty, you know, in case the bettor reneged. This resulted in more insults and calls for respect. Finally, the group prevailed and the holder of the fifty was persuaded to hand it off to someone he could easily take it back from if necessary.
Dave put the plate on his lap. Gingerly picking up the plastic fork and knife, he began to cut off a piece of shit, like someone cutting into a steak. Only, it didn’t give any resistance, but did cut nicely. He broke away this piece onto his fork, leaving a brown shit stain in its place on the plate.
He lifted the fork up to about chest high as he sat on the edge of that bed. He had water ready in case, or maybe it was a pop. He’d invested in whatever remedy he’d need, for fifty bucks for nothing is a rare thing in prison. That’s the way he looked at it: He was getting money for nothing.
Lifting the fork to his mouth, the collective leans back and away from him in disgust, not able to quite take their eyes from the fork and shit in front of his face. The person sitting directly across from Dave suddenly realized the precariousness of his position and made a bold move out of the way at the last minute… just in case.
Dave put the shit into his mouth. He looked fine. It was in there and his mouth had closed. He began to chew.
It may have been a few chews, but it wasn’t much more. Involuntary seizures hit him as surely as there was something knocking him on the back of the head. He soldiered on and tried to swallow, tears forming in his eyes as his body convulsed, dry heaving, chest rising and falling.
Through tears in his eyes, doubt suddenly appeared on his face. Perhaps it was the difference between what his mind commanded and the way his body responded, but he looked at once tyrannized and confused. He gulped as if to swallow once more and his throat stopped mid-way and reversed course. He began to show just a bit of brown spittle at the corners of his mouth. His lips were glossed in brown, like he’d been eating baked beans, no napkin.
He rose up, the assembled fell back on the beds before him, spreading apart on both sides like a peeled banana. Dave convulsed again, this time raising a hand to his mouth area. For the last time he tried to slide that piece of errant turd down his throat, but it would not go. His mouth remained open, where you could see the mashed shit on his tongue and teeth, like when a rude person who speaks with their mouth full.
He ran towards the bathroom stalls next to us, as people cleared their legs and feet out of his way. There, through the full-length plexiglass windows, we could see him puke up the remaining shit from his mouth, and any other shit in this stomach. Great heaving occurred as he emptied his being of any possibility of shit.
The bettor snatched the fifty from the holder while all of us moaned in sympathy and in awe. Everyone broke protocol and spoke too loudly and too often, describing every second of that scene in minute detail. “Did you see him put it in? Fuck off!” and, “I thought we about to be sprayed with shit, goddamn it!” and “Fuck me, I can’t believe I saw someone put shit in their mouth!” and, “I never thought he’d do it, no way!!” and on and on.
I’ve never fully told the shit story until now. Over the years, I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in passing, that I once saw a guy try to eat shit on dare. No one seemed all that interested in hearing about it. I know why. Surely, no one would believe it. And the other thing is you can’t mention it in mixed company. Bit of a mood-killer maybe.
Dave came back out of that bathroom a dejected man. He was almost apologetic. He kept saying something like, “I thought I could do it, but it just wouldn’t go down no matter how hard I tried.” To him, it was now about failure and the lost opportunity. It was rehashing the technicalities. More importantly, it was about not being able to best the fella who taunted him. He couldn’t command his body to win this one on will alone.
I’m pretty sure the rest of that bit I never let Dave get close enough to me to smell his breath. I know he brushed his teeth, I lived with him. It was just… something.
I wish him well, hoping his experiences in prison exposed his frailty. Maybe it put a convincing damper on his invincibility, and perhaps kept him alive on the outside. I hope he lived to tell this story. After getting out, I never saw him again. Never forgot him either though. How could you?
That’s what happens to men, and to boys. We compete at an entirely different level than do the girls. It’s a big difference between us. It’s unlikely in your lifetime you will ever encounter such an ordure ordeal, such as eating shit for dollars.
And if you do hear of such a thing, you can bet almost anything it won’t involve a woman instead.
Just don’t bet eating shit. Can’t be done.
©CKWallace, November, 2018, all rights reserved.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
THE BET (true story)