As much as I hate to admit it, I think there are times that cheaters win.
In 1995 I returned to Circle Square Ranch as Program Director after being away for nearly three camping seasons. The current PD had to return to college early for a special course, so the Camp Director, Sheriff Cal, asked if I would consider filling in and do my old job for the final week of that summer.
I agreed, Weather-wise it turned out to be one of the worse weeks of the entire year. We had the remnants of two separate hurricane go through plus a monsoon. We laughed in the face of the storms and decided to have fun anyway, but I knew, with all the rain, something special would be needed to keep morale high and everyone excited, so a challenge was issued.
Six years earlier, during the first summer camp, Sheriff Cal was challenged to a Mustang go-kart race. There was a build up to the big event that raised the excitement level for that week. Even now the event is discussed by those that were there. When the “Showdown at Sundown” was finally concluded, the Sheriff emerged victorious and I realized we had a tool at our disposal to help make a week of camp memorable when the weather refused to help.
So this week, with such nasty weather, I mentioned the idea of a challenge to one of the few people who actually took on the Sheriff in the original challenge. Bubba. It was planned to be something like a professional wrestling event with a hero and a heel. It started at Tuesday lunch when Bubba, filling the role of the bad guy, would interrupt my announcements complaining about the way I did something. Then Tuesday supper again he interrupted me saying he could do stuff better then me.
I refused to take the bait as he continued to berate me. This had all been planned, he was the villain and myself the hero Though at the moment we still hadn’t quite figured out what the challenge would actually be, we did know it would take place on Thursday, prior to supper, that gave us two days to come up with the details and have the event finalized. We decided on the stakes before we had the battle planned. The looser would have to shave his beard. Yes, bearded Brad was battling bearded Bubba.
It was at Wednesday lunch that the competition, a battle in the mire, was announced. It would take place in a swampy bog hole with thick black mud. The Sheriff was to toss a one dollar coin into the mud and Bubba and I would we have three minutes to be the first one to retrieve it. No holds barred. If one of us recovered the loony, the other would have to shave, if we both came up empty handed, we could both keep our beards.
That night at supper we announced the fact that the looser would have to shave and the kids seemed to go crazy that one of us would have to face the blade. What they didn’t know was that Bubba was planning to shave at the end of the summer anyway, three days away, so it was agreed that he would not win the match. What? This fight was rig? Yes it was. I was to win if I was lucky enough to find the loony, or we would settle for a draw. My beard was safe. We couldn’t have the bad guy winning could we? Like I said, we based the event on the model of professional wrestling, and just like that sport, some of the ranchers supported the bad guy and some of them supported the good guy.
The next morning, Thursday, with the main event six hours away, Bubba came to me with a worried look on his bearded face. He asked if he had to really shave his beard if he lost. We couldn’t back out now I had to explained to him, we used the threat of shaving to build up the kids’ expectations. We couldn’t back out and let them down. What I didn’t know was the evening before, Bubba had just found out the one he loved, loved him back, had they had begun the very first stage of their relationship (the stage where she tells him what to do and he does it). She had told him she like his beard and that he could not shave it off.
Bubba was now in a quandary and that worried me. Men do strange things for love.
Thursday lunch time, I presented the official loony to Andre for safekeeping; he would in turn keep it safe until the challenge occurred. Then the Sheriff would toss the coin into the bog and our three minute battle would begin.
It was a mess as the two of us fought it out in the bog. When Bubba slammed my head beneath the brackish water and I came close to swallowing the muck and the mire, I suddenly realized I was in trouble, Bubba was doing more then just making this fight look good, Bubba was out to win. The one he loved told him he couldn’t shave and there was no way he was going to disobey her in the first days of their going out. He was going to put me down. I fought my way to the surface and manoeuvred around to hold him in a head lock and he started to gag. Serves the double-crosser right if he swallows bog water, I thought. He then picked me up and body slammed me into the bog. I got back to my feet to see him searching the mud for the loony so I tackled him from behind and once again he started gagging and choking. Surrounding the bog the 80 spectators cheered and clapped and booed and laugh: some cheering for Bubba, others shouting my name.
The Sheriff blew the whistle when the three minutes had expired and I, totally exhausted, tried to stand. My only comforting thought was that the loony had not been recovered; a draw had been reached so neither of us had to shave. My heart sank when Bubba jumped to his feet and pumped his fist in the air with a victory yell, in his hand was the shiny gold glint of the Canadian one dollar coin. My knees gave way and I fell back in the bog, devastated and betrayed. Bubba’s fans exploded in an uproar of celebration; fingers were pointed at me and laughter ridiculed, as I was reminded, in jeers, that my beard was now history. Sitting in the bog I hung my head in shame. It was bad enough that these kids had seen me loose a challenge, but they had no idea how I had been betrayed,double-crossed, cheated on and blindsided. He had agreed not to win, now I would have to shave since he found that stupid coin.
Bubba slogged his way out of the mud to the shore and slammed the winning loony into Sheriff’s Cal’s hand. I looked at the crowd gathered there, looks of disappointment on the fans that had supported and cheered me, those I had let down. There is a feeling you have when you fail at something, but when your failure disappoints others it’s a feeling that is worse then anything you can imagine. I couldn’t stand up and argue that this is wrong, Bubba was not supposed to win. I had been defeated in a most heinous way and I had to bear the shame and hide the secrets. I sighed and breathed deep as drops of black water dripped down my nose. I would have to learn to live again, eventually.
The Sheriff was just about to declare Bubba the champion, when Andre interrupted, announcing loudly. “The official loony that was tossed in the bog had the date, 1991!” He took the loony from his father and everyone went silent as he checked the coin. This loony has the date …” He paused to look closer as everyone went silent waiting to learn the year the coin had made. “1993!”
Bubba had cheated, he had hid the loony in his mouth and during our bout I had nearly caused him to swallow it twice. His fans groaned in defeat as my fans booed him. Everyone started talking at once. It was a draw; no one would have to shave.
But I couldn’t let this travesty go unpunished so that’s when I made my move. “Andre!” I shouted from the bog where I still sat. Again the crowd quieted and everyone turned to look at me in the mud “Check the date on this!” I raised my hand and everyone gasped to see a loony between my fingers. This time it was the turn of my fans to explode in victory. I tossed the coin across the bog and Andre snatched it out of the air. He wiped the mud from the face and looked closely. “The date on this one is…” Again, there was a pause. “1991! This is the winning Loony!” My fans went crazy as the Sheriff declared me the champion and as I made my way to solid ground I could see the one Bubba loves running away, nearly in tears.
Later when everyone had headed to supper and it was just me and Bubba left, I looked at him and shook my head. “I’m sorry Brad,” he apologized, “I had to choose between you and the one I love, and well, the one I love really likes my beard.”
I looked at him and quietly said, “You cheated”
“I know,” he shook his head, “but then you had to actually go and find the loony.” I could see in his mind he was trying to figure out how to explain things to his girlfriend.
I patted him on the back and called him by his real name. (Which I won’t mention here to protect his identity) “I didn’t find the loony.” I smiled, which looked particularly bright with my face covered in bog mud.
His eyes widened as he stopped to look at me. Those eyes, too, looked much brighter since his face was as black with mud as mine. “You didn’t find it?” he asked.
“No, I just made sure the loony I had clipped inside my shorts’ pocket matched the same date as the game loony.” We laughed as we made our way up Trites’ Lane leaving a wet muddy trail of bog behind us.
What is the morale of this story? If you are going to cheat, cheat well. In the end the kids had a good time, Bubba eventually married the one he loves and I retired as mud wresting champion with a story to share. In case you are wondering if Bubba ever shaved; eventually.