Ironically, the occasion for Gary’s outburst was a reply to my invitation to join a rafting trip that my wife and I are organizing a few years out. We had been together on a similar trip last year and everyone seemed to have had a great time. My blog stories tell of our mutual adventures and my impressions of other rafters (including one minor kerfuffle between Gary and me) in Grand Canyon Rafting – A Dozen Little Stories.Would he and his wife like to again join a group for “eight days immersed in one of the grandest spectacles on Earth,” I asked via email?
You acted like an ass Wayne, and have no tolerance for people and Arlene and I want nothing to do with you. The last thing we need, is for you to start another story about our family.
What happen (sic) or didn’t happen with our grandson and Arlene’s brother [Fred] is no ones (sic) business but ours, and certainly not yours. This is our family and you had no right to go into detail about the doings, and send it out to everyone. Whether these things were the truth or not is incidental. they (sic) were very hurtful to all concerned.
Please do not trouble yourself self (sic) to respond to this email.
Walking the lineMy blog stories about our shared rafting, though truthful to events, as Gary conceded, did reveal flaws in his less-than-picture-perfect family. So what? Every family is dysfunctional in its own way.
I guess I can see why he might be less than thrilled with my story about his brother-in-law, Fred’s Lizard, but how can you not write about an overweight, out-of-shape retired bail-bondsman from Bullhead City nearly killing himself in the wilderness from a simple fall onto some rocks along the Little Colorado River? I was sympathetic to Fred, however, and intended that my story read that way:
“Fred struggled, and as the week progressed he grew more content to relax on the beach while others took hikes. For all his challenges, however, here’s the thing about Fred. Not once did I hear him complain about anything. Not the heat – even though sometimes I pictured his reddening countenance on the raft as a giant kielbasa broiling under the sun. Not the sand, not his frequent falling on his butt when getting on and off the raft. Not even when he came real close to killing himself.”As for my brief mention of Gary’s grandson in another story, what teenager camping on the river with only adults who are drinking heavily each evening wouldn’t sneak into the booze?
Regardless of Gary’s virtual shit-fit, these events were my “business” because they happened in my life. I share my life openly in my writing (see Bare Naked Wayne). Which is not to say that there is no line. I left out a number of gossipy stories because they may have made people look bad for no good reason or because I heard them second-hand. Nevertheless, I learned a long time ago that good intentions are no excuse for hurtful writing.
Nearly 40 years ago I wrote a magazine story about an environmental battle in rural Michigan where I described an elderly couple whose farm was being devastated by the project. Intending to evince empathy for their salt-of-the-earth lifestyle, I noted in passing that they had never even been to a McDonald’s. I later heard that they were embarrassed for everyone to know that. I had crossed the line.
So did I also cross the line with my Grand Canyon rafting stories? The beauty of the written word is that everyone gets to decide for themselves.
My little kerfuffle with Gary that I mentioned earlier had to do with cigars. One would think that anyone smoking anything in the Grand Canyon would find a distant beach locale. But several on our trip, including Gary, insisted on lighting up each evening right in the middle of the camping area. Which meant everyone got to inhale their stogies’ fart-like fumes. Who wants to spend thousands of dollars to visit one of the most pristine places on Earth and choke on cigar smoke wafting across your campsite?
It was the third evening of our trip when I quietly complained to Gary. I expected that he would be apologetic, having not realized how offensive others found his pleasure. To my surprise, however, he got all huffy. So later I wrote about that odd encounter, including my attempt to patch things up:
“I approached him again to clear the air, so to speak: ‘Gary, are you going to be grumpy with me the whole trip over the cigar thing?’ Of course not, he assured me, and that was that, and that was about as close to a bad moment as I witnessed in eight days on the river.”
Except that, obviously, that was not that. Months after the trip ended, I heard he was still grumbling about my intolerance.What was he thinking?
How pissed off must you be to put such a tirade in writing? And email it to a writer of the very blog that you are indignant about? Gary asked me not to trouble myself to respond. Yet asking a writer not to respond to such a raw story – well, it would be like asking me not to breathe. Writers write.It’s not like he and I ever were best buds. Nevertheless, we do go back a long ways. In the 80s and 90s, I managed a land development company in Arizona. Gary and his wife owned the real estate company that marketed our residential lots in Bullhead City. Together, we grumbled about the crazy guys who owned my land development company, shared the pleasures and pains of building communities from the (Mohave Desert) ground up, and made a fair share of money until the economy tanked.
Our connection wasn’t just about work. Gary’s daughter is my wife’s childhood friend, which makes him indirectly responsible for the best thing that ever happened to me: meeting my wife. He organized the first rafting trip I took through the Grand Canyon 25 years ago. He gave me the finest day of snow skiing in my life at his condo in Utah. A few years back we shared a quiet drink just before his granddaughter’s wedding in the pine-clad mountains outside Flagstaff. He and his wife are lovely people, gracious hosts, and much fun.
No doubt, Gary could be a bristly pain-in-the-ass to work with. But he always had a sense of humor and we always worked things out. Until now. That nasty email seems pretty final. He was my friend, and now he’s not, and especially at our ages that’s too damned bad. All over some trifling little stories. Go figure.