TAHOE CITY, Calif. — In my few, but exotic, travels to cities of the United States, long walks through sprawling airports, lost in labyrinths of unfamiliar hotels, ski areas, restaurants, up and down countless flights of stairs in ball parks, road weary in the dreary lights of gas stations and highway rest areas, observing the condition of facilities used by millions of individuals of my own species, I have learned a profound lesson about human nature: nobody knows how to flush a toilet.
Am I the only one on earth who has figured out how to operate the damn things? It’s not like when a man goes to the urinal the little handle is tricky to find or hard to get a hold of once he finds it. Are women as inept at handling the little, or big, appendages on a toilet? I suspect that toilet operating ignorance, and poor toilet seat positioning, is bisexual.
In the wake of a hard gambling, hard golfing, hard boating, hard partying summer in Tahoe, the condition of the environment is so dismal you can see visible signs of human neglect and indifference almost everywhere. It’s not as bad in the backcountry, but, even there, you can find evidence that somebody thought the mountains were a big toilet.
To be fair, maybe it’s not neglect and indifference. Maybe whatever it is that we humans do that causes us to leave hideous traces of our passing is natural to our species. Maybe we just can’t help it, like other wild animals that leave a trail of human garbage.
Perhaps the eyesores are nothing more than examples of innocent, brief lapses of attention due to some unforeseen major distraction, like your three year old running out into the street, causing you to drop the punctured raft you were wondering what to do with, then forgetting all about it. If there is an understandable, innocent explanation for all the litter, Tahoe has been visited by a lot of innocent, easy to understand people this summer.
I think we evolved from bears, not apes. Bears eat caviar, donuts, day old pizza and mushrooms, just like humans. Bears never pass up a free meal and often show up unexpectedly at dinner time. They sleep in the nude. The similarities between bears and humans is overwhelming. What more evidence do we need that we evolved from bears?
Maybe I have it backwards. Maybe we are evolving into bears. Someday we will find a fossil of a bear with a bright orange hunting cap and a bottle of whiskey in his claws, with evidence of corn dogs in his stomach, and everything will make sense.
Look up in your family tree and, chances are, you will find a bear on a limb. Chances are, hopefully, you will also find a human relative, however distant, who was a real thinker, a true student of nature, an astute observer and lover of life. You may also have a relative who loves beer and has a serious thinking problem. He thinks in the morning and thinks on the job. He, or she, hides it well. He thinks while driving too.
I was thinking this morning that when a whale gives birth we call it calving. So, when humans give birth, shouldn’t we call it kidding?
Heavy thinking is no laughing matter. It can get you into hot water. Even moderate social thinking can lead to nasty rumors about you. One too many thoughts is all it takes. A shot of Plato with an Einstein chaser doesn’t mix. You’ll wake up with a headache bigger than an allegory and spend all day trying to adjust your mass and energy to the speed of light.
When your thinking problem escalates to the point that you get so out of control you start making perfect sense, most people won’t want anything to do with you.
It’s not just tourists who sometimes leave their brains at home. We locals fight with each other in public for no reason, and block the intersection and cross the double yellow line.
Maybe the real problem is that sometimes we bring our brains with us.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.