Population: 109 / Población: 109

I’ve told this long story before, but only in English. Here it is in English followed by Spanish.
He contado esta larga historia antes, pero solo en inglés. Aquí está en inglés seguido de español.


“Jerry,” I whispered, “I have to pee.” “Here,” smiled his mother from behind me as she offered me an empty Maxwell House can.

It was my first visit to the Midwest. We were fishing for walleyes and crappies (pronounced croppies), fish that don’t swim in the waters of Long Island and Brooklyn, where I had grown up.

We sat in the only boat, in the middle of the only lake in the town of Ihlen, Minnesota. Population 109. 

Jerry and I had been together 10 months. He had met my parents when they paid us a visit in Boston. So, we decided it was time for me to meet his parents.

We had left Boston five days earlier for a week of home-cooked meals, home movies, photo albums, and fishing. A chance for me to get to know Jerry’s parents. A chance for them to get to know me. 

It had been an exceptional week — up until that moment. My upbringing had not prepared me for that moment. 

In my family, there was an unwritten law that men did not ‘go to the bathroom’ in front of women. Nor, for that matter, in front of men. 

In my family, toilets flushed and did not have “Good to the last drop” printed on the side. 

We sat in Jerry’s father’s tiny fishing boat on a late-spring afternoon. A light breeze played with the leaves in the old oak trees before gently dancing across the lake, a breeze just cool enough to keep the mosquitoes at bay. 

I HAD just drained my third can of beer when I whispered to Jerry.

Jim — a big man with a voice to match — sat in back holding his fishing rod, a devilish smile playing at the corners of his lips, a glint in his brown eyes as they peeked from under his John Deere cap. 

Jerry held a worm between his fingers, about to bait his hook. 

Alice, her green eyes catching the colors in the sky and water, her blond curls bursting forward from the snug-fitting hood of her navy blue sweatshirt, still held the coffee can in her large Norwegian hand. 

And I sat, mortified, desperately trying to hold my water. “I can’t go in that!” 

“Why not?” asked Jerry — knowing full well why not. 

“Well, not in front of your mother!” 

“I’ll turn my back,” Alice offered. 

‘Oh, isn’t she helpful,’ I thought. 

“I can’t. You’ll still hear it,” I sputtered. 

My face must have been as red as the night crawler Jerry now gleefully impaled on his hook. 

“So, just go over the side into the lake,” Alice suggested. Jerry nodded his agreement. And, for the first time, I noticed they had the same sinister smile. 

There was an interminable silence as I tried to regain control of my lungs. I must have looked a fool, sitting there with this family of evil Midwesterners, my face red with embarrassment, my legs clamped tightly together. 

Then Jim, still smiling (but was it malevolently now?), gently set down his rod and reel and tugged on the outboard motor. 

“Where are we going?” asked Jerry.

“To shore,” replied Jim. “There’s a biffy on the south side of the lake.” 

“A biffy!” Jerry squawked. “You never took us to shore! We always used the coffee can.” 

‘Oh, God,’ that couldn’t possibly be the same coffee can that Jerry and his sisters had used. Could it?!?

“Well, Gerald, Mitchell here is a city kid. You can’t expect him to do everything our way the first time out. We’ve got to introduce him to this stuff gradually.” Jim lectured, but I could hear the repressed laughter in his voice as he motored us to shore. 

‘What’s a biffy?’ I wondered as I peered into the dark trees in the distance. And then I saw it. 

‘An outhouse?!?’ My heart sank and I thought, ‘He expects me to go in that?!?”

But, I didn’t have much choice. It was the outhouse or the coffee can. 

When we reached shore, I leapt from the boat and ran to the outhouse. I pulled the door shut behind me. Of course there was no lock. I hoped the 109 residents of the town of Ihlen, Minnesota, had their own outhouses. 

I looked up. ‘At least there’s ventilation,’ I thought. 

But, the tiny screen windows above my head did nothing to lessen the stench from the fetid mass in the hole below. I unzipped and then held my breath as I emptied my full-to-bursting bladder. 

Mosquitoes buzzed in my ears and hungrily fed wherever I could not reach with my free hand to swat them away. The pheasants cried. 

I dreaded the thought of returning to the three snickering people waiting in the only boat, on the shore of the only lake in the town of Ihlen, Minnesota. Population 109.

At Alice and Jim’s, Pipestone, Minnesota (Population: 4,034). /  En la casa de Alice y Jim, Pipestone, Minnesota (Población: 4034).


“Jerry”, susurré, “Tengo que orinar”. “Aquí”, sonrió su madre detrás de mí mientras me ofrecía una lata vacía de Café de Maxwell House.

Fue mi primera visita al medio oeste. Íbamos a pescar “walleyes” y “crappies,” peces que no nadan en las aguas de Long Island y Brooklyn, donde yo había crecido. Nos sentamos en el único barco, en medio del único lago en el pueblo de Ihlen, Minnesota. Población 109.

Jerry y yo habíamos estado juntos por 10 meses. Conoció a mis padres cuando nos visitaron en Boston. Entonces, decidimos que era el tiempo de conocer a sus padres.

Habíamos salido de Boston cinco días antes durante una semana de comidas caseras, películas caseras, álbumes de fotos, y pesca. Una oportunidad para que yo conozca a los padres de Jerry. Una oportunidad para que me conozcan.

Había sido una semana excepcional hasta ese momento. Mi educación no me había preparado para ese momento.

En mi familia, existía una ley no escrita de que los hombres no “iban al baño” frente a las mujeres. Tampoco, por cierto, frente a los hombres.

En mi familia, los inodoros se vaciaron y no tenían “Bueno hasta la última gota” impresa en el lateral.

Nos sentamos en el pequeño bote de pesca del padre de Jerry en una tarde de primavera. Una brisa ligera jugó con las hojas en los robles viejos antes de bailar suavemente a través del lago, una brisa que se enfría lo suficiente como para mantener a los mosquitos alejados.

ACABA DE vaciar mi tercera lata de cerveza cuando le susurré a Jerry.

Jim, un hombre grande con una voz para emparejar, se sentó en la espalda con su caña de pescar, con una sonrisa diabólica jugando en las comisuras de sus labios, un destello en sus ojos marrones cuando se asomaron debajo de su gorra de “John Deere”.

Jerry sostuvo un gusano entre sus dedos, a punto de cebar su anzuelo.

Alice, con sus ojos verdes atrapando los colores en el cielo y el agua, sus rizos rubios brotando de la cómoda capucha de su sudadera azul marino, todavía sostenía la lata de café en su gran mano noruega.

Y me senté, mortificada, tratando desesperadamente de retener mi agua. “¡No puedo ir en eso!”

“¿Por qué no?”, Preguntó Jerry, sabiendo muy bien por qué no.

“Bueno, no delante de tu madre!”

“Voy a dar la espalda”, se ofreció Alice.

‘Oh, ¿no es ella útil?’, pensé.

“No puedo. Aún lo oirás “, balbuceé.

Mi cara debe haber estado tan roja como el gusano Jerry ahora alegremente empalado en su gancho.

“Entonces, solo ve por el lado hacia el lago,” sugirió Alice. Jerry asintió con la cabeza. Y, por primera vez, noté que tenían la misma sonrisa siniestra.

Hubo un silencio interminable mientras intentaba recuperar el control de mis pulmones. Debo haber parecido un tonto, sentado allí con esta familia de malvados del medio oeste, con la cara enrojecida por la vergüenza, las piernas apretadas con fuerza.

Entonces Jim, todavía sonriendo (pero ¿era malévolo ahora?), dejó suavemente su caña y carrete y tiró del motor fueraborda.

“¿A dónde vamos?” preguntó Jerry.

“A la orilla”, respondió Jim. “Hay un biffy en el lado sur del lago”.

“¡El biffy!” se quejo. “¡Nunca nos llevaste a la orilla! Siempre usábamos la lata de café.

“Oh, Dios”, ese no podría ser la misma lata de café que Jerry y sus hermanas habían usado, ¿verdad?

“Bueno, Gerald, Mitchell aquí es un niño de ciudad. No puedes esperar que él haga todo a nuestra manera la primera vez. Tenemos que presentarle estas cosas gradualmente ”. Jim dio una conferencia, pero pude escuchar la risa reprimida en su voz cuando nos llevó a la orilla.

‘¿Qué es un biffy?’ Me pregunté mientras miraba los oscuros árboles en la distancia. Y luego lo vi.

‘¿Una casa de huéspedes?!?’ Mi corazón se hundió y pensé: ‘¿Se supone que debo ir en eso?

Pero, no tuve mucha opción. Era el biffy o la lata de café.

Cuando llegamos a la orilla, salté del bote y corrí al biffy. Cerré la puerta detrás de mí. Por supuesto que no había cerradura. Esperaba que los 109 residentes del pueblo de Ihlen, Minnesota, tuvieran sus propias biffys.

Miré hacia arriba. ‘Al menos hay ventilación’, pensé.

Pero, las pequeñas ventanas de la pantalla sobre mi cabeza no hicieron nada para disminuir el hedor de la masa fétida en el agujero de abajo. Lo descomprimí y luego contuve la respiración mientras vaciaba mi vejiga llena.

Los mosquitos zumbaban en mis oídos y se alimentaban con avidez donde no podía alcanzar con mi mano libre para aplastarlos. Los faisanes lloraban.

Temía la idea de volver a las tres personas que se reían en el único bote, en la orilla del único lago en la ciudad de Ihlen, Minnesota. Población 109.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

22 thoughts on “Population: 109 / Población: 109”

    1. David:
      So sorry! I don’t know what gives regarding posting. I’m going to talk with WordPress this week and see if they can fix the problems. It’s very inconsistent. For Jerry and me, it’s as if we grew up in different countries.

  1. Ah, I was a country girl who fished in a boat….the dreaded coffee can. Usually the girls pleaded for us to get somewhere near shore so we could go behind a tree (much better in my opinion than nasty outhouses, I still hate them). I think boys had it much easer

    1. Cheapchick:
      Boys definitely had it much easier than girls. I wonder why I didn’t just go behind a tree that day!

  2. Laughing with you, Mitchell, NOT at you!! (I am sure you look back at this with a smile now). I can relate to your misgivings about outhouses! I refuse to ever us them! I cannot hold my breath that long! Whereas Ron can use them as if nothing is going on in there!! What the heck!!??

    1. Jim:
      I was laughing at this the same afternoon. What a fun day with a great family. I STILL hate outhouses. I actually squatting in them when I was in Boy Scouts. They were 3-holers, so I would go in the middle of the night with the hope of not having to share with anyone! Even Jerry isn’t a fan… unless it’s a “stand-up job.”

  3. I love you so much right now, Mitchell! As I was reading this (and laughing) I wondered why you didn’t just go over the side of the boat. Growing up, I used to turn the water on in the bathroom so no one would hear me pee! We took a little boy, about ten, with us to the beach once. He told my father that he had to pee. Daddy told him to go in the water. Manuel (he’s got to be at least in his fifties now), pulled down his trunks stood on the shore and peed in the water! We all laughed until tears flowed. Kid didn’t have a clue.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Deedles:
      True confessions now? When I was in my TWENTIES, I used to turn on the water in the bathroom so no one would hear me pee… or whatever! My brother-in-law told me my sister did, too! That Manuel story is priceless!

    1. Mistress Maddie:
      I do look very different. But, that was an exceptionally awful photo. We all laughed at it at the time and I was even embarrassed to share it with anyone. Another fun memory from that photo though: I was wearing the green ribbed T-shirt I wore when I met Jerry! (The things I remember.)

    1. anne marie:
      I don’t know about you but I was taught to be ashamed about EVERYTHING when I was growing up.

  4. Another great story, Mitchell. You don’t look too comfortable holding that fish either. I would for sure pee in a can before I would use a nasty outhouse. But, like Deedles, when I was a teenager I would turn the tap on if I was a visitor at someone’s house and thought they might hear me.

    1. Wilma:
      I’m tougher than I used to be. I probably wouldn’t grimace while holding a fish (well, come to think of it). As I told Deedles, I used to turn the tap on well into my TWENTIES and so did my sister (according to my brother-in-law).

    1. Debra:
      I confirmed later that day that it was NOT the same coffee can. I asked Alice and she hooted and said, “Oh, heck no! Mitchell!!!”

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