A Young American Abroad
Somewhere on the Edge of Lake Trasimeno, Summer 2002
Elliot ran along the muddy shoreline with his lanky body bouncing up and down as he pulled his feet from the mud. It was his first time in Italy and his excitement had gotten the best of him. The suction on his feet slowed him down, but he could still outrun Pam, who held his clothes up as she chased after him. He ran along the thin mud flat bordering a sparse grove of weeds that shot ten feet up from the water’s edge. The stink of nitrogen seeped from the mud and hung in the air. This was no place to sunbathe.
“Elliot, please stop,” Pam yelled. “Put your clothes on.”
Exasperation gripped her face as her chest heaved. She could only take two or three steps before stopping to catch her breath. Her round figure sank too deeply into the mud to get anywhere near him.
Elliot ignored her. His bony arms flailed about like a toddler’s as he ran.
Thirty college students stood back and watched their colleague run naked through the mud while his teacher plodded after him. They were supposed to get a little history of the largest lake in Umbria, but this was the highlight of their field trip.
Pam’s frustration grew worse because Ivy, the other professor there, had abandoned the group with another student just minutes before. She was as flighty in temperament as some of her dance students. They went up toward the road and crossed out of sight. A few students giggled about it because a rumor had spread that they went to smoke pot.
I watched from the far corner of the beach. An old woman who lived in one of the houses on the street walked down the dirt path behind me.
“Why is he nude?” she asked in Italian.
I laughed. She was near seventy and thin, but she looked like a weathered peasant who had spent a life working in the fields.
“Where is he from?”
“The United States,” I said.
“Hmm,” she said, staring at the naked man frolicking in the mud. “Maybe he should be brought to a hospital.”
I laughed again.
Elliot then turned around and started running toward Pam. He had moved onto firmer ground so he picked up speed. His parts flapped about like a rag in the wind as he barreled toward her. A collective oooh came from the students. Pam scrambled out of the way and let him pass without a challenge, leaving his clothes behind. She didn’t get hazard pay.
Elliot whizzed passed her and came toward me and the old woman, his face beaming with delight. He skidded to a stop within 10 feet of us and turned back toward his colleagues with his arms raised victoriously above his head. “Yeah!” he screamed. He took in a few deep breaths and then ran back toward Pam, this time veering back into the mud.
After 4 or 5 steps, Elliot’s right foot scraped the thick muck and he fell face forward, slapping the wet surface with full-body contact. Another oooh came from the crowd, this one deeper in tone. He lay outstretched and motionless for a few seconds, as if expecting to sink. When he tried to get up, his arms sunk to his elbows and his knees submerged. He looked like a trapped animal. He dug his feet in to gain his balance and pushed his rear-end up first. He was bent so far over that his hair lay in the mud and his hind quarters and all of its component parts were in full view for me and the old woman to see.
“Oh Dio!” she said and covered her mouth.
It was a snapshot in horror. The old woman might have seen American tourism written all over that image. I laughed like hell.
Elliot then pulled his arms out of the mud and inched his way back to firmer ground where he moped back toward Pam and his stunned classmates, his limbs coated in black tar, gray water streaming down his back from his stringy hair and everyone wondering what had possessed him to take off his clothes and make a total mess of himself in front of a group of people.
This article was posted on January 02, 2006