The summer before my senior year of high school, I studied abroad in a small village in central Germany. This installment: "Boogie, Woogie, Woogie."
(If memory serves me correctly, there are photos coinciding with all of these events. I shall have to unearth them.)
Someone had the brilliant idea of shepherding nine high-strung American high schoolers (most of us cracked out on high-octane German coffee) and their foreign host counterparts on an excursion down one of the placid streams in central Germany. We were grouped into threes and given a boat that appeared to be a cross between a kayak and a canoe. Life-jackets, bagged lunches, a brief explanation of geographical importance, and off we went.
Whenever adults expect students to group themselves, they invariably group according to cliches. I'm certain that the idea was for us to mingle ourselves with the German students and exchange vocabulary lessons whilst navigating the rivers and streams with our map. What happened, instead, was that they gave us free reign. Which meant three kayaks of German students shooting off ahead of us, and three kayaks of American students giggling and speaking nothing but our native tongue.
While this may have completely circumvented the entire point of the excursion, I will say that the bucolic setting was not lost on us. We were city kids, all of us, and we appreciated the nature aspect. We rolled lazily downstream, paddling alongside beautiful serene pastures and rolling hills. It was late June in Germany, a particularly beautiful time more like spring than summer. The sky was a perfect blue, the grass that piercing new green. Cows (whose low "moo" even sounded slightly more German; more like a "mmmmaaaoooooo") grazed in fields and drank from the stream as we passed. And, of course, being the typical American teenagers we were, we had to break the serene silence of nature with our own cow noises.
I do not know if the German high school students were so compelled because, as I mentioned, they were far down the stream beyond us at this point. They seemed to be primarily concerned with speed, something that seemed right to me, given the penchant for luxury cars and the Autobahn. We were more concerned with trying to get the cows to respond to our advances.
At some point, it was decided that we would choose one such grassy knoll upon which to sit and eat our hearty lunches. We chose a bend in the stream that had a little pebbled beach upon which we could put the kay-oes (as I am choosing to refer to them), and while there was a fence separating the pasture from the bank it appeared to be nothing more than some wooden posts between which was strung shreds of tarp. A half-assed fence, perfect for ducking under so that we could sit in the grass and eat.
I was at the front of the kay-oe, and so as we launched ourselves up onto the beach I was the first to dig my feet into the pebbly sand. On attempting to stand, however, I lurched forward and reached out to the haphazard fence to for balance.
I don't recall exactly what happened next, just that one moment I had my feet in the watery sand and one hand reaching for the shreds of tarp between the fence posts and the next I felt someone punch me square in the stomach. All of the breath went out of me, blackness took over, and as soon as I felt the impact of the punch in the front of me, I almost immediately felt something wallop me from behind. Blackness. Confusion. A weird noise.
I couldn't open my eyes, but I somehow understood that the hit from behind had, in fact, been the ground. Because, as I oriented myself, I discovered that I was lying on my back, on the beach, and that I'd hit the ground fairly hard. I couldn't breathe. No air.
I coughed and, painfully, sucked air into my lungs. One breath. Two. Ragged, painful, but then slowly it came more regularly.
"Are you ok?!" one of the American students asked. I could hear his concern, could hear the fierce whispers as everyone was trying to figure out how I could have been climbing out of a kay-oe one moment and flat on my back the next.
I opened one eye, and then I saw it. The tiny yellow sign affixed to one of the fence posts, warning stupid people (probably Americans) like myself that the fence was not to be touched.
"The-the....the- fence," I gasped. "It's...it's....."
"What? What happened? What's wrong?!"
"It's electric," I groaned.
"Boogie, woogie, woogie?" one of the students said, much to the entertainment of the rest. I was so pissed about that comment, that I don't think I spoke to him for the rest of the day.
I had been electrocuted by an electric fence surrounding a cow pasture, while standing in a puddle of water. And he was quoting that freakishly awful song played at every prom, Homecoming, and wedding I'd ever been to.
I couldn't decide whether to be humiliated or just grateful to be alive. I still walk that line.
Years later, recently in fact, the story would follow me. I was kayaking in Annapolis a few weeks ago and, quite gracefully I'm sure, flipped the kayak within moments of leaving the dock. After jokingly posting something on Facebook about it, Mr. Spaz resurrected the horribly embarrassing story by commenting, "Boogie, woogie, woogie?" Even though there were no electric fences in this particular story, the moment of choosing between humiliation and survival was potently the same.