I was standing in the middle of a shallow river, looking at a box of flakes. You know, some kind of breakfast flakes – sugar flakes or honey flakes or maple flakes or something. One breakfast-food company tried bringing out a product that they called “ham flakes” or something to that effect. It was a corn and oat flake that had an infusion of ham flavor and even some of those ham-flavored marshmallow bits that you see from time to time. When I was very young I had a great love for ham-flavored marshmallow bits, but after I had my wisdom teeth out I could never again stomach them. Oh, the tragic things that youth sometimes brings.
There I stood in the river, reading the ingredients on this box of flakes. The water felt ever so warm and soothing. When I say “warm,” I often want to say the word “turgid,” confusing it for “tepid,” but still meaning to convey that it was, in fact, warm and not just tepid. When I think of “tepid,” I often think of that cup of coffee that was waiting for me when I came downstairs that one morning when I was a tender youth of only sixteen or seventeen. The coffee was tepid – most definitely not “turgid,” I would have to admit. But being how sixteen or seventeen year-old boys are, my mind, I am sure, played around with any word that came across its meaty, fleshy cortex. I would have gladly used the word “vapid” in a sentence, had I known what it means. As it turned out, I drank my coffee and kept the word “turgid” perpetually confused with “tepid.”
If we can speak for just a minute about confusion, I was even more confused about the words “turgid” and “turbid,” owing to a mishap in the biology lab while attending Spiro Agnew Junior High. I won't go into the details, but I will assure you that sweet Miss Kelly Skrypiczek was, for the most part, uninjured. Permanently scarred in a metaphysical way, mind you, but uninjured. I made it up to her by treating her to a braunschweiger sandwich down at Darlick's Deli, and I think she mostly forgot about it. For a while, anyway.
So I always would confuse the meanings of these two words, “turgid” and “turbid.” It was mostly without consequence, I must admit. There was the occasional difficulty with a crossword puzzle, and there was the one very uncomfortable episode in that bordello just south of Boise, but for the most part it made no measurable difference in my life. Until I found myself standing in the middle of a shallow river, looking at a box of flakes, that is.
I was inspecting the box of flakes not for my own edification, but rather on contract. I had hired on as a river flake-box inspector for a large processed food conglomerate that shall remain nameless. I was working for this so-called and self-proclaimed “cut-rate convenience store to the world” in their flake-box inspection department and had laterally transferred to the river section of the office. This afforded me more time for indulging my interest in river-bank cremation – I was able to watch a really good funeral pyre almost nightly, and I gave serious thought to opening up a concession stand to sell chili-pups and Greek flaming cheese to the crowds and mourning families.
I was directed, one fateful day, to inspect the afore-mentioned box of flakes. This was not a flake that was paired with ham-flavored marshmallow bits, mind you – I believe it was a standard licorice-flavored corn or oat flake. My district manager gave me a strict charge to thoroughly inspect said box, and to do so in a branch of one of my favorite rivers. “Be careful, though,” he said, “that particular part of the river is home to a bizarre species of piranha, one that strikes only at the reproductive organs of mammals. Stay away from turbid waters.”
And so I made certain, as I waded into the murky, warm river with cereal box in hand, that this was, indeed, warm and not tepid water. And I was most careful to make sure that the river was not swollen and overflowing its banks.