Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, chevalier de Lamarck and Charles Darwin went off on an excursion together into the hitherto unknown interior rainforests of south central Australia, visible usually only by expensive hot air balloon baskets piloted by saucy sheilas. That was the name of the company. Lower case because Australia has restrictions on poppy heights, although balloons can go as high as the law (of physics) will allow. Locals call it a sin drome. It involves cutting people down to size when it appears they’ve outstretched their ego-britches. Busting balloons was a national pastime, as was the hot air.
Leaving the Northern Territory’s Charles Darwin University, by Jeep, Jean-Baptiste and Charles learned first hand about the tall poppy thing when a cabal of tertiary students saluted their departure together with a raspberry comment. “Poofters!” one of them yelled, but their backs were turned by the time Jean-Baptiste, on precious loan from the Sorbonne, took umbrage at such la haine remark. He knew what a poofter was — they had a similar observation in Paris: Egalitarians there would yell out “Boofter!” They never let up on the Marie Antoinette jokes, which were about as funny as Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. As they drove off, another miscreant regionally nasalled, “Brokeback Mountain, mate,” and made a giddy-up click-click sound with his tongue. Again, Jean-Baptiste turned instantly, looking for eye contact to duel with — but, again, nothing.
Charles laughed. And squeezed Larmarck’s knee. “Don’t worry about them, J-B,” they went from ship mates to mateship in one generation. Jean-Baptiste moved Charles’s hand toward his crotch, at which point Charles gave up his larrikin larf and pulled his hand away. They were men, not to be trifled with by Falstaffian bawdiness.
“You know,” Darwin started up again, “there’s a philosophy professor back at the university who has a funny way of looking at human beings.”
“What do you mean, Charles?” he asked, putting Darwin’s hand on his knee again to remove his mickey. Jean-Baptiste whisked the hand away haughtily, too adult for such juveniliac tomfoolery.
Darwin continued. “He said to me, apropos of the wet snow, as Dostoyevsky would say, ‘You know, Charles, I’ve been thinking: Animals get rid of animals when they don’t want them in the herd any longer –’”
“–You mean like Simba?” Jean-Paul interrupted.
“Please don’t interrupt, but yes, I guess so, but minus the wildebeest stampede.”
“Is that natural selection or imposition of the will to power?”
“Anyway,” said Charles, ignoring his fellow explorer, “so my colleague continues, ‘humans are animals, therefore, humans should be able to drive away humans who are undesired.”
“Isn’t that what England did — you know, the far flung thing? The tyranny of distance and fatal shore?”
“‘Preferably,’ he added, ‘driven away by animals.”
“Interesting concept, Charles. Would you say wildebeests figure in that syllogism?”
“I suppose any member of the kingdom would do, but,” Charles added slyly, “we needn’t bring in mother-in-laws. Are we not men?” And this time Charles placed Jean-Baptiste’s hand on his own knee. To get him back, Jean-Paul didn’t remove it right away. They looked at each other; it would be a long foraging through the flora and the fauna, looking for love in all the right places. Charles smoked a pipe. Jean-Paul worried he was akin to a prehistoric pornographer. He pictured notebooks filled with sketches of animal letches in flagrante. He felt he was disturbing the natural world’s privacy.
“He also said –”
“My colleague back at Charles Darwin. He said, ‘I’ve seen homosexuality in the animal world you wouldn’t believe.’ I’ll tell you, J-B, he had me picturing kundalini positions I hope I never see again.”
“That’s it? He said nothing else?”
“No, nothing. He gazed out a window, philosophically. It all made sense to him, in syllogistic form. But we are men and mustn’t dally in such delicate minutiae.”
“What the fuck are we out here for then?”
Before Charles could snark back, a bright yellow plastic boomerang clanged upside J-B’s head. “Stop the Jeep,” said J-B. He leapt out and picked up the upside down smile in the dirt.
A young Aborigine grinned from the bush, and said, sheepishly, “Sorry.” Feeling reconciled, J-B casually flipped the toy smile back and it took out a galah (“rawwrk”) on the arc back to the boy. “Cunt,” the youngster yelled after the Jeep speeding off.
Later that evening, now far into the unknown interior, Charles and J-B set up camp, pitched a tent, kindled a fire, ate corned beef and mixed nuts, and polished off a small cask of lambrusco. (Charles thought, first he touches my knee, now he brings along lambrusco.) That night they were taunted by the sound of oversized whippoorwills (at least, that’s what Darwin said they were), and the unnerving movement of something in the bush around them; they told each other jokes and anecdotes to avoid picturing mastiff-sized dingoes dragging them off into the bush and doing things the syllogism professor had seen with his own two eyes and never forgotten. They were especially soothed by elaborate pun stories from childhood summer camps they’d been sent to and almost shared a heart attack laughing over the punchline of “If the Foo Shits Wear It.” It had been so long. Even the whippoorwills seemed to like that one and quieted down after a satisfied titter. And that night, J-B had a vivid dream where he observed, corralled and trapped a rare Great Tit in the wilderness. It was a wet dream. And in the morning, he woke to find a still-sleeping Charles’s hand on his knee, and a thirst for liebfraumilch.
That day, after they had decamped, they trekked and sketched and murmured details of findings and grunted academic jargon to keep the mosquitoes away. They held a moving debate on natural selection and the order of things, everythings. Charles seemingly stuck in his ways regarding evolution, saying stuff like, “Nature finds a way,” which sounded suspiciously similar to a line J-B recalled from the film Jurassic Park. “Sometimes she needs help,” replied Jean-Baptiste. They seemed at loggerheads and, at one point, about to strike blows, two evolutionists talking, and thinking of walking the talk. Suddenly, Charles felt an urgent need to defecate like a bear in the woods. He moved off into the bush and pulled down his jeans and began to lose weight. J-B wandered off-wind and peered meaninglessly into the far cosmological distance. He could hear Charles struggle to release a crocodile back into the wild, as he was wont to express it, and the groans and musical gases disturbed the morning’s quietude.
“Aw, shit,” Charles exclaimed after a while. “I forgot to bring toilet paper.”
Jean-Baptiste smiled and casually strolled toward his evolutionary tormentor and held out a wad of delicious-looking French derriere papier. “Looking for some of thees?”
Presumptuous, Charles, still squatting, for fear of dunging up his dungarees if he stood, held out an impatient hand, gesturing for the paper. “C’mon, c’mon,” he said.
“Hmm,” started Jean-Baptiste, “What were you saying about survival of the fittest and natural selection?” He moved, not toward Charles, but about a dozen feet away, and dropped the wad to the ground dramatically. “As I was saying,” he continued, camping up the French accent, “ sometímes Natúre needs zum help.” He walked quickly to the Jeep and hopped in.
“You’re gonna pay for that, Lamarck,” Charles hollered as he stoop-stepped over to the derriere papier. “You’ll pay for that, Lamarck!”
J-B started the Jeep and drove off, leaving Darwin stranded in the wilderness. A man. Handful of Natural Selection. The name of the toilet paper.