It was during a recent drive home Ė a frantic, nerve-racking ride filled with the usual gut-inspired grunts, pains, and sweat Ė that I suddenly realized how much of my life has been defined by poop. Such realizations might make sense had I spent any number of years working in the sewers, or perhaps with an unusually strong predilection for scatological porn, but like most people, Iíve always considered my life to be relatively poop-free, absent the expected (and expectedly numerous) trips to the toilet. Why, then, were so many of my memories Ė many of which are seared, as with a branding iron, on my mindís eye Ė related to the hows, whys, and wherefores of excrement? I mean, itís not a sexual thing; my rap sheet is blissfully clear of all poop-related pleasures, up to and including Cleveland Steamers, Chili Dogs, and Pasadena Mudslides. And itís certainly not a Freudian matter, as my childhood was filled with both successful potty training and an absence of Sybil-style punishment for missing the mark now and again. Why, then, does it seem that the narrative of my four earthly decades reads more like a de Sade novella than the series of naps, evasions, and non-starters that reality has seen fit to provide?
It begins and ends, I suppose, with the fact that on three separate occasions, while ostensibly an adult, I have shit my pants. The morningís ride that began this tale was damn near a fourth, but if near-misses acted as strikes against me in a court of law, Iíd be serving several life sentences in Rikers Island by now. Counting, then, only those instances when my actions have led to tighty whiteys being reduced to an unwearable state, I have a three-pronged crown of humiliation that alone can account for my unhealthy preoccupation. Because letís face it: thereís no faster way to reduce a man to a shivering blob of suicidal despair than to saddle his drawers with a healthy helping of poop. Itís an announcement to the world that despite my other achievements, awards, and notable mentions, I canít be trusted to hold my bowels until theyíre within reasonable proximity of a toilet. I can split the atom, translate Greek texts into Chinese by way of Latin, dust off triathlons with the ease of a Sunday stroll, and even successfully invade any number of inferior nations, but from the moment the crap hits the cloth, Iíll be known for little else. Think, then, what shitting oneís pants means for a man of my pitiful state. Not only have I accomplished little and contributed even less, I canít even separate myself from the untold derelicts who clog the nationís alleyways with mental illness, addiction, and the sweet smell of soiled underpants.
So whatís my excuse? What accounts for these three trips down the boulevard of broken dreams? Arrogance, pure and simple. On each occasion, I felt a shit coming my way, but rather than accept my lot, I insisted I could push on without delay. The first time, the rumblings began in earnest while I shopped at a nearby convenience store for candy. I was in high school at the time, but for some reason, the thought of walking through the storeís backrooms to find the toilet was akin to asking me to find the Lost City of Atlantis. The store never liked customers using the damn thing, and quite reasonably, I did not want the familiar face at the counter to know that I had been the one to stink up his joint with the fury of a rabid beast in the last throes of disease. My friend also knew of my predicament and, perhaps sensing that he would witness my ultimate fate and have occasion to mock me mercilessly, helped encourage my stubbornness. But as soon as we had walked halfway home, the sky unleashed the fury of the gods, and slight leakage soon became the Johnstown Flood. I ran as if pursued by wild dogs, but it seemed that the faster my gait became, the more the shit flowed from my ass. Sure, running at top speed tends to focus the senses for the goal in mind, but despite my rare Olympic form, nothing could stop the anguish. I soon arrived home and, sensing survival, relaxed my clenched cheeks just long enough for the drizzle to become the inevitable torrent. It was over before it began.
My second illustrious affair might be forgiven given my relatively young age (it was 1981 and, all of eight, I wasnít that far removed from the days when poop held little stigma), but itís still inexcusable in light of the actual context. Having spent the day with my sister and father at a Denver racetrack, I could have been forgiven for being a bit bored (race days were no less than twelve hours in length, and as I could not drink, smoke, or wager, Iím not sure why I just had to be there), but as we prepared to leave, I should have taken that brief moment to drop a deuce in a nearby bathroom. So what led to my avoidance? Was I in a hurry to get home after a dreary day? Was I, yet again, wary of an exploding ass in a public place? Or was I channeling my inability to bet on the ponies†into a bit of gambling all my own? The ride home was an hour, so what if I challenged myself to beat the odds? Whatís the worst that could happen? Well, even an eight-year-old knows the answer to that, and that, needless to say, is exactly what happened. Barely a quarter-hour into the trip, it all dropped, like all my hopes and dreams in the face of a feckless father. The smell, damn the gods, was immediate. My sister recoiled, the windows came down, but no, my father would not stop. I would sit suspended above a ream of newspaper for the duration, but no one on the inside would come to my aid. What lesson this served was, even then, beyond me, but as I repeated the sinister act twice more in the years ahead, itís clear I learned exactly nothing that long ago summer day. My journey with poop would continue.
My final moment of craptastic infamy occurred after I had celebrated thirty years of existence and is perhaps the most indefensible of them all. I had years of pain behind me, and my flirtation with pants-shitting was both fresh and well-known to me. But I was late for work. Not that it mattered, but to this day, Iím fonder of shitting at my place of employment than home, for reasons a team of psychiatrists could never hope to understand. I still hated taking a dump at a restaurant, but work, well, it was familiar and controlled, and any resulting sounds could be masked with relative ease. So off I went, but fuck, man, I left home knowing I couldnít make it, as my gut heaved and moaned like a bridge on the verge of collapse. And once I hit the interstate, I was as committed to the resulting wreckage as if I had set off on a journey to the South Pole without so much as a mitten. I cursed every slow down, roared at every delay, and as my turnoff was in sight, the sweat on my brow, dripping with all the intensity of Ted Striker on final approach, failed to cool the savage within. This was going to be bad. Epic bad. So awful that Iíd either have to work in the nude or muster a coherent explanation for the giant shit stain on what remained of my work pants. The rest is history, of course, but let it be said that to this day, I still canít enter that gas station without thinking that a video tape of my restroom experience, and what passed for a clean-up, still survives, providing present and future employees with endless, mirth-filled schadenfreude.
But while the self-imposed experiences are the most dramatic, my childhood also elevates another encounter with poop, thankfully from the ass of another. It was 1980, and in the waning days of living in a house that would soon succumb to the perils of using a second-mortgage to pay gambling debts, I held my one and only Halloween party, an event attended by a gaggle of friends that would soon depart like the security I thought had been my birthright. Among the usual holiday activities Ė trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples, wondering where the hell my mother had run off to in such a hurry Ė we decided to use the living room, cavernous in my memory, but likely smaller than most front stoops, as a football field. The entrance to the kitchen was a perfect end zone, so we re-enacted some recent goal-line stand as kids do, with each taking on the persona of a current gridiron hero. I was particularly fond of Mean Joe Greene myself, and as the bodies came together in a crush of false bravado, the friend in question met me in the middle of the scrum, as if to challenge my supremacy in the dying days of empire. As he leapt, and as I reached, the center failed to hold. The rot shot through our collective nostrils as if decaying flesh had replaced the cookies baking nearby. We fell, pins in a bowling alley, struggling for a breath that might never come. Was it just a fart, as the friend so innocently remarked? Why, then, did it linger so? And what could account for my friendís mad rush to the bathroom?
Thirty years later, I remember so little from the decadeís early days, but the Omaha Beach that once stood as that bathroom remains as vivid and unforgettable as my first sexual experience. It was appalling and unimaginable, soul-stripping and egregious; both a refutation of divine guidance and the ultimate confirmation of manís inherent sinfulness. And the bathroom fared little better. The toilet, as if having ceased operations in suicidal despair, stood clogged and ashamed. Bits and shards of toilet paper remained strewn about, as if Lindbergh had just ridden through in triumph. And the walls, faux brick once beloved, now soiled with stains. To this day, no one quite understands what happened on this spot that cold October night, but itís almost as if my friend staged the incomprehensible to confound the homeís inhabitants evermore. Where there shouldnít have been shit, there was shit. Where there couldnít have been shit, it remained glued and inflexible, as if tattooed for future generations. It was as if my friend, once the realization set in that there was no way out, acquired cerebral palsy and epilepsy in one desperate loss of muscle control. Failing that, a complete mental breakdown. If his wee thighs and buttocks were to be stained by poopís driving shame, he would salvage his dignity only by forcing us to share in the pain. That any of this could have occurred to a seven-year-old is difficult to believe, but what else have we? Still, something kept my father from killing him that night, especially since the smell remained as perfectly pungent as we drove him home. He insisted on mere farts yet again, but we would soon know the shocking, horrifying truth.
Other poop-inspired memories remain. How that same house, soiled by the insensitive discharge of a friend, once met the headlong invasion of a virtual shit army, this time in the form of a mysterious sewage backup that filled the entire basement with turd soup. And donít even ask about the front yard. And yet it seemed appropriate. Why not live atop a graveyard of waste? Had we not earned the very right? And please explain why, if Iím to retain an ounce of sanity, the most tangible memories of my father remain the state in which he left the bathroom? For years at a stretch, I canít remember a single memorable word to escape his lips, but the stench that lingered after his marathon shitfests? Front and center like Iíd been pounded with a golf club. I mean, youíre talking to someone who sat in his own excrement, and to this day, Iíve never smelled anything worse than that little room after the roar of my dadís flush. For some, thereís a flinch of pain whenever they are brought back to the strap, the belt, or a hot poker. For me, the sight of my father slapping a newspaper under his arm and heading to the toilet was horror personified; an act so wicked and contemptuous that had I choice, Iíd have preferred a beating. In retrospect, thereís not really a question of what fucked up the sewer line. But who can be bitter? Many kids have the smell of their motherís perfume to take them back, or the pleasant aroma of baked goods before bedtime. Me? I have the voided contents of my fatherís colon to send me into conniptions of nostalgia. It made me what I am today.