It’s a peculiar, singular kind of horror to see another human being’s poop. Who has never encountered such an excretion — a dump, a log, a brownie — unflushed and floating in a toilet bowl on which you will soon sit? It doesn’t happen often: a few times during a lifetime, unless you’re a soldier or a prisoner. I wonder how many times even married people see each other’s poop. There’s not even an acceptable way to ask married people about this.
So it was at work that a pale and shaking colleague — let’s call her Anne — stepped into the tiny office I share with another colleague whose humor skews scatological.
We waited for Anne, a project manager with a mean streak, to admonish one of us for failing to reply to a meeting request or an email, or to take us to task for a late deliverable. But she was here for none of those pedestrian things.
“What?” I asked Anna. “What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know how to really say this. I have to tell someone. I just saw the most horrible thing.”
“Geeze, Anne,” said my office mate. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“No, it was worse. I’ve seen ghosts before”
Anne is Finnish and some of them believe in the supernatural, possibly from a heritage of shamanism or influences from the Gypsy minority. At any rate, Anne’s breathing sounded quick and shallow, as though from someone afraid to die.
“What’d you see, Anne?” I asked. Until then I hadn’t cared, but now had swiveled around to witness Anne’s unraveling.
“I went to the bathroom–” it’s a unisex, private lavatory, one of two “– and at first I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
“Okay now, Anne,” said the colleague, “take it slowly.”
“I saw a poop.”
“Ah. Someone forgot to flush, eh?” That was me, and though Anne’s encounter sounded unpleasant, it didn’t seem worthy of the performance we were getting.
“No, no, you don’t understand; it wasn’t just that. It wasn’t in the bowl. It was on the seat. It was on the seat!”
“Okay, oh that’s just gross.”
I swiveled back to the computer. I’d heard enough; I was done. I’m too squeamish, really. But my colleague pursued.
“So was it a little part of one, like someone had missed just the last bit?”
“No, it was huge. And.… And.… And it had hair on it!”
Even my colleague blanched.
“Christ,” he said. “How could anyone have missed that? I could see maybe not noticing a little accident, but … ”
“It had hair on it,” shuddered Anne.
By now the story had spread and the office was in a mild uproar. People discussed it in the hall. Beyond our doorway, shadows moved quickly back and forth. The question of who would clean the mess arose. My colleague and I wanted none of this. In the end, we were cowards and our office our bunker. We’d let the others handle the affair.
Anne, still shaken, repeated her story. But the question really was: Who had done it? Even now, someone in our midst pretended to the same creeping sense of horror that we all actually felt.
A sanitation committee had been nominated and authorized to enter the hot zone. Meanwhile, Jason from IT came in and wondered if anyone wanted some lunch.
“What, are you on crack?” I said. “I’m not leaving this office until I get an all-clear. And I’m not eating. How can you eat?”
“David’s a bit squeamish,” explained the office mate.
“Oh, he is? He’s not interested in getting a sloppy Joe?”
“No, he isn’t. No chili, either. Or meat loaf.”
“What about a chocolate cupcake? Maybe with a little hair on it?”
Anne left, shaking her head, mumbling about “Americans.”
Soon, we heard reports that “the problem” had been taken care of. The mood at the office downshifted from siege mentality to giddy relief. Laughter echoed in the hallways. Groups headed out for lunch. A sense of comradely spirit had descended upon us.
The rest of the day moved quickly. Jocular retellings of the story — embellished a little more each time — percolated at meetings, casual conversations, phone calls. Jason would stop in now and then to torture me some more. The culprit was never found. No one really wanted to know. Whoever it was had turned what had been a typically boring weekday into a legendary moment in our work lives.
In the end, poop had brought us — except for Anne — together.