February 23, 2009

And There Was Hair On It

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.

February 7, 2009

Outliers

Everyone wonders in their dark hearts whether they secretly might be pervs. This was the crux of what Nadia and I were trying to grasp about ourselves when we met for drinks on Lafayette St.

It had been some time since I’d seen her and about a year since Nadia had ended it because she thought I was an “obnoxious American.” Meanwhile, I had thought that she, once a refugee from Croatia, had been too mean to me. This is what happens when two self-involved people come together: they compete for each other’s sympathy. By the end, we could barely stand each other, though the bedroom part had been fantastic; we had immediately and wordlessly discovered that we liked exactly the same thing: pornographic sex. And despite finding little to talk about, there had been a cultural connection. I knew that she found it almost impossible to resist grilled sausages. Besides that, I understand Eastern Europeans and their esteem issues that can lead to bravado and violence, and their primitive personal relationships, and their pent-up materialism that reveals itself in obsessions for, to give an example, Gucci bags.

Now that a year had gone by, we could talk to each other; nothing was at stake any more. With no future, we could relax.

And we were both with new people; Nadia, with a man who owned a big, well-decorated apartment and a tendency toward jet setting, and me, with a great girl who put up with my neuroses and made me believe I was not as miserable as I knew I was. The problem was that neither Nadia’s man nor my girl seemed at all interested in pornographic sex.

“She’s great and sweet to me,” I said. “And the sex is deep and intimate.”

Sex with Nadia had never been intimate; I recall that she kept her eyes closed most of the time and when she did say something it was variations on, “Yeah, baby. Baby, yeah.”

“Philip,” Nadia complained, “he has no feel for it. He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“Well, um, my girl, she pretty much likes it one way — missionary. So, nothing else, not really.”

It wasn’t as though Nadia and I were pervs in the truest sense. What’s a little reverse cowgirl, sixty-nine, squatting girl on top, doggy style, and facials? Really, doesn’t everyone do this stuff?

“Are we just pervs, Nadia?”

“No, no,” Nadia said, shaking her finger like a school marm, “it’s not us, it’s her. She’s an outlier. We, we are the ones in the mainstream.”

“Really? I was getting worried.”

“No, trust me. They are the outliers. Way, way on the outside of what’s normal.”

Then Nadia told me about a younger man she was screwing on the side.

“I tell you only if this does not upset you,” she offered.

“No, Nadia, don’t worry; I am eager to hear this.” And I was; the more information the better.

His name was Vlad (the impaler). They had been going at for about a month. He was Russian.

“He is a dancer, so you can just imagine the body he had. It was the most amazing body I had ever seen. I mean, David, I would just look at it and think, ‘I have never seen anything like this before.’ And we have just the most incredible sex. Ok, so last week we take a shower together and, well, I am on my knees, you know, giving him … you know. And the water is coming down from the shower and then he … you know, on me, and I stay there not moving and for five minutes I am in total altered consciousness — I don’t know what to call it. I was in another world, looking up at him like he was spaceman.”

She had finished. I stared at her, saying nothing.

“Ok, ok,” Nadia said. “Look, maybe we are just a liiiiitle bit, a tiny bit outside the mainstream. But just a little.”

“I can buy that,” I said.

“But the others, they are all outliers.”