Bathroom accidents. The fear of the unintended poop plagues those of us with digestive problems. They plague us with a cruelty that makes one wonder if there isn’t some kind of god after all. Not a nice one, by the way. A bored one. If you live in a crowded city, the dread is worse. What New Yorker doesn’t carry a list of available public bathrooms? But in a place like, oh, Vermont, it turns out that when you bring a few people of relative unselfconsciousness over for a dinner of curry rice and salad, lots of wine, other stuff, and the extra time that country life devises to keep one idle for as long as possible, people start talking.
There were five us sitting around the tiled table on the porch, the cicadas buzzing outside, the warm light of the porch’s globe lamps gilding the food with religious awesomeness. Even the beautiful Kerri Kenner was there, visiting from somewhere in the Midwest. Or running from there, more likely. Kerri Kenner, always on the move, chasing or getting chased down.
Jen told her story of pooping her pants while jogging. I’d heard this one before. She had been countering my complaints about post-surgical gas problems.
“Of Hindenburgian proportions,” I had told her.
Then Jeff chimed in about a truly horrendous humiliation visited upon him at work. It was his last day and so his colleagues took him out for an Indian food buffet, his favorite. He gorged himself and then made the fatal error of topping off the meal with a cup of coffee. What the poor bastard didn’t know was that a surprise cake party had been planned for him.
“When I was in the room with all my colleagues – and a supermodel was there, too, by the way, a coincidence, there for a meeting – I had to suddenly run to the bathroom. I mean, I had to run.”
“But you made it, right?” said Gary. “Everybody always makes it in the end.”
Jeff shook his head. “Sort of.”
I interrupted. The spotlight was off me. Something had to be done. “Remind me to tell you about the poop on the toilet seat where I was working once.”
“Shut up, David,” said the woman I wanted to marry, now that I had three glasses of wine and felt lonely. “Let him talk,” Kerri Kenner chided.
“So I got my pants mostly down, but I was a second too late. I shat all over the walls. And my pants.”
“Oh, God Christ,” someone said. I don’t know who; I had shut my eyes and clamped my ears. “The walls?”
“It went projectile,” Jeff said, illustrating with a sweep of an arm. “I made sure the door was locked and then I spent a half-an-hour cleaning the walls and washing out my pants.”
“You took your pants off…”
“And rinsed them in the sink. Then I put on the damp pants.”
“I would have been worried that people thought I pissed myself.”
“Paranoid about that, about if I smelled, about if it was going to happen again.”
“So the cake party?”
“So I go out there completely paranoid. Freaked out. And now I have to shake the supermodel’s hand. I’d been gone for a while, so people were looking at me weirdly. I was humiliated.”
“That’s an awful story.”
“It gets worse.”
We leaned closer.
“I lived in Jersey then, so I took the bus home.”
“And it happened again. I shit my pants again. While I was on the bus sitting next to a lady. I shit my pants. She looked at me like I was some kind of bum.”
“Wow. What a story.”
“I shit my pants once!” cried Kerri. “They call it a shart.” The world is not lost when a girl as beautiful as Kerri Kenner can be the victim of such a foul reminder of our roots in the animal kingdom, then be able to talk about it, and then use that word. That word, shart. Kerri Kenner. My life lost meaning without the doomed Kerri Kenner.
“I was in my cubicle and it just suddenly happened.”
“Out of nowhere?”
“It just happened. You know, when you think you’re going to fart but you poop instead. A shart.”
“Jesus. What did you do?”
“Luckily I was in my office. If my desk had been in one of the open spaces I would have never lived it down.”
“A woman once left a poop stain on my bed,” I said, sipping my wine loudly. “She never lived that down.”
“I went to the bathroom to clean up. It was so disgusting. I had to throw away my underwear and wash out my jeans and then put them back on so I could leave the building and get to a store for a new pair.”
“Yeah, and underwear. The rest of the day I was praying no one would come sit in my office and chat. Oh! And I had to clean up my chair, too.”
“A horrific story,” I said.
We were silent, all of us, contemplating the horror that follows us day in and day out. There but for the grace of God …
Gary piped in now. “Homeless man. Subway. G train. New York City.”
“It was rush hour. Train was crowded. But there was one car that was half empty. I should have known better.”
“Ah, the empty car fallacy.”
“Right, so of course, the reason it’s empty is because there’s a homeless guy at one end of the car.”
“I take it the shit part’s coming up soon.”
“Oh, yes, he had shat everywhere. The smell. The smell.”
“New York Fucking City.”
“I made a beeline out of there with the other idiots who also hadn’t known better.”
“It could have been worse.”
“It got worse.”
We leaned closer.
“I got it all over my hands and jacket. The guy had smeared his shit on the poles, which I brushed when I tried to get out of there.”
We were silent, all of us, contemplating the horror of the state of mind required to play with shit.
“So, David,” someone said. “What about you?”
I told the story about the office poop.
“But what about you?”
“You have the digestive track of a 93-year-old man. Surely, surely you’ve had some accident over the years you can tell us about.”
Kerri Kenner smiled with a devil’s satisfaction. Kerri Kenner. My head swam whenever she looked at me, even when her eyes spoke of nothing but the space that separates each of us from the other. They all looked at me, waiting to hear me say something, to tell a story of such debasement that it would put all of theirs to shame. And yet, despite my intestinal issues and my ongoing fear of an indescribable shitting accident, it had never gone beyond just the fear. And for once I saw that I wasn’t alone in this world of scatological terrors, of anxieties, of the terrible human occurrences that we – usually, but except for tonight – keep private.
“Okay, I have a story,” I lied. “Let me tell you about the time I was in third grade.”