Friday, June 5, 2009

When Nature Calls

When the urge to pee hits, it's an unmistakable feeling. A feeling I recently encountered in a local convenience store. After asking the clerk where the facilities were, I made my way into the back past stacks of boxes and shelves of cleaning supplies to the bathroom. It was a one-seater with a tiny stall next to an out-of-order urinal. Inside the stall, a stainless steel toilet paper dispenser served as a shelf for a tall can of disinfectant spray on one side, and a simple bolt latch locked the stall door. The toilet sat up high, and inside the bowl was an enormous wad of toilet paper floating in what looked like raw sewage. As I began to conduct my business, I found myself absentmindedly humming the Doobie Brothers' Black Water. Moments later, experiencing the complete and total relief that only comes from an empty bladder, I began to put myself back together. I have a rule on flushing. In a public restroom, if I sense a potential overflow situation, I don't flush. And since what I added was significantly less disgusting than what was already in there, I had no intention of flushing. I turned slightly to retuck my shirt, and the toilet flushed.

A wave of terror washed over me as I realized the toilet was an auto flush. As the contents of the bowl began to rise, I began to panic, fumbling with my button and zipper. I turned again to let myself out, and my elbow hit the can of spray on the dispenser, knocking it to the tile floor. The tip of the spray mechanism must have hit at just the right angle, because it snapped off and sent the can into a violent tailspin. I screamed like a girl as disinfectant spray began to fill the stall and the can spun wildly, clattering and clanging against the porcelain base of the toilet and the wall. The rotating evil in the bowl was quickly reaching the point of no return, and I tugged at the latch desperately like the victims you see in horror movies who are trying to escape from the guy with the chainsaw. I grasped clumsily at the tiny metal latch with my now-sweaty hands, but it wasn't budging. The fumes from the spray stung my eyes and left a bitter, chemical taste that burned my mouth and nose. And it was at that moment that I heard the most horrifying sound one can hear in a public restroom: water spilling over the rim of the toilet bowl and onto the floor. I’d been putting it off, but now it was time to bargain with God. I promised a lifetime of servitude in every war-torn and disease-ridden country I could think of, pledging to care for the blind, the deaf, the young, and the old.

I could only imagine what it must have looked and sounded like from outside the stall. A vile pool of murky water seeping out from under the stall, spreading across the tile floor; the frantic prayers of a hysterical man, barely audible over the clanging and hissing of a runaway aerosol can rocketing around the small room like a Jack Russell Terrier; the cloudy haze of disinfectant that hung in the air; the persistent rattling of the stall door, and the violent rocking of the stall itself, which pitched back and forth like a cage containing a wild animal. Giving the latch one final wrench, I heard it snap, and the door swung open. I made my way across the slippery tile floor to the sink, jerking and sliding as if I were taking my first ice-skating lesson. I leaned on the sink and closed my eyes for a moment. What had felt like a half-hour ordeal had taken only about a minute. The spray can was now spent, sputtering its final drops in the corner. Straightening up to regaining my composure, I washed and dried my hands and exited the bathroom, stopping only long enough to flip the switch under the sign that read, “Let Us Know if Restroom Needs Attention.”