You Don't Know The Meaning of Life Until You've Stared a Pants Full of Shit in the Eye
Sometimes our bodies do something so shocking and unexpected that one's outlook on life is often forever changed by it. What you are about to read is an account of one of those moments. [Side note: This is something that happened a few years ago, back when I was still living and working in New York City. And if this story sounds familiar, that's because I've told it before. Regardless, enjoy.]
Last Tuesday morning I was in the men's room here at the office having a pee when I felt a bit of gas trying to work itself out. It suddenly became clear that the gas was more than gas, and before I could take any preventative measures, boom--pants filled.
I locked myself into one of the stalls and tried--in vain--to get myself back together. Went through two rolls of TP. And my underwear was completely shot. I stepped out of them, tossed them into the waste basket.
Whole time I'm in there, I'm kind of in shock, laughing a little, unable to believe this was even happening to me. Muttering "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus," to myself.
I washed my hands about a million times and looked at my embarrassed face in the bathroom mirror.
My day clearly couldn't continue without underwear. There's a 24-hour Duane Reade downstairs which has a small Hanes section (I love drugstores in New York; they literally have everything), so I pulled my jacket on, took the elevator to the street.
I tried the double doors of the store, but they were locked for some reason. I peered through the glass. I could see people inside, but they weren't customers--they were all employees. That's when I noticed the handwritten sign taped to the doors: REGISTER SYSTEM DOWN--CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.
Unbelievable. In the seven years I've worked here never once has this Duane Reade been closed. Not one goddamned time.
Suddenly, my plight for new Hanes had taken a kind of Kafka-esque turn. The sky was low and gray and looked like impending doom; it might snow at any moment. I stood in the middle of the sidewalk on Park Avenue, in the cold shadows of nearby buildings, underwear-free, people pushing past me, despairing as much as I've ever despaired.
There's another Duane Reade over on Lexington, about three blocks away. I struck out for there....
Thankfully, this one was open. I was unfamiliar with the layout of this particular store, so I had to do a fair amount of hunting before I found the Hanes section (it was under a sign that read HEALTH, BEAUTY). I also bought a travel-sized pack of Huggies and a box of Imodium. I realized as I set these items down on the register counter--Hanes, Imodium, Huggies--I might as well have had a sign taped to my forehead that read YES, I HAVE SHIT MYSELF.
For some reason the woman running the register chose to squeeze these items into the smallest, least opaque shopping bag Duane Reade offers. "Don't you have any of those bigger shopping bags?" I asked sheepishly.
The woman was clearly more interested in the Chaka Khan song playing on the store sound system than she was in tending to me. "We ain't GOT no more shopping bags," she said. End of story.
Back at my office, I locked the door, then proceeded to change into my new Hanes. Mid-change, I suddenly realized I was standing half nude in my office, something which had never before happened in all my years of working here. How many occasions does one have to get nude in his office? Not many. I felt terribly vulnerable; a slight chill ran up the backs of my legs. I quickly stepped into not one but TWO brand new Hanes. (I reasoned it would be best to "two-ply it" for the rest of the day. Call the second pair a form of insurance.) I pulled my pants back on, ate a couple of the chalky-tasting Imodium, then tried to go about my day, business as usual....
...But it became clear that I couldn't function in any sort of normal capacity any longer. The day was over for me. The trauma of the whole shit event had derailed me. And I worried, quite honestly, that I might smell a little. There was nothing to do but go home.
I couldn't imagine trying to explain this to anyone, and I really didn't feel like making up some lie about my stomach or something (I'd taken a phony sick day just the day before), so I bolted, just shut down my computer around 2 and headed for the train. Nine out of 10 times, I reasoned, no one would even notice I was gone....
Went home, showered, changed, was relaxing, recovering, feeling better, when my telephone rang. I didn't pick up. No message. A few minutes later, it rang again. Again, no message. When it rang a third time, I decided to *69. The calls, to my dismay, were all coming from the office.
Around 5:30, voice comes on my answering machine. It's Mr. Traverson--the company president--from work. "No one knows what happened to you," he said. "I've been trying to reach you all afternoon. You'd better have a VERY good reason for leaving, or else I'm going to be really upset with you. Call me as soon as possible. I need to know what happened."
Getting a call from Mr. Traverson at home--a man who I rarely ever see, and rarely ever speak to when I do see him--was an event. This was obviously getting serious. It struck fear in my heart.
I tried to put the whole thing out of my head, kept telling myself that I'd deal with it in the morning. Took me two hours to realize that I couldn't do this, that I was far too preoccupied. I phoned my co-worker Hal on his cell, to ask his advice. Told him what happened, the shit, the Hanes, the whole deal. He started laughing. "That happens to everyone," he said. "It happened to my father once at hunting camp..."
"Really?" I said. It was a great comfort to hear this.
I said, "You know, nine out of 10 times no one would have even noticed I was gone."
"Well, this was the 10th time," Hal said. "Today wasn't your lucky day." Hal told me that Mr. Traverson was indeed very angry with me. "The thing to do is call him at home," Hal said. "If you want to save your job, that's what you have to do. Call him."
"Call him at home?"
"Yes, call him at home."
"When?" I asked.
"Right now," he said. "He's probably just sitting there, watching some dumb TV program..."
I started laughing.
"What's funny?" Hal asked.
"I'm laughing because you're right, that is what I have to do," I said. "And I'm laughing because I can't believe I'm going to actually do this. This is surreal."
"It's really for the best," Hal said, then gave me Mr. Traverson's private cell phone number.
I dialed. Took several deep breaths. He answered on the third ring. "Hello?"
"Mr. Traverson," I said, my voice shaking a little. "Sorry to bother you at home.... It's Scott. From Editorial."
"We were all wondering what became of you today," he said ominously.
"That's why I'm calling you, Mr. Traverson. You see..." I said, pausing momentarily to gather myself. "I was standing at the urinal peeing this morning. I felt a little gas moving along, and before I knew what was happening, I'd shit my pants. And that's why I left. I ran out of the office because I was too embarrassed to try to explain this to anybody."
Mr. Traverson didn't say anything. A space yawned between us, for one second, two seconds, three seconds. I felt it my duty to fill these empty moments with nervous chatter of some sort, but I managed to restrain myself, counseling myself with the thought that I'd said my piece, now let it stand, and let him react to it however he was going to react to it.
Finally, he spoke. "This is obviously a delicate matter," he said. "You know you can always come to me with these...private things. You can trust me. But the bottom line is, we're running an office here. Communication is the key. We need to know where everyone is at all times, or else the whole system breaks down."
"I know," I said. "You're right. I'm sorry."
"Well," he said, "I'll see you in the morning." And he hung up.
I hung up the phone. I was exhausted on a core level. I couldn't believe all the shit--literally--I'd been through the past 12 hours. What a day. What a motherfucking day. After I got off the phone, I drank. To use one of John Galvin's favorite phrases, I moved through all the beer in the house. The beer helped. It burned off some of the tension, calmed me down a little.
I can tell you this much: I've become much more respectful of my bodily functions. And the simple act of peeing is slightly more stressful than it once was. I'm doing it with a great deal of caution these days.
A week has passed since this happened. "Today's your one-week anniversary," Hal wrote in an email this morning. He suggested I celebrate by buying myself a brownie.
I'm a writer who lives in Vancouver. I co-host a daily TV show called Reviews on the Run with my friend and colleague, Victor Lucas. Our show airs daily, across Canada, on City TV and G4. Starting in the Fall, you can watch us in the U.S. (check your local listings). You can see us in action right now at www.reviewsontherun.com. Follow me on Twitter @ScottCJones.