I was standing in a public restroom, frankly, whistling ‘Mrs. Robinson’ through my teeth while self-consciously dispensing a repurposed cup of recent Earl Grey. Without warning or preamble there issued from a closed stall at the other end of the room an amazing basso profundo blast whose endurance and brief series of modulations almost mimicked primitive speech. In the echo chamber of the lavishly tiled room the sound reverberated like the report from an elephant gun. I stopped my tinkly winkly in momentary shock, heard a sharp intake of breath followed by a muted sigh of what sounded like surrendered frustration. This closeted unfortunate had hoped to mute Gideon’s Trumpet and so be surreptitiously about his business. He would deliver the flowers then slink out of the little booth when his peeled ears told him the coast was clear. We all know that at any given, panicked moment, I Am The Only Human In The World Who Defecates. We are at pains to keep this weakness a secret. ‘If the others find out I crap it’s all over!’ etc.
The brief rolling echo subsided and I silently commiserated. Those among us brave enough to void our solids in public restrooms are a nervy lot, and count on a certain element of stealth and a kind of secrecy to see us through the ordeal. The horror is of course only partly cultural. Animals in the wild are most helpless when hunched backwards over their processed steak tartar and the predator is programmed to strike when the prey is prone this way. It is physically very difficult to run and defecate at the same time, your Indian Fry Bread Incident at the Arizona State Fair notwithstanding. Nature knows this and many of our brethren in Darwinian steerage are overwhelmed and consumed while themselves in the process of unpacking their own recent meal. This is an aspect of the Circle of Life that Disney won’t likely ask Ms. Dion to describe in song.
I continued my tinkly winkly and hoped to assuage and screen my fellow human’s distress with a concealing bit of water music and some mercy-flushing. I would lay down a bit of urinal white noise that would put this desperate and already humiliated shitter at his ease. I reached for the silver handle, so like the sphincter-taunting joystick of a damnable airplane, and another sudden and prolonged blast roared out of the closed stall. It was literally extraordinary. This one sounded like an angry vole trying, with desperate tooth and claw, to free itself from a snare that had captured it about the neck. For about 20 seconds the strangling vole clawed and howled, louder, louder! Let him go, for God’s sake! When this soundscape ended it did not do so with a bang, but petered out into a long, whistling, defeated Cminor chord; the vole’s death song. The sound was positively inhuman, and it broke the spirit of the musician who loosed it.
“God I’m so embarrassed!” he yelled from behind his closed booth door, surrendering everything.
A miracle! Part of me wanted to rush to the stall, flatten my palms against the gunmetal and hiss “We’re all in this together!” “We’re only human!” or maybe “I also crap!” But I didn’t. His outcry, though – what a wonder. An oath to heaven from a momentarily enlightened little animal in deepest space. Why are we so terrified! At the end of all this crapping-in-secret, kissing our sleeping kids’ heads when they’ve become too leggy and self-aware to allow it during waking hours, watching in delicious awe as our spouses grow older, taking our parents’ hands for the last time, making heat behind locked doors, awkward and strangely thrilling periods of onanism (as the Bible says, ‘Jacob I loved, but Onan I really really loved’) and bouts of weird grief and looking backward; what do we have? We have it all. We have it all right now. Why can’t we know it? The present tense is for fools and glory. Why be bashful? Why self-edit? There’s no time. When a guy jumps out of frame by yelling out how revolted and shamed he is by the yowling of his own ass, he is beatified.
Gas. On our one family trip to the local planetarium years ago, the lights went down, the sonorous recorded voice began to yammer, the ceiling miraculously became a night sky. The stars began slowly to wheel and in the awed hush my adorable toddler turned to me and said in his loud girlish voice, “DID SOMEBODY MAKE A POPPET?”