The last few weekends have been rough on me, and not just because of all the running around and traveling: there’s been a lot of eating out at fast food joints and sit-down restaurants, and it’s been playing absolute hell with my insides. I’ve reached the point where I need to start calling the Center for Disease Control any time I step into a public bathroom so they can cordon off a five-mile quarantine zone.
This gastrointestinal horror came to a head Saturday night after dinner with my family at the Outback Steakhouse in my parents’ hometown. The entire experience was absolutely traumatic, and not just for me – I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m directly responsible for some very high therapy bills in the immediate future. The whole debacle started after my uncle sprung the outing on my parents, as he hatched the brilliant idea to drag my grandparents out of hibernation for the evening. I love my grandparents dearly, and not just because I have to stay in the will: they’re truly loving people who helped raise not just me but my brother and my three cousins, and they deserve nothing but love and respect in return, but with my grandfather’s age-related macular degeneration and my grandmother’s advanced hearing loss, carrying on a conversation with either of them is tortuous, as they’ve only got one set of five senses between them.
Of course, they didn’t actually show up until 45 minutes after we had agreed to meet. With Grandpa’s AMD, he can’t drive, so that meant my uncle was driving, and while he’s one of the most compassionate, spiritual, and insightful human beings it’s ever been my privilege to know, he has a spectacular talent for being late. It’s not just for simple, relatively unimportant social engagements, either; I vividly remember one summer that I went on vacation with him down to Florida where we actually missed our return flight. It all worked out in the end, as we got to spend the evening out on a boat in the Atlantic watching 4th of July fireworks. Still, ever since then I’ve been positively neurotic about being late to anything, so it rankled me to no end that my parents, my fiancée, my brother, and I all ended up waiting for the better part of an hour before my uncle ushered my grandparents inside.
The five of us were so anxious for them to get there so we could actually order and eat that we were watching over our shoulders so constantly that we looked like we were telling a stream of racially-insensitive jokes. Finally we ordered some appetizers at the exhortation of my mother, who was fixing to leap on the nearest toddler and devour it whole like a postmenopausal velociraptor if she didn’t ingest some nutrients, and wouldn’t you know it but not five minutes after the buffalo wings and artichoke dip showed up but my tardy relatives finally arrived. My mother nearly threw the last remaining two buffalo wings at me to ensure that our hard-won sustenance wasn’t usurped by my uncle, who must have been a garbage disposal in a past life with the alacrity in which he can make food disappear, and then the painfully awkward greetings and small talk were upon us.
Finally we got to order food that didn’t come on ridiculously small plates, and the five of us were still so hungry that we tucked in like we were all trying to win a bet on who would get diabetes first. It only made matters worse that the fiancée and I were creeping up on our departure time, considering we had made plans for 8:00 that evening, foolishly thinking that an hour and a half for dinner would have been more than enough time, and we finally finished up about 5 minutes before we had to go.
I stood up to leave and immediately regretted it, as I was seized by the kind of abdominal cramping that’s only preceded by a xenomorph bursting through your chest. I hurriedly excused myself and rushed to the restaurant bathroom, throwing open the door and making a beeline to the handicapped stall, my usual choice because I like the extra room. It’s nice in those stalls – they’re like the double-wide trailer of bowel evacuation – and I always want to bring in a couple of potted plants and a rug in there with me to make it more cozy. However, this time someone had beaten me to the punch, leaving me the coffin-sized other stall to relieve my burdens.
As soon as I stepped inside I saw why the handicapped stall had been chosen first. My stall was closer to an abattoir than an commode, as there was some horrible fecal stillbirth circling in the basin surrounded by a wreath of what could only be described as the most abused two-thirds of a roll of toilet paper I’d ever seen. The rim of the toilet seat was likewise coated with toilet paper – soaked, of course – and as my innards gurgled like a percolator, I had to play plumber and manage my workspace before I could actually sit down.
As I finally settled in, trying not to think about the suspicious moisture currently soaking into my clenched, quivering buttocks, the bathroom door banged open as the entire cast of 180,000 Kids and Counting trooped in, lining up in age order as they waited their turn at the two urinals. I cursed silently and my sphincter screwed itself up tighter than a nun at the thought of unleashing with a gaggle of pre-schoolers on the other end of a cheap plastic door, but the beast would not subside: after a brief internal struggle that would have made Jesus and his 40 days in the desert look like trying to pick which brand of cigarettes to buy, I finally said “fuck it” and let ‘er rip.
What emerged, to crib from the late, great George Carlin, was a fart that could end a marriage. The entire bathroom shook as I unleashed a 15 second, 8 octave fart that actually harmonized with itself. I could only hang on to the toilet in grim, horrified astonishment as the pressure differential attempted to propel me through the roof at something just shy of escape velocity. The cries of alarm and terror that greeted me after I laid spent and deflated on the porcelain like a used blow-up doll filled me with the sort of mortified shame that’s reserved only for convicted child molesters and Bernie Madoff, and while I might have mis-heard it since my ears were ringing, I could have sworn the guy in the next stall blurted out “Jesus Christ!” before slamming his door open and joining the exodus of traumatized children. I don’t know who you are, my friend, but you certainly didn’t stop to wash your hands.
The Walk of Shame out of the bathroom was humbling. It was like every college cliché you could think of, including a snickering rank of men and boys lined up alongside the corridor leading from the bathroom. At least I didn’t have my underwear wadded up in my coat pocket this time.