This is part of my wife’s Valentine’s Day present.
I’ve subjected her to my stories for the last five years, often making her drop whatever she’s doing to hear a new draft. She patiently relents, seeing how excited I am to share my new creation.
When I get to a sentence I know contains a punch line, I really lean into it. I pause, look up, anticipate her reaction.
“Was that funny?” I ask.
“Sure, it was good,” she says in a tone that makes Spock sound excitable.
At first I thought it was me. Maybe I’m just not as funny as I think I am? But my fears were allayed when I realized the same thing happens when we watch TV. I’ll sit there trying to catch my breath at a highbrow joke, and Melinda is on the other couch wearing an expression like she’s watching Schindler’s List.
Over the years though, I’ve discovered there’s a secret key to my wife’s comic zone, a type of joke that would send her into tear-jerking, shoulder-shaking convulsions.
All I had to do was talk about poop.
And so, in the name of true love and Saint Valentine himself, I present to you a series of vignettes written exclusively about fecal matter.
When I was potty training as a kid, my father devised a couple of ways to make using the toilet fun.
The first one was pretty traditional. Each time I visited the facilities in big-boy fashion, he’d praise me for a job well done and present me with an award.
I’ve heard of parents giving toys or candy as positive reinforcement. My father, on the other hand, chose liverwurst.
Each time I successfully shit, he’d cut a little sliver from a block of the creamed meat, roll it into a ball, and feed it to me.
I have no idea what inspired him to choose liverwurst as a treat, but it must have been effective. I can’t smell the stuff now without getting the sudden urge to use the bathroom.
Then there was the Navy poop. At the time of my training, I loved playing army, campaigning my GI Joes through living room jungles and shag carpet swamps. My dad took full advantage of this, convincing me that in the Navy, sailors pooped sitting backwards on the bowl.
Wanting to emulate my squid brethren, I relished each opportunity to poop while sitting on the can with my face to the wall.
I’ve since assumed a more traditional position when doing my business, but I’ll never say never. After all, who doesn’t want to be more like a Navy SEAL?
Taste the Rainbow
Once when he was a toddler, my brother bit the tips off four or five Crayola markers. The next time he pooped, the contents of his diaper were rainbow-colored.
That’s the end of the story.
I grew up in a house with only one bathroom. When there’s only one bathroom, it becomes a shared space, like a living room or kitchen. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to come while you showered and unload, resulting in a delicious mingling of steam and methane.
I thought it very progressive of my parents to encourage such communal lavatory activities, and it taught me a lot about the social tenets of sharing.
But on the rare occasion my family hosted company, our desire for etiquette overrode our Communist bathroom policies. We deferred to our guests, allowing them to occupy the tiny bathroom in privacy for as long as they saw fit.
On one such occasion, when I was in 8th grade, my family hosted relatives from Norway. My Norwegian kin apparently loved the amenities our American bathroom offered, because they spent hours in there every morning.
We did our best to be accommodating, but on the fourth day of their visit, during a particularly long Scandinavian shower sesh, I got a call.
It was Nature on the other line, and her business was urgent.
I tried to distract myself as long as I could, but whether cousin Sven was finished or not, the ShitTown Express was pulling out of the station.
I informed my father of my situation, begging him to ask Sven to wrap things up. But, in the interest of maintaining positive international relations, he refused.
Instead, he went into the basement and returned with a roll of toilet paper and a folding shovel.
“If you need to go that bad, go outside,” he said.
I took the TP but balked at the shovel.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“To dig the hole,” he said. “You can’t just shit on the lawn.”
In no shape to protest, I sprinted to the backyard and went about digging a hole where I could deposit my fertilizer. And then, like an animal, I crouched and let it fly.
Despite my shamed expression and the dirt under my fingernails, my Norwegian guests were none the wiser.
Girls Don’t Poop
My college apartment had two bathrooms: one a small powder room we called the Pot Bathroom because my roommate frequently smoked weed in it; the other we called the Frat Bathroom. We named it the Frat Bathroom because it looked like someone pulled it out of a fraternity house and jammed it into our tiny apartment. It had four sinks, two showers, and a toilet enclosed by a stall. There wasn’t a whole lot of privacy in the Frat Bathroom, which made for some awkward encounters, like the time my roommate Travis came in to take a shower and caught me posing in the mirror naked.
One morning I woke up hungover and went into the Frat Bathroom to brush my teeth. My roommate Rich’s girlfriend Tara was visiting for the weekend, and we had all stayed out late showing her the beautiful sights of College Park.
As I stared at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror, I heard a splash come from the stall behind me.
Plop, plop, plop, like little pebbles dropping into a pond.
“What’s up bud?” I said to my shitting roommate. “How you feeling this morning?”
Plop. “It’s Tara.” Plop plop.
At 20, I still refused to accept that girls pooped. Girls were so pretty and they smelled so good all the time. No way in hell was it possible for toxic, foul-smelling sludge to escape from their southernmost orifice. At that point in my life I had visually confirmed the existence of the female anus, but had convinced myself it was decoration, like a dude’s nipples.
I was so embarrassed and upset at hearing Tara’s feces drop into the bowl, I hid in my room for the rest of the day until she left. Each subsequent time I saw her, I couldn’t look at her without hearing that plopping noise.
Neither Do Boys
I dated this girl named Sherry on and off for four years after college. Despite living together two of those years, we never actually acknowledged each other pooped or farted.
I think it’s normal to try and be polite during the initial stages of any relationship. I remember having dinner at my girlfriend’s house in high school and nearly making myself sick trying to hold in farts all night, then driving home with the windows down to prevent from gassing myself into unconsciousness. But in that case, it would have been far more mortifying to cut one in my girlfriend’s family room and watch her parents’ faces twitch as they pretended not to notice.
Sherry and I adhered to that unspoken rule when we began dating, and, since I spent a good deal of my adolescence in denial that females had the need to move their bowels at all (see above), I didn’t complain. But one year passed, and then two, and though we hit other relationship milestones like meeting each other’s parents and saying I love you, we never crossed the shit and fart threshold.
We got a place together, a two bed, two bath apartment in DC. We sat down and discussed the division of bills and chores and other domestic miscellany like real adults. We synced our work calendars together and wrote each other grocery lists. Surely, now that we were occupying the same living space, there would come a time where we’d be forced to acknowledge the elephant turd in the room.
There was not.
Sherry and I somehow managed to keep our gastrointestinal events as covert as the day we met. By living with her, I learned that if you hold a fart in long enough, it hurts for awhile, but then just kind of dissolves. I no longer felt the urge to poop until she was out of the house or guaranteed to be occupied for 10-15 minutes.
The adaptability of the human body is truly a marvel of nature.
Another year passed, and Sherry and I moved, this time to a 450-square-foot studio apartment. You want to test a relationship? Move into a studio. Want to up the ante? Move into a studio and pretend like neither of you shit.
The veil fell away from our little charade pretty quickly because there was nowhere to hide. In our old apartment, it was at least possible to sneak away from the living room and pop out a couple of toots in the bedroom without anyone being the wiser. But what about when the living room IS the bedroom?
The only space hidden by a door was the bathroom itself, and if you got up and disappeared in there for more than 30 seconds, your motive was pretty clear. We tried to hide our intestinal shame by masking the sounds with running sink water and spraying a hole into the ozone with air freshener, but it was no use.
Our relationship slid toward its natural conclusion that year for reasons I want to say were not shit-related, but who knows. When we fought, though, it took every ounce of self-control for me not to counter Sherry’s criticisms of me with: “Oh yeah? Well I know what you’re doing in the bathroom every time you go in there. You’re POOPING!”
We stuck it out in the studio for 11 months before our differences became irreconcilable, and have both since gotten married to other partners and moved on with our lives. But there’s a little part of me that would love to do a High Fidelity-style post-mortem and compare notes with Sherry on how we kept up that no-fart farce for half a decade.
Right on Target
While my shitty secret with Sherry seems strange, it’s more common in relationships than you think. I have a friend from college who moved into a one-bathroom apartment with his fiancee, and they played a similar don’t ask, don’t poop game. Only instead of hiding his dirty secret in the comfort of his home, my friend took to the streets, driving to the local Target each time he needed to clear the decks.
We commiserated about his predicament over a few beers, and I told him he was being far too accommodating.
“It just seems inefficient,” I said. “Think of the fuel you’re using, the cost of potential impulse purchases at the checkout lanes!”
He didn’t laugh.
“Don’t say anything about this, okay?” he said. “Especially to my fiancee.”
“Of course not, totally,” I said.
Unfortunately for him, I have zero self control.
The next time I hung out at their place for dinner, I suddenly stood and put on my coat.
“I have to take a leak,” I said, retrieving my keys. “Where’s the bathroom again? About half a mile on the right?”
You’ll be glad to know the couple are happily married and recently upgraded to an apartment with two bathrooms, eliminating all potential for ever meeting in there accidentally.
The Hershey Highway
This story happened to a friend and he told me about it later. Normally, I’m against co-opting stories when I’m not there to experience them, because I feel like it’s cheating. But a guy will do crazy things for love, so I’m setting my ethics aside just this once.
My friend Elliot went on this health kick where he quit booze, joined the gym, and started almost exclusively eating fruits and veggies. Someone introduced him to pomegranate juice, and he liked it so much, he went out and bought a bunch.
One day at work, he drank three bottles of POM.
Many of you already know where this is going. For those who don’t, a brief science lesson:
Pomegranate juice, like prune juice, is labeled by WebMD as a “natural laxative.” Its suggested daily dosage is 8 ounces, or half a bottle.
It didn’t take long for that 48 ounces of laxative to work its magic, scrubbing Elliot’s insides like a Brillo pad.
He first sensed trouble just as his shift was ending, and not wanting to let slip the dogs of war in his company’s public restroom, he decided to hurry home.
He merged onto the Capitol Beltway and found himself in the middle of a good ol’ fashioned DC gridlock.
His stomach churning, he inched along, his house a mere four miles away. But as any DMV driver will tell you, the Beltway is one cold, unforgiving bitch.
Elliot battled his intestines valiantly for a solid 20 minutes, but the oncoming pomegranate forces were too much for him. He clenched the wheel, grit his teeth, and let loose a quart-and-a-half of dirty dishwater into his shorts.
He was one mile from home.
My Friends Over Poo
We normal people have a fascination with the lives of celebrities. Entire media outlets make their livings reporting on celebs’ daily routines. Just look at any glossy magazine at the supermarket checkout and you’ll see articles about Gwyneth Paltrow picking up her dry cleaning or Johnny Depp buying another pair of vintage eyeglasses.
But reading about celebrities’ mundane goings on and experiencing them firsthand are two very different things.
I learned this in the summer of 2012, when I spent several weeks on the Vans Warped Tour. My friends in the band Man Overboard played the entire tour and invited me to ride on their bus with them for a few shows.
One of the bands Man O hung out with on a daily basis was New Found Glory, easily one of my favorite pop punk bands of all time. I get the members of NFG aren’t exactly A-list, but to me they might as well have been. In college, I spent hours obsessing over the band, poring over the lyrics and liner notes of their CDs, learning every riff on guitar. I played their DVD documentary on a loop in my dorm room, to the point where my roommate would come home from classes and groan when he saw it on the TV.
“This thing again?” he’d say. “Can’t we watch something else?”
I spent the first few days of the tour in awe of them, just sitting there hanging out with my friends on the bus. They were so cool, so normal. Eventually, the band and I got to know each other, especially NFG’s guitarist, Steve.
Steve Klein had just produced a record for Man O, and he treated me like one of the gang. What I never had the guts to tell him as we shot the shit in the catering line or drank a few beers after the show was that I had spent so many hours emulating not only his guitar style, but his personal fashion style as well. Steve had an impressive collection of vintage baseball hats, and during college I made it my mission to own every hat I saw him wearing in photos.
What does my man crush on this mid-level musician have to do with poop, you ask? A little-known secret about Warped Tour is that the majority of venues had limited bathrooms for the artists. With so many bands on the bill, it was impossible to provide ample facilities for everyone. The only perk bands and their crews received was that, since they arrived at the venue hours before doors opened to the general public, they had first crack at the Port-a-Potties before the festival crowds had a chance to befoul them.
Like clockwork, the bands lined up at these outhouses each morning, all clutching packages of baby wipes.
You got used to it eventually, but even a clean Port-a-Potty offers a less-than-enjoyable bathroom experience when you’re hungover and the 100 degree Nevada sun is beating down on you.
Which is why the tour nearly threw a party when we pulled into Wisconsin one morning and discovered the venue contained no fewer than 15 public restrooms, each with 10 commodes.
I strode into one such lavatory around 10 o’clock that morning. As I waited for an empty stall, none other than New Found Glory’s Steve Klein came up behind me.
We made some small talk and took our positions as two stalls next to each other opened up.
I sat down and went about my business and was just about to begin the wiping process when Steve spoke up on the other side of the wall.
“Oh my god, it feels SO good to shit inside!” he said.
I said nothing, because a: I assumed he was making some sort of rhetorical statement, and b: I make it a general policy to not engage in friendly conversation mid-shit. It just seems like proper etiquette, like staring straight ahead when using a public urinal.
But as it turns out, Steve was indeed directing his comment to me, his fellow shitter.
“Sam?” he said.
“Doesn’t it feel so good to shit inside?”
What do you say to a guy whose picture was once taped to your dorm room wall when he asks you about shitting indoors?
“Yeah dude,” I replied. “So good.”
As previously mentioned, pooping when on Warped Tour can be a burden. Though every tour bus had its own chemical toilet, going number 2 was strictly verboten. Bus toilets are finicky, and anything other than liquid waste requires a significantly increased level of maintenance, costing the band more money and more time.
This was my first tour on a bus, so I was unaware of this road maxim, but I have since learned the “don’t shit on the bus” policy is almost universal in the touring community. If you don’t believe me, just Google “Can you shit on a tour bus?” It yields some hilarious results.
While most bands just hold it until the next stop, Ian, the bassist from New Found Glory clued me in to a more creative solution.
One afternoon, when a crew member complained about having to walk around searching for a Port-a-Potty that wasn’t already decimated by that day’s crowd, Ian scoffed.
“Don’t do all that, bro,” he said. “Just hot lunch it.”
Lucky for me, I didn’t have to ask what a hot lunch was, because apparently this crew member hadn’t heard of it either.
A hot lunch, Ian explained, is when you shit on the bus, but instead of going into the delicate septic system, you spread a plastic shopping bag under the toilet seat. When you’re finished, you tie up the bag and throw the “hot lunch” out the window.
“That’s awful,” the crew guy said, echoing my internal sentiments. “No way I’m doing that.”
“To each his own,” Ian said. “Me? I’m hot lunch all the way.”
I decided then and there no matter what the cost, I would never be a hot lunch kind of guy.
Until I was.
On the second-to-last day of the tour in Seattle, I got pretty hammered with my friend Dom. We stumbled back to the bus at 2 a.m., and I made a drunk snack for myself that consisted of four microwaved jalapeño and cheese-filled hot dogs. Then I climbed into my bunk and passed out.
My stomach awoke me three hours later, bucking and cramping like there was a war in my small intestine. The bus was in motion, somewhere between Seattle and Portland.
I did my best to fight through the pain, push back the onslaught of partially-digested Oscar Meyers yearning to break free. But, as my friend Elliot learned on a stretch of Route 495, diarrhea is the undefeated champion in the battle of the bowels.
Dripping in sweat, the rocking bus making the sharp pain worse, I knew there was only one thing I could do.
I grabbed three Wal Mart bags, ran to the toilet, and whipped up the hottest lunch the Man Overboard bus had ever seen.
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, definitely worth the relief. All I will say is, if you’re on Route 5 between Chehalis and Castle Rock, don’t pick up any Wal Mart bags you find on the side of the road.