Title photo credit: Matt Chan @ Flickr.com
I had a character defining moment. I never thought it would be in an airport bathroom. I thought when the moment came, I would learn who I really was as I was saving another person’s life, or confronting a robber in my home, or something equally righteous and cinematic.
I always wonder: would I actually hit the robber over the head with my wine bottle? Would I run because I’m way more scared than I thought I would be? Would I run because I refuse to sacrifice my wine? I know the answer to that one, at least. Alcohol is a terrible thing to waste.
So here it goes, because although this story reveals something about me that I’m not sure I’m proud of, I believe that everyone should share stories like these once in a while so that we all know we’re not alone. Or, you could read this and say, “Nope, you are utterly and totally alone, you weirdo.” We’ll see.
Swiss Airlines thinks that it’s cute to hand out little squares of milk chocolate at the beginning of every flight.
Smart people will eat this chocolate right away. I, on the other hand, am immediately distracted by episodes of Dr. Who on the in-flight entertainment. I also like to hoard free gifts and save them for “later,” whenever that is.
Lesson 1: If someone offers you chocolate, eat the chocolate. Don’t think, just eat it. Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “While you’re out there horsing around, someone is getting smarter.” I say, “While you’re out there not eating chocolate, someone is eating chocolate.” Which person would you rather be?
If you don’t eat it, and forget about it because the in-flight entertainment system isn’t working, so that you’ve begun to punch the little screen in the hopes that stronger jabs will make Dr. Who appear, because there are few joys to be had on a flight except for free TV and the tiny bottle(s) of wine, so that you punch harder and harder and begin muttering obscenities until the person in front of you gives you a dirty look, well then you just may forget about the chocolate.
And if you have forgotten about your chocolate, by the time your flight is over, you may have misplaced your chocolate.
And if you have misplaced your chocolate, you may lean forward in your seat ever so slightly as the plane begins to deboard, and glance down at your seat.
Dear God. Please let this not be happening. Dear God, I’m going to close my eyes and you’re going to do me a solid. You’re going to turn back time, just for a piddling 40 minutes.
You may think, “Wow. That looks like so much more chocolate than I had to begin with.”
With a sinking feeling, you will realize that your pants are slightly wet and mushy in the back.
You will lean forward just a bit further, after checking that other passengers aren’t paying attention to you. You didn’t really need to lean forward though, did you? In your heart of hearts, you knew that there was a thick, wet, turd-brown smear all over your butt.
Unfortunately, someone does notice my looking, and he grimaces exaggeratedly like some real life version of a disgusted Jim Carey. In airplanes you try not to make eye contact, to preserve what little privacy there is. Sometimes, however, you see something you can’t un-see and you can’t mask your guttural reaction quickly enough. I feel for that poor man, I do. He thinks he’s just seen the most voluminous case of adult incontinence he will ever witness in his life.
He pretends that his nose is itchy and starts twitching it to cover up, but I know.
Lesson 2: If you know in your heart that there is poop all over you, you will only make it worse by taking the time to confirm. Trust yourself. Act on the assumption that there is poop, and react.
This leads to Lesson 3: It doesn’t matter than it’s not really poop. To the rest of the world, it’s poop. You’ll be a lot better off when you just accept that it’s poop and move on.
Someone in the heavens wants to give me hope, wants to string me along a little. By His or Her grace, I had a messenger bag that could be positioned just so, to give me a chance to get to the bathroom.
I position my messenger bag as tastefully as I can and make a beeline to the nearest airport restroom, taking short, quick steps so as not to dislodge the bag from where it has stuck to my butt, so that I’m reeling and listing to the side, like a woman with one leg that’s shorter than the other.
But here’s the thing about a huge chocolate poop stain. It doesn’t really come out as easily as you would think. Because the paper towels in airports are of such poor quality, they just disintegrate when you get them wet.
Photo by Circulating at Flickr.com
Lesson 4: Don’t rely on the strength of other people’s toilet paper. When you’re in a tight spot, low grade toilet paper can mean life or death. Always have your own, and buy the good stuff.
Covertly, because airport bathrooms are always crowded, I wet some of those beige colored sheets, stand with my back to the wall, and start rubbing my ass.
I have to look over my shoulder at the mirror to see if I’m making progress. I’m making progress all right. The chocolate smear is as big as ever, and is now in fact a lighter, more obvious shade of brown now that it’s drying. It has dried in clumps, though, and miraculously continues to give the impression of being wet and slimy. The paper towels have done nothing except to decorate it with a smattering of little paper balls from the towels. So now it looks not only like I’ve had an explosive accident, but that I’ve eaten cauliflower for lunch.
The time to my next flight is approaching rapidly, and I begin rubbing frantically. My head starts to pound, and I feel a light sweat accumulating all over me. Nothing is happening. Towel after towel turns to mush in my hands and on my pants.
Two little Indian girls have now begun to stare. One of them tugs on her mother’s skirt, and when the woman looks up slowly, sees what I’m doing, and our gazes meet, I have the sudden, unexpected knowledge of what it must feel like to be a sex offender. The woman whisks her girls out of the bathroom, away from the nasty poopy lady.
The thing is, I have a sweater. I could just tie it around my waist and walk out of that bathroom right then, but I don’t. I need to remove that stain. I have the sudden feeling that the outcome of the incident will define me for the rest of my life. The gods of continence and incontinence are battling for my soul.
I am beginning to draw subtle glances. Looks are exchanged between companions. I’m getting nowhere, and I need some privacy to think.
With no idea about what to do next, I go into the nearest stall and lock the door. I wait for the bathroom’s current inhabitants to leave. The nice thing is that if you want privacy for anything in an airport stall, if you don’t want anyone to connect your face with the sounds you’re making, all you have to do is wait a couple of minutes for people to move on. Then you’re just a nameless grunter.
Life Lesson 5: If someone witnesses your disgrace, wait it out. Eventually, they’ll leave because they are disgusted by you, and you’ll get a second chance.
I have 15 minutes to get to the gate. But even if I put that sweater on, even if I cover the rapidly setting stain with my messenger bag, people are always demanding that you take off parts of your clothing in airports. I could be exposed, in front of all of my fellow passengers, as the poopy lady. I’d have nowhere to hide.
As panic starts to set in, I take off my pants. I stand gingerly on their hems in that dirty little bathroom.
I have a few towels left, but what to do with them? Dip them in the toilet water? Thankfully, I can say that this is not how the story ends. With relief, I am not the kind of person who forgoes human dignity for the sake of vanity. I don’t know if what I actually did do was much better though.
Life Lesson Six: It’s never as bad as dipping your hand into an airport toilet. Car keys, wedding ring, doesn’t matter. You can get a new car or a new spouse, but you can never go back after your hand has been in an airport toilet. You will be marked as one of the damned.
Like the epiphanies that flashed in the minds of the great inventors of the past, I have a blindingly brilliant idea. Hey, I think. It’s just chocolate, right? I lift the pants to my mouth and begin sucking.
Suddenly, time stops. I am in a movie, and all of the voices around me become slower and low-pitched. The feet passing in front of my stall begin to blur in slow motion.
The camera pulls back in an aerial view of me in the stall in my underwear, sucking the seam of my pants. How have I come to this? A blur of flashback images passes over the screen; me as a child, running through a field. Me sitting on my brother and forcing him to give me his candy. Me getting in trouble for telling the neighbor’s kid what labia are. I’m in high school, shy and bookish. I’ve hit an academic stride, I’m going places. I’m at a rigorous college, picking a tough class schedule. Okay, now I’m smoking weed.
Damn it. I had thought that in the balance, I was more successful than dweebish, that I had left the embarrassing parts of my past behind. I had a good job that allowed me to travel. I was one of them, the jet-setters.
Back to me in the stall, my forehead beaded with sweat and my mouth rimmed by a thin line of brown. Let us give you a reality check, Sarah, the universe intones. For the rest of your days, you will always be the girl who has sucked chocolate out of her own pants in an airport bathroom.
I hang my head. Maybe I should just give it up. There are worse things than being the poopy lady on the plane, right? The family of screaming kids, or the man who leans back so far that his head is in your lap? The obnoxious people who talk loudly for the whole flight? The woman whose feet reek when she takes her shoes off? Alas, no. Even the most obnoxious, onion-smelling loud-talker would be horrified to sit next to me.
I heave a little sob, and start to gag. The gagging makes my mouth foam up with spit, and because the pants are still in my mouth, I release a strained sound halfway between a gurgle and a scream. I hear stall doors slamming as people rush to get out of there, God only knows what they think I’m doing.
Just as I’m about to give it up and put my wet slimy pants back and assume my new life as the poopy lady, I notice that the spit I gagged up has removed a huge wad of chocolate. Maybe there’s hope after all, if I can just work up enough spit!
I begin sucking like there’s no tomorrow. Every few seconds I stop to hack up some more spit, and while the chocolate is now all around my mouth, the stain is becoming smaller and smaller. I suck with the strength of the woman who lifted a car off of her child, with the Olympian glory of Linda Lovelace in her oral debut, with the determination of Rocky as he runs the stadium steps, ignoring the pain and the exhaustion, determined to keep going as the sweat runs down my face.
The camera is now close on my face and my pumping jaw in my moment of triumph, and in the background I swear I can hear the uplifting notes of Chariots of Fire.
When I know I have no more time left, I hesitantly hold the pants up to the light. You can still see the faint ghost of brown at the seam if you look closely, but I am out of the woods. I have survived a battle for my soul, and my mouth has been invested with the power and the glory, that I should dwell in the light, and live stain-free.
I make it to the gate with five minutes to spare, and I don’t even wear my sweater.
If you have been appalled and disgusted, I apologize. Pretend you never read this.
But don’t forget Life Lesson 7, the most important lesson of all: It is better to embarrass yourself in front of people you don’t know in an airport bathroom than to live the rest of your life stained with chocolate and cauliflower poop pants. You may disgust little Indian girls, but not even they can take away your dignity. Sometimes you must take away your own dignity to maintain your inner sense of worth. Sometimes, you must suck the chocolate out of your own pants. No one else is going to do it for you.