A man must face his shittiest fear.
By David Wylie
Joe hated public toilets. He hated them with as much passion as a man in his thirties could muster against a porcelain seat. But on a sunny Friday afternoon in August, as he drove back to Ottawa with his wife from a visit to Joe’s parents in Toronto, Joe knew he wasn’t going to make it.
The couple was driving east through Toronto when the contents of Joe’s stomach started to feel like laundry tumbling in a drier. When they past Oshawa he started to squirm. Thirty minutes later, Joe spotted a glorious green sign: “Next rest stop 33 kilometres.” Joe glanced away from the road and turned to his wife, Jane, in the passenger seat. Early in their marriage, Jane learned Joe could drive hundreds of kilometers, grumbling in discomfort, to avoid sitting on a gas station toilet. Jane had simply come to acknowledge it as one of her husband’s quirks.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” he said with an urgency that suggested something may have crawled into his stomach and died, then resurrected and was trying to scratch its way out.
Jane had also noticed the sign and suggested they pull in at the rest stop. “I’ll get a drink and feed the baby,” she said. “And you can go to the washroom.”
Joe nodded his head reluctantly and pressed a bit more firmly on the gas pedal. After 33 kilometres of sweating and clenching, Joe pulled into the rest stop like a race car driver. He quickly found a parking space as close to the Tim Horton’s sign as he could get, and swung the car 180 degrees into the spot, sending up a small cloud of dust and earning him a few glares from people in the parking lot. Jane was gripping the door and baby Maddy, awake from her nap, was giggling. Joe flung the sedan door open and shuffle-jogged to the door, disappearing under the black roof of the dome-shaped building. Jane relaxed her grip and said to Maddy, “Daddy really had to go.”
Joe made it to the toilets and read the sign on the door as he opened it: “Five-star cleanliness guarantee.” Well, he thought, sounds promising. But the bathroom did not earn its five stars in Joe’s opinion. Somebody had smeared pink soap all over the mirror, the floor had toilet paper strewn on it like giant bits of confetti, and each urinal had its own puddle underneath. The smell reminded him of the baby bottle he’d accidentally left in the car for two days. However, there was no turning back.
Of the three stalls, two were occupied. A dull plunk echoed from the stall on the right where a man with muddy brown boots grunted. In the stall on the left, he saw two white-socked feet stuffed inside leather sandals. Joe stood in front of the centre stall and hesitated. He held his breath – less because of anticipation and more because of the foul smell starting to drift from Muddy Boots’ stall. Then he opened the door. The scene in front of him was something out of a horror movie. It seemed that all the toilet’s previous users had conspired not to flush. Several giant brown logs were loosely piled together like a decrepit raft barely staying afloat on a yellow pond. The black toilet seat looked like it had been left outside in a torrential rain storm. Joe thought about the motto carved into decorative wood that Jane had hung on the wall behind their toilet: “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie.” Joe sullenly decided the people who used the toilet before him were not sweeties.
He stepped into the stall and pulled the door closed. Joe flushed the toilet, twice. There was still a brown smear, but the little raft was swept away by a whirlpool of white rapids. The yellow water was now clear. Joe crouched down so he could reach the plastic toilet paper dispenser and grabbed handfuls of the one-ply paper. Joe was wiping off the seat when he got a text message on his cellphone. He used his left hand to pull the phone out of his pocket and read the message from Jane. “How goes it?” she wrote
Joe, who was crouched down cleaning an impossibly dirty bathroom stall, staring at a wad of toilet paper stained with another man’s absurdly yellow pee in his right hand, replied: “Just peachy.”
White Socks in the next stall farted loudly as Joe hit the send button.
Joe put his phone away as he tossed the toilet paper into the water and flushed again. Then he pulled more strips of toilet paper from the dispenser and built a fluffy toilet paper nest on the seat. Joe undid his belt, dropped his khakis and sat. He unclenched and felt immediate relief. A few previous tenants of the stall had left some bathroom reading on the walls. One caught his eye: “Roses are red, violets are blue, I took a poo and bet you did, too.” Joe couldn’t help but smile.
He grabbed a handful of toilet paper, but he felt one more intense grumble and gave a small push of encouragement. He farted so forcefully that the toilet water splashed up against his butt. The bathroom echoed, and fell silent again for a few seconds until White Socks applauded loudly and Muddy Boots hooted. Joe laughed.
When Joe pulled back out onto the highway, Jane asked how it went. Joe turned to her and smiled. “A gas.”