by S. Nazkar
In the mid-1990s, I was playing in a band and working as a tour guide, navigating massive Belgian horses and sweaty tourists through the side streets of Charleston, SC. I lived outside the city in a flop house populated by fellow band members and various hangers-on, and I often didn’t feel like driving all the way home after working all day in the Southern heat while wearing a Confederate uniform replete with wool cap.
One night, I went with a bunch of co-workers to see the Squirrel Nut Zippers at a local club. We dutifully played up to their 1920s vibe; I wore some kind of old hat and odd vest, and to make matters worse, I drank old-school cocktails all night (I usually only drink beer and wine, never any sort of mixed drinks). The show was great, but I was too drunk to drive home, so my co-worker Cindy said I could crash at her and her roommate Collette’s place.
The next morning I wake up on the couch in one of those fuzzy, “Where the fuck am I?” states. After remembering where I am, the next thing to hit me is the realization of a sour stomach and the overwhelming urge to shit a violent miasma of mint juleps and late night Waffle House remnants, but the bathroom door is closed—I lean closer and hear the shower. By now, the urge is bad enough that I contemplate just walking in the bathroom and shitting while Cindy showers, but then I picture her screaming like Janet Leigh in Psycho if I just walk in and erupt. We had only started working together a few weeks earlier and were not yet in the “it’s-totally-cool-if-you-shit-next-to- me-while-I’m-lathering-myself-naked” phase of our friendship.
I contemplate other options. The bowel foulness is making me sweat now and impairing my logic. I exit the apartment, waddle down a flight of steps, and approach the downstairs neighbor’s door. I raise my arm to knock when it hits me: Who the hell is going to open their door to a complete stranger and let him shit in their bathroom? I clench my teeth and wobble back up the steps, hoping the bathroom is finally vacated.
The bathroom door is still closed and the shower running. Now frantic, I waddle outside to the piazza, which is basically a square-ish Charleston porch that looks out over the street. I loosen my pants, pull down my underwear and prepare to let loose over the side of the porch. A momentary feeling of calm seizes me as I recognize relief is near. Then I realize I’m about to hang my ass off a third-story porch and let loose on the sidewalk and street down below. And looking down from three stories, I see a construction crew looking up at me from the cracked sidewalk they are repairing. I hurriedly raise my pants and cross the piazza off my list of possible shit places.
By now the turtle is poking its head out of the shell, so I grit my teeth and stumble inside. I approach the bathroom and hear the shower still running. I think of what I could possibly say to Cindy if I just barged in and shit while she saw me from the shower. At a loss for words, I realize I won’t even make it to the bathroom and detour into the kitchen. By now, only the lizard/animal part of my brain is working. I debate shitting in the sink but realize the drain sieve is much too small. I scan the kitchen for anything suitable and a large soup pot in the drainer catches my eye. I pick it up, but I worry it’s not big enough for the rumbling in my bowels; then I see a huge wooden salad bowl out of the corner of my eye and grab it. I want to shit right there and then, but her roommate’s room is right off the kitchen. So I stumble into the living room like a dehydrated person finishing a triathlon, half-squat behind the couch, and fill the salad bowl with pounds and pounds of brown hummus. It feels like it starts under my breastbone and scours every inch of my innards on the way out. Rainbows and unicorns wash over me, and I smile through the sweat as I know the day is going to be fine now.
The feeling of happiness evaporates when my rational brain returns and I realize I’m standing in a relative stranger’s living room holding a giant bowl of shit. The smell of it starts to gag me and I peek my head round the corner to see the bathroom door still shut. I weigh my options: Can’t flush it down the toilet. Can’t throw it off the piazza. Can’t just hide it nonchalantly in the trash. I stow the bowl in the far corner of the porch and take a quick few breaths of crisp (for Charleston) morning air to clear my head, even pausing to sit on the porch swing and think about how lucky I was they had a massive salad bowl. After my heart beat had returned to normal and I stopped sweating, I went in sans shit-laden salad bowl to see if the coast was clear. The bathroom was empty. Finally! I figured I’d just haul the bowl in, pour it out, use a plastic scraper from the kitchen to get whatever stuck to the sides.
I go back to the piazza to retrieve the bowl from the porch, but I am stopped in my tracks. Now Cindy is sitting on the swing, rocking back and forth. The salad bowl of shit is now lightly steaming in the corner of the porch behind her. I figure she already saw it, but I position my body between her line of sight and the salad bowl just in case.
“Good morning,” I mutter.
“Good morning,” she said. “Sleep okay?”
I’m still waiting to see if she’s messing with me, but it becomes clear she’s not. She’s hung over, too, just simply gazing out over the city. We make a little small talk about leading tours when hung over, then I remember the problem of the giant bowl of steaming shit again. All I can come up with is a lie.
“Umm… I think I heard Collette calling you.”
Cindy furrows her brow. “What did she want?”
“Umm.. .not sure, she just said she needed to talk to you or something.”
“That’s weird,” Cindy says, then she gets up and walks off toward Colette’s room. I spin immediately, grab the bowl, spring to the bathroom, flush the contents down the toilet, rinse it in the sink and put it back in its rightful spot in the kitchen.
I go back to the porch to celebrate and Cindy is there again.
“What the hell? Colette was still sleeping, said she never even woke up yet.”
“Huh, I must be hearing things. Sorry about that.”
“Well, we better get to work.”
A typical day in the trenches of Southern tourism unfolded. At the end of our shift, Cindy came up to me and said Collette cooked a nice dinner and invited me. I accepted. When we got there, I see a lovely spread of pastries and chicken, replete with a fresh green salad in the familiar salad bowl. I start laughing but don’t explain why when they ask. And though I always eat everything no matter what, and they know me as a grub who eats leftovers off their plates, I refuse to eat any salad and they keep asking what’s wrong. I tell them I will eventually explain one day.
About a year later, Cindy and Collette were moving away and invited me for one last dinner. I finally told them the sordid history of their salad bowl story and their faces looked as if I were Freddy Krueger. An incredulous howl goes up: “Do you know how many times we’ve used that bowl since then? I can’t believe it, I’m going to throw up!” Cindy got up, grabbed the salad bowl, and put it in my lap. “It’s yours now!”
I never could bring myself to eat it out of it, probably because I’m the only one who actually saw it brimming over with brown filth, and I eventually put it in a dumpster rather than give it to Goodwill. I’ve had some hairy intestinal moments since then where I wished that trusty salad bowl had been at my side, but nothing has compared to the violent synthesis of my weak stomach, Squirrel Nut Zipper cocktails, and Cindy’s long showers.