For just short of 13 years, I worked as a telecommuter program manager for a well-known networking and data communications company in San Jose, CA. Until the very last year of my employment, I was able to fly up to San Jose from Los Angeles almost every week to attend certain meetings in person. Unfortunately, the budget—at least, for my projects—never accommodated my staying overnight. So, I would fly up to San Jose on the earliest morning flight and then come home as late as possible on the same day. It made for very long and very tiring days.
First, I have to confess: I am not the best commuter in the world. It made no sense to bring luggage on day commutes so I would pack all of my computer and personal gear into a briefcase knapsack and hope that it would fit in the overhead compartment. Technically, it should have been able to fit underneath the seat in front of me but I rarely, if ever, was able to shove it far enough in front of me so that my legs had anywhere to go. I used to try and hide it by sitting next to the window and draping my coat over my legs (thus camouflaging the knapsack’s presence under my legs instead of under the seat) but flight attendants, especially those on commuter flights, are savvy. They rarely would let that slide. So it meant I had to lift that overstuffed behemoth over my head and try to stuff it into any available overhead compartment. I have little if any upper body strength so “lifting” is not exactly an accurate description of the machinations I would go through to successfully stow my knapsack. I only wish in retrospect that I had been able to take photos of the people’s faces sitting directly underneath in the line of fire during my attempts to swing and stuff my knapsack just above their heads. It probably also did not help that I was trying to swing and stuff while holding a tall skinny mocha in one hand. Trust me on this: you really do not want to be sitting for an entire commuter flight next to the person you have accidentally baptized with a Starbucks mocha—especially not one who was also rushing to attend an early morning meeting and just happened to be wearing the one and only “Meet the Boss” outfit he or she brought along for the trip.
And then there are the emergency poop bouts over which I have no control. I have been known to delay flights because I absolutely had to use the bathroom after we were already seated and waiting for takeoff. It was either that or crap all over myself and then figure out how I was going to last all day in a city 450 miles from home in my one and only available “Meet the Boss” outfit. Because restrooms are either in the front or the rear of commuter flights, everyone between the restroom and me knew that 1.) I was the reason the flight attendant was freaking out; 2.) I was the reason the flight was being delayed; and 3.) Wasn’t I also the one who caused commotion during seating because I was swinging an over-sized knapsack around? I am ashamed to admit that I have made many friends on commuter flights—people who, for one reason or another, will never forget me.
This story, though, is about one particular night on my way home after a delightful day of commuting to and from San Jose. It had been a long and stressful day with back-to-back meetings. I had had no chance to consume anything other than to sip coffee and tea all day. My flight coming back to Los Angeles was delayed because the connecting flight was stuck in bad weather several states away. So I ended up sitting in a terminal at the San Jose airport for upwards of three hours: freezing, starving, and waiting. After about 10 minutes, I did what any other stressed-out and food-addicted individual would do: I ate. I hear that there are many more food choices now in that very terminal but when I commuted back and forth between Los Angeles and San Jose, there was basically a gift shop and a McDonald’s. My food choices consisted of peanuts or a Big Mac. I knew that either one would trigger a colitis bout but I figured that, given the delay, I would deal with the coming shit storm before we even boarded the flight for Los Angeles. So, I ate the Big Mac, okay? I ate the Big Mac. And then I waited.
Nothing happened. I sat for three hours in complete amazement. I boarded the flight, flew home, and nothing happened. I walked through LAX, hesitating by each of my favorite bathroom stops and nothing happened. It was almost 9:00pm by this time and I really wanted to go home. So I decided to just get into my car and chance driving home. I live about 15 minutes away from the airport in light traffic so I figured that if I could last this long with absolutely no gut activity, I could make it home and face the coming poop attack in my own home.
I was wrong. As soon as I pulled out from the parking lot—thus cutting off all chances of easily reaching a bathroom at the airport—my gut decided that NOW was the time to evacuate. Unfortunately, at least at LAX, there is no place to stop after you have pulled out from one of the parking lots into the commuter traffic. Even if I could have pulled over and rushed into a terminal, there was no way that I would have been able to get through security before crapping my pants. So I decided my best option was to quickly head for home and hope for the best. If I had to stop along the way, there surely would be either a gas station or restaurant where I could pop in and use the restroom.
Wrong! Nothing was open. There was no place to stop. I had almost reconciled myself to crapping all over my car seat when I saw a KFC that was still open. It was 8:50pm. I barreled into the parking lot like a maniac. I could see that the counter people were cleaning up and getting ready to lock up. So, I dashed in—I was so freaked, I left my purse in the car—and threw myself into the nearest restroom. I made it just in time. Let me just put it this way: it was an amazing bout in force, volume and fury, fully worthy of the power and presence of the Big Mac in my gut.
Digression: I have had more than one person suggest that I try adult diapers to deal my gut issues. Let me just go on the record: there is no way on this side of heaven or hell that an adult Huggies pull-up could handle the force and fury of a full-blown, Big Mac-triggered gut purge. Not only that but many brands make a delightful crinkling noise when you move around or sit. It is bad enough to have to fly 450 miles to meet with your boss; to do so, wondering whether the sound of your crinkly plastic underpants or the potential smell of poop will interrupt your meeting is just this side of intolerable.
Anyway, now that the immediate danger of crapping my pants was over, I took a look around my bathroom oasis. It was an open single seater in a tiled room with a drain in the middle of the floor and a sink to the right. There was a soap dispenser, a paper towel dispenser and a trash bin by the sink. It wasn’t particularly clean but I have definitely been in worse restrooms.
Let me confess something in advance: When I am in imminent danger of crapping all over myself, there might not be time for social niceties. There might not be time to grab a toilet seat cover and carefully cover the commode. This particular bout was one of those times. I did not have time to look around and see if there were appropriate post-poop clean-up supplies. I had just enough time to pull up my skirt, rip down my nylons (literally) and panties (figuratively) and poop. So, when it came time for me to clean up—and after a bout like this, cleaning up is the appropriate action and yet still an understatement—and I reached over for toilet paper, imagine my surprise to find that there was no toilet paper. There was no toilet paper. There were no toilet seat covers. As I looked around the room, I saw that there also appeared to be no paper towels.
Another digression: I have shared this story with some of my closest friends. Some have taken the time to share with me that they feel my decision-making abilities are somewhat lacking. That may indeed be so but in my own self-defense, please note that none of the people who have so generously shared their opinions with me have had chronic colitis. They have not had to ferret out fast food bathrooms late at night minutes before closing after a long and miserable day commuting to and from LAX. Sure, it’s easy to toilet quarterback from the comfort and security of anywhere other than that KFC on that particular night. If they had been with me, perhaps I would have welcomed their suggestions. Unfortunately, they weren’t with me. It was me alone in a paperless bathroom minutes before closing.
Given that this was a single seater, I decided to haul my ass over to the sink and rinse my butt off in the sink. I figured I could handle having wet underwear better than poopy underwear. So, with my skirt hiked up around my waist and my panties and ripped stockings in my hand, I tiptoed over to the tiny sink and, because I am short, boosted myself up backwards so that I was sitting with my ass in the sink. Then I rinsed my generous bottom off in the sink as best I could.
That alone would have warranted a YouTube video.
As I feared, there were no paper towels in the bathroom—and there was no soap in the soap dispenser, either. I was grossed out because to rinse my butt, I had to use my hand to splash the water around and my hand was no longer (shall we say?) pristine. Oh, and one other thing: the sink was not draining. When I hauled my generous ass off of the sink, I was faced with a bowl full of poop water very similar to what I was faced with in the toilet.
My mind literally went blank. Never, in my wildest dreams, would I have considered that the sink would not drain. I had no idea what to do. At first I thought it might be a slow drain but when NOTHING drained down, I panicked. It wasn’t as if I was going to reach into that water and see if I could clear the drain—it was bad enough that I could not wash my hands after having rinsed my bottom. There was no way on the face of the earth that I had the courage to go out to the counter and announce that there was a “problem” in the bathroom. So, I decided to simply flush the toilet and leave as quickly as possible.
The fucking toilet overflowed. As soon as I pressed the flush lever, the water level in the toilet started to rise. Within seconds, poop and water were overflowing on to the floor. So there I stood, with my skirt hiked up around my waist, standing on my tiptoes, doing the heebie-jeebies dance as tried to avoid the tsunami of shit coming my way.
In retrospect, it probably would have been better had I aimed my butt toward the wall and spewed poop like an angry gorilla. It could have been an artistic expression of my existential Crohn’s colitis rage. It would have been contained. It would have been easier to clean up. Instead, in less than five minutes, I had completely destroyed what had previously been my restroom oasis.
If I could not tell the people in the front that the sink was backed up, there was no way on earth that I could tell them that the entire bathroom was now covered in shit. It was five minutes before closing and there was no way that I could pawn that bathroom adventure off on somebody else, not when I was standing there only partially poop-free with my skirt, even up around my waist, soaking up the after-effects of my cleanup efforts. So I did the only think I could think of: I shoved my underwear into my pocket, pulled my skirt down, and ran out of that place as quickly as it is possible for a human to vacate a building.
This particular KFC went out of business a few months later. And to date, none of other places who have tried to establish restaurants there have succeeded. I blame myself. Never underestimate the power of the poop.