Jaywalking across Haight, shaky from the lingering effects of a recent ailment exacerbated by the more immediate fallout from the previous night’s overindulgence. My head was buzzing with an attempt to re-assemble thoughts while my stomach was distributing a good-will antacid to the more blighted corners of my guts which is why, climbing the opposing curb and carrying on along the sidewalk, I didn’t twist my head to gawk. From the corner of my eye there appeared to be a contorted figure sandwiched between two parked cars, squatting or actually sitting, and I could hear a scrabbling and heavy breathing. Continuing without pause my mind groped for a reason, wondering if there was any possibility that in my fractured state I had hallucinated this person.
The antacid held out, aided by some delicate walking and vague prayers to no deities in particular– groceries were successfully procured, then cash from a nearby ATM. Cutting across Church in the middle of the block I had a strong sensation of deja vu, and my suspicions were confirmed moments later after gaining the sidewalk and turning right. Sandwiched between two parked cars, as observed by my peripheral vision, cowered another figure scrabbling and muttering. Being prepared for this second visitation you might think I would actually afford this vision my full attention but instinct was violently ringing four bells– an unmistakably wet sound splattered against the asphalt and I hurried on.
Continuing home I couldn’t shake the feeling that my humanity had just failed me. Assuming that this apparition was not the work of a chemical imbalance ruining my head I had ignored a sick person’s plight. Statistically speaking the gutter-squatter was bound to be a junkie, but compassionate folks don’t pick and choose based on stations of life. Safeway was right across the street– why couldn’t he (she?) have been wildly sick within the sanctity of their bathroom stalls? Of course, the bathrooms there often experience temporary closures not to mention that security tends to chase off obvious deviants before they find safe haven. Most of the stores and restaurants around here don’t even let customers use the bathroom because of problems. No, there’s no blaming the person spraying diarrhea between two parked cars on a busy street at six in the evening– only the hundred or so people who passed without a second thought.
What can you do? My immediate concern was that our helpless victim was soon going to find themselves in a tough situation when the pants were due back on. I wasn’t carrying any toilet paper or kleenex but I suppose I could have walked twenty feet for one of the innumerable free publications which provide that function and returned with a solution for containment. How would that conversation go? Hey, ah, I’m not watching you shit the curb but I couldn’t help but notice you might like to have something clean and dry to wipe before trying to get your pants back on. Anyone could have done that and anyone probably should have, but I’m probably a step ahead of the game when it comes to being prepared for this sort of thing.
Secreted in various pockets and containers on my person at all times are caches of Imodium. Of all people ignoring or secretly loathing the scum of the earth I should have the greatest empathy because I have often found myself impaired by digestive ailments. When your intestines have twisted into knots so severe you can’t stand up straight there’s a diminished capacity for behaving appropriately, rationally or gracefully and sometimes it’s only through the generosity and goodwill of others that you survive.
It reminded me of driving from San Francisco to Minneapolis and finding myself beginning to suffer symptoms in the middle of the Nevada desert. Voicing my concerns I hoped that the driver would push on for the nearest town but his desire to make good time insisted on an upcoming rest stop. I have a severe phobia about bathrooms and the availability of one at all times but overriding this was a greater phobia of having diarrhea in a public stall. However I was too embarrassed to explain the sensitivity of my predicament, and submitted to the rest stop without argument.
There was a line, of course, and I stood wobbling near the sink starting to sweat and begging my muscles to remain contracted until one of the stalls were vacated. The crowd was not promising, nor was the decrepit state of the facilities and the forest’s worth of toilet paper and towelettes strewn about the wet floor. A dread-headed hippie kid scampered out from a toilet and came to wash his hands. Noticing my green hair and assorted band patches– somewhat out of place amongst the fannypack pensioners heading towards Reno– he decided to chat me up as I leaned, near tears, against the wall. His friends were all crammed together in an old school bus parked outside headed to Oregon’s Rainbow Festival where third-hand countercultural types with dreaded, multicolored hair and fucking sandals congregate and smoke pot. Did I want to go? No, I’m heading to Minneapolis, thanks all the same. Did I want to get a tattoo? They were doing tattoos on the bus, right now and live and everything. The idea of getting on the Rainbow Express with Rainbow Dreads and his sandals wouldn’t be complete without sharing in hepatitis and dumb body art. Again I declined, graciously, just as my turn at the trough came up.
No fucking way. The bowl was clogged and overflowing, piss and shit oozing down to the floor surrounding the toilet. Rainbow Dread’s open mind and go with the flow spirituality might have enabled his sandaled feet to stand firm but I was wearing black jeans and punk patches and felt no sense of unity or kinship with mankind. In agony and panic I scurried out from the bathroom and ran into my friend Amanda who happens to be a girl. Shaking and sick I explained my situation and she assured me it would be alright, she could handle this. I leaned against the wall outside the women’s facilities while Amanda politely asked the current occupants if they minded my being wildly sick in there as the men’s was having some plumbing difficulties. Everyone gave me the go ahead and I was escorted to a choice stall, clean and functional.
Seriously, I was not well and this took about half an hour of no fucking fun. Periodically a new woman would come in after having been apprised of the situation by Amanda, and I would claw at the walls and handicapped bars biting my lip and holding it in until they could be heard exiting. During less trafficked periods Amanda would actually check on me, but in a polite and understanding manner which meant she didn’t try to carry on conversation beyond a status update. Through the kindness and empathy of a number of people I made it through a trying situation without being reduced to the animal state of squatting between cars on a busy street. But I continued walking home, reliving the experience yet unable to overcome by own embarrassment to reach out (with newspaper and pills) to another human being in need. Where I come from we call that failure.