Sanitized For Your Protection



            "Oh God, I'm not going to make it. Please, please, please, just a little while longer."  Mark sat in the vinyl chair and gritted his teeth, pulling his briefcase closer to his chest. The pain in his bowels was almost unbearable--made worse by the jostle of the bus over the uneven pavement and potholes.   He slouched forward, breathing in slow constant meditative breaths.

Through squinted eyes, he studied the advertisements than hung from the ceiling of the commuter bus: Pregnant? Need a Job? Want a vacation in the Bahamas? Smoking?  Looking for Religion? Allergies? Laxatives?

Laxatives. Oh God, no.

            Mark looked at his Casio: 9:45pm. In thirty minutes he would arrive at the bus depot. Thirty long minutes.

 

 He would use the depot lavatory: brown ceramic black grouted tiles, dimly lit florescent lighting, and brown paper towels overflowing the garbage cans, falling into unknown wet puddles. The overpowering smell of urine and pubic hair would be there to greet him, but that would be a small price to pay to use a clean public toilet. He would enter the bathroom, grab a piece of clean toilet tissue and wipe it over the seat. Pressing on the flusher with the tip of his shoe, he would drop in the soiled tissue in with any remaining floating contents. The filth would all be flushed away.

 If he were lucky, there would be one of those sanitary seat tissues for his ass that would form a protective sanitary barrier between all the germs of whoever sat previously. If not, he would use a couple pieces of strategically placed tissues in order to act as the shield. Never mind that one of his friends in college once said that most toilet seats are “probably cleaner than the insides of your mouth.” The idea of whoever's ass sitting on the seat previously before him made him cringe. If he could just hold out for another thirty minutes, he could make it to those twice-daily cleaned bowls as noted on the placard hanging on the back of the bathroom door. Mark wiped the sweat from his brow with his suit cuff and buried his chin into his chest.

Thirty minutes. In thirty minutes this’ll be over.

 

            Mark glanced outside of his window and studied the outside surroundings. The landscape had shifted in the last fifteen minutes. Instead of the tall cavernous glass and steel of the downtown district, the buildings had transformed into row after row of old brick-face buildings. He felt a sharp pain course through his stomach while as studied the structures.

Wait a second. None of this looks familiar.

 

            "Hey son, you sick?”

Mark glanced up at the voice. The bus was nearly empty except for the older black gentleman with walking cane and the teenage couple in the very back seat making out. 

The black man nodded, smiled “You don't look so good. You look pale."  He sat holding a bag of groceries at his side, green heads of lettuce and a loaf of bread poked out the top.

            "Yeah, I'll be fine." Smiling, Mark grimaced. "Do you happen to know which line this is?  I just moved out here and I’m beginning to think I got on the wrong bus."

            “This here is the Double-G. It goes through Old Town before going to the bus depot in Wicksville.  Stops off wherever the Express-G won’t stop. You probably thought this was the Express-G, but it doesn’t run on Fridays. Don’t worry though, it goes the same places. Just takes a little while longer. Just a little more time.” The man bobbed his head solemnly.

            “About how long you think till it gets to the depot?”

            “Oh. Probably ‘bout an hour.”

A small wolverine was now clawing through Mark’s stomach. 

“You sure you ok son? You don’t look so good.”

            Jesus, I'm going to shit my pants.

 

            Mark limped off the bus and onto the street. He passed by some park cars and walked slowly to the one building on the block with its lights on--Tony's Pizza. The florescent light flickered slowly repeating ‘Pizza’ in huge red neon letters. Mark braced himself against the whitewashed building and breathed in short rapid breaths.

Come on Mark, keep it together. Keep focused. One foot after the other. Just make it to the bathroom.

 

            The metal bell above the door rang loudly as he slowly entered the small pizzeria. His feet shuffled as he walked across the yellowed linoleum floor. The overpowering smell of garlic and tomato sauce hit him with such force his stomach twisted. A bounty of various sports memorabilia and old faded pictures of the city supported the brown stucco walls. 

The large man at the counter glanced briefly from his newspaper. He chewed on the end of an unlit cigar while he ran his fingers over the sports section. A small sign over his left shoulder read ‘We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.’ Handwritten were the words in black permanent marker ‘This means you.’

 

“Excuse me, do you mind if I use your bathroom?”

"Five dollars." The man chewed slowly on the end of the cigar.

"I’m sorry,” Mark inhaled, labored. Perspiration ran slowly down the center of his back. “What did you say?"

"The bathrooms are for paying customers only. And from where I'm standing, That ain't you. Five dollars."

“But all I need to do is--”

"--Look. You enter my fine dining establishment wearing a nice grey business suit, looking all snazzy, and you expect to come in here and use my lavatory without even looking at the menu? You want to do god knows what in there, and you don’t even want to eat. You disrespect me and my business. I should make you stay out there with the rest of the animals. Instead, being the kind-hearted man that I am, I’m going to only charge you just five dollars to use my toilets.  Take it or leave it.”

Mark pulled out a crumpled five-dollar bill from his wallet and placed it on the counter.

“Now,” through gritted teeth “Where is the bathroom?”

            The man quietly picked up the five-dollar bill and placed it into a small jar marked ‘TIPS.’  He pulled the cigar from his mouth. “Go round the corner, in the back. You can’t miss it.”

            Mark was off running to the back of the room even before the man was done speaking.

“You pull a hernia or somethin? You don’t look so good.” The man shrugged, and returned to the sports section, chewing loudly on the end of his cigar.

           

            The first thing he noticed was the smell--An overpowering smell so strong that he could taste it in the back of his throat. He pictured the microscopic atoms of shit stink permeate his clothes, clinging to his skin, filtered through his lung and into his bloodstream. Fighting all instincts to flee he felt his sphincter painfully spasm. The five by three bathroom was painted in teacup green, illuminated by a single light bulb over a solitary sink. The windows were filled with cut portions of cardboard and newspaper to brace the cracked broken glass. He breathed into the cuff of his suit jacket and tried desperately to hold his breath.

There was only one stall.  The metal door was unhinged, the lock long broken and useless. The walls were covered with graffiti: Crudely drawn drawings of hugely inflated sex organs, curse words written in huge angry letters, names, random requests and numbers for ‘a good time.’

            The toilet was overrun with a thick black mucus-like film with what looked to be chunks of undigested food and corn. This mixture was slowly pumped over the lip of the toilet and onto the sticky floor.  The seat was covered with what appeared to be the splattered remains from someone who had missed altogether. 

He searched desperately in the stall some toilet paper—something—anything, to be able to clean the seat. There was no toilet paper.

            Jesus Christ.   

           

He grabbed his stomach—the pain was too much. He had been holding on for the two last hour. It was either to try to have some semblance of dignity and use this toilet, or… 

 

When he was little, Mark’s sister had once told him how she would squat on the public toilets when they were too dirty. The thought of his sister perched on the toilet like some awkward comical bird made him laugh back then, but now…

 

He placed his foot delicately onto the seat and steadied himself against the stall walls. He balanced precariously with his briefcase pulled in close to his chest. Unbuckling his belt, he slowly dropped his grey slacks to his knees and squatted.

           

Relax and just let it go. Don’t think about what’s down there. Don’t look down.   You’re at home, sitting on a nice clean porcelain bowl. Just keep your eyes closed.   He exhaled slowly and relaxed.

 

            He pulled out a copy of one of his reports from his briefcase and tore off a sheet, folding it into fourths.

I should have thought of this sooner. At least now one of these damn things will be put to good use. I guess necessity is the mother of invention. From now on, I’m always carrying tissue.

He dropped the soiled paper on the ground.

             

            “You didn’t use the Men’s bathroom, did you?” The man was still bent over, reading his newspaper. “I forgot to tell you to use the Ladies. The Men’s is busted--Clogged sewer line. Supposed to have it fixed sometime this weekend. Did you see the sign?”              

“I didn’t see a sign. There was no sign.” Mark felt something warm slowly trickle down his calf.

            “What? Oh Jesus, You didn’t…” His eyes widened “Let’s get you some paper towels.”