The French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne, born in 1533, was an intellectual who spent his writing life knocking the arrogance of intellectuals. In his great masterpiece, the Essays, he comes across as relentlessly wise and intelligent – and funny. Most poignantly he said, “Kings and philosophers shit, and so do ladies.”
(Incidentally, we need a modern day moderate feminist to write a similar line about the still stigma-ridden talk of women’s periods, but that’s another club.)
I’ve never liked taking a shit in a public bathroom. I have a hard enough time going pee in a public bathroom. I will thank my mother for this anal (pun intended) avoidance. My teenage son can equally thank me for passing along this mishigas. Both of us will sooner prairie dog it for an eight-hour drive than go in a gas station bathroom.
Potty training in Russia is a major deal. At nine months my mother was putting me on a “garshawk,” a Russian potty which essentially looked like a stainless pot for boiling water. This explains why one of the hilarious anecdotes of my childhood is how crawled over to a real kitchen pot and took a crap in it proudly. I don’t know exactly when I was officially toilet trained to the point of asking to go to the bathroom but I do know I peed my bed at night until we came to America when I was four and a half years old. When we arrived in NYC, my grandmother, who had been living here for two full years, instantly knew the solution to my bedwetting woes. A disposable diaper. The story goes that I spent one night in a size 5 Pampers and I never peed the bed again.
Throughout our immigration experience in Austria and Italy, my mother carried a portable potty and toilet paper everywhere we went. Apparently, this taught me that I cannot have my ass touch a public toilet seat because I will get HIV, cancer, syphilis, gonorrhea, or some other horrible bacterial infection which will have either terminal or eternal effects.
My husband has none of these phobias. He’ll take a shit anywhere there’s a hole in the ground. I am horrified by this notion.
Twenty years ago, after college, I went on a backpacking trip for two months through Europe. The overnight train ride water closets and tiny airplane bathrooms have galvanized into one “grossest bathroom ever” memory. Those cramped spaces forced me to touch much more than I’m comfortable confronting. I’m not Howie Mandel bad, but I WILL NOT EVER let my ass touch a strange toilet seat, no matter if I’m going number one or number two. On one overnight train ride, after some bad paella in Barcelona, I desperately needed to eject the remnants on the locomotive latrine. My brain is blocking why I didn’t line the seat with toilet paper, as desperate situations had demanded in the past. I recall holding onto the door for dear life, partially for balance and mainly to ensure no one came in accidentally. As my stomach contracted and the train transversed the rockiest terrain in Europe, I prayed my squatting thighs could maintain their hovering stance above the toilet and not accidentally crap on my feet.
When I worked at the advertising agency for five years, I had to find alternative ways to take a shit because the main bathroom with its five stalls and two-inch gaps flanking the lock, did not offer sufficient privacy for my neurotic toilet habits. I discovered another bathroom, on the other side of the office, with only one toilet and a secret passcode to get in. I told only my sister and my assistant about the shitter of solitude and I coined it “The Executive [bathroom].” The Executive saved my stomach for half a decade.
With my second child, my six-year-old daughter, I dare say I’ve become more relaxed. It was forced on me by her father who I learned had taken her to the public bathroom a few times AND NOT LINED THE SEAT OR MADE HER SQUAT. He said he spit on some toilet paper and wiped it off. I learned in kindergarten she sat directly on the seat! I also discovered that after dozens of encounters, zero diseases crawled up her butt. (Knock on wood, spit three times over my left shoulder.)
Did I accept this life lesson from my daughter? Have I loosened up about my public bowel movements? Nope. Never. Some things are good to hold onto – like a private poop in my own bathroom.