Want to know what embarrassing is?
I walked to the middle school last Wednesday to check for news, and before going to the main office, I detoured to the bathroom. I discovered that a student had left his planner on the sink and, behaving like a grown-up, took it to the lost and found across the hall.
It was only when I returned to the bathroom to answer nature’s call that I noticed a pair of sneakers, attached to a pair of legs, beneath the nearest bathroom stall. I had turned an un-lost planner in to the lost and found.
“Flack flickin’ flack a flack!” I thought.
For me personally, there’s only one task more intimidating than taking, as they say, el numero dos, in public places. That task is being in middle school.
If I were smart, I would’ve returned the planner to the sink as soundlessly as I took it away. Instead, I said to the poor student, who was in the most vulnerable of vulnerable places, “Dude, did you leave your planner on the sink?”
He replied, “Yeah, man. I did.”
“Aw, crap,” I said. “I just turned it in to the lost and found.”
He took the news remarkably well, insisting he would pick it up on his way to class, that it was no big deal. But to me it was a big deal. The student was obviously trying to evade detection with a deathly silence, which is probably why I didn’t notice him in the first place. Nobody likes being caught with his or her pants down, especially in middle school, where the slightest lapse in conformity equals social suicide.
(And yes, answering such a call of nature is considered a faux pas among middle schoolers, who trail only politicians in socially-sanctioned insanity).
I felt bad.
As an understanding person and a middle school veteran, I apologized profusely, using as many “dudes” and “mans” as I could to show I’m hip. He seemed like a good kid, and thinking back on it, I was probably more embarrassed than he was.
But not as embarrassed as I was a few Sundays ago, when I broke the toilet in the apartment above the Observer.
I was frustrated with something inconsequential (Super Mario DS) at the time and instead of venting with a string of phrases containing the ineffable F-word, I expressed myself with a resounding sit. The result was a cracked toilet that leaked water when I flushed it.
If I were pithy, I would’ve remarked “If only my thoughts and words were as forceful as my derriere.”
Instead, I panicked and did what brave men of sound heart and mind do in times of stress—I called my mom.
Unfortunately, mom and dad were out for a walk. My brother Jamie answered the phone. After informing him of my big time emergency, he dispatched himself to hunt them down. In the meanwhile I struggled to turn off the toilet’s water supply valve, but the dang thing, crafted during the Eisenhower administration, wouldn’t budge.
After a seemingly endless 10 minutes, FEMOM (the mom division of FEMA) called and took over for my brain. She first assuaged my angst by laughing at me, then told me to do the obvious—call my landlord, who is also my employer, and have him turn off the water to the apartment.
In a strong and determined tone of voice, I replied, “Mom, I can’t do that! It’s too embarrassing! My life is ruined!”
“Jeffrey,” she said. “You have to. The leak could cause ceiling damage.”
David was as civil as can be expected of a man whose bonehead tenant disrupts his Sunday morning to report a toilet-related threat of ceiling collapse. He surmised that the leak didn’t necessitate turning the building’s water off, but I had to use the downstairs toilet for the next three days while we waited for a replacement to arrive.
Around day two, those empty Gatorade bottles I keep started coming in real handy in the middle of the night.
And the second number—the original reason I sat down—disappeared, probably due to my compulsive fear of making such an elimination in places that are not my home. For the next three days I was as close to feeling pregnant as I predict I’ll ever be.
At this point, I could probably make a joke about “breaking in” the new toilet after David help Chuck Ekins install it, but I’ve had my fill of bathroom humor in the last few weeks.
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