A filling station. Somewhere near the South Carolina state line. I made a pit stop. I have a long way to get to Charleston. I raced inside the store with both hands gripping my bladder chakra.
I asked the clerk where the bathrooms were.
I was already doing the “I really gotta go” dance. A dance that looks like you’re running in place while also undergoing a public brain seizure.
The guy behind the counter was named Jeremy. I know this because it was on his nametag. Jeremy wore a Metallica shirt. His ballcap was sitting back on his head, revealing a sweaty mop of grayish hair. He was covered in a slick film of sweat, reading an auto magazine. He had a five o’clock shadow that was pushing six thirty.
Jeremy slowly pointed to the bathrooms.
“Bathrooms are back there,” he said.
I was so grateful I almost exploded into a river of pure gratitude.
I walked to the men’s room, stiff-legged, trying not to make any sudden movements that would compromise the integrity of strained urinary muscles.
I grabbed the doorknob. I tried to turn it. But the door was locked. So I jiggled the knob a few times.
I walked back to the front counter, moving even more gingerly than before, just in case the spirit moved.
“The men’s bathroom is locked,” I said.
Jeremy looked up from his magazine and gazed at me with the same blank stare often seen on the faces of the comatose.
“Your men’s bathroom,” I said again.
He looked at me but remained silent.
“It’s locked,” I said.
He nodded. “Okay.”
I tried to breathe deeply. But not too deeply. Breathing too vigorously flexes the body’s diaphragmatic breathing apparatus, which is located very close to the urethral sphincter. Breathe too deeply with a full bladder and you’ll end up in the ER.
So I went to the men’s restroom again and waited. I waited for a long time.
After several minutes, I knocked on the door. “Is someone in there?” I asked in an ultra-polite voice.
And while I’m not proud of what happened next, remember, these were trying circumstances.
I went to the women’s restroom. I placed my hand on the knob. I turned it.
As a boy, I never knew men’s and women’s facilities were different. Not until I was 11 years old. Danny Cooper dared me to walk into the church women’s restroom. I did, and I was shocked.
The women’s room was nothing like the men’s room. Our men’s room was nothing but a few crude toilets placed behind plywood stalls. We had no toilet paper, just old newspaper pages.
But the church’s women’s restroom featured floral wallpaper, reading lamps and a settee. They had Charmin quintuple-ply tissue. They had a sofa table, scented candles and a tall stack of “Better Homes & Gardens” issues dating back to 1954.
I rattled the women’s room doorknob. It was open. Hallelujah.
I pushed open the door and barged inside. No sooner had I opened the door than I heard a loud scream.
“HEY! THERE’S SOMEONE IN HERE!” shouted an old woman who, as it happens, was meditating on the promises.
I shielded my eyes and slammed the door.
“I’m sorry!” I said.
Whereupon Jeremy lowered his magazine. “There’s someone in there,” he pointed out.
So I stood beside the men’s room door and waited. And waited.
I rocked back and forth on my feet. I bounced rhythmically. I suffered. Ten minutes passed. Finally I stormed outside. Because there comes a point in a man’s life when he must take care of business. Consequences be danged.
I trotted around the convenience store to the Dumpster and looked both ways. I prayed a little prayer of forgiveness and attempted to be discreet, and even respectful, while doing my business.
I had just begun when I heard an authoritative voice behind me say, “Excuse me, sir?”
I turned to see a man in a deputy’s uniform behind me. He was leaning out the window of a Sheriff’s patrol car. Looking right at me.
I tried to suspend all current activities. I attempted to stop the flowing stream of consciousness. But the male body has a will of its own. Once a guy has started “going,” there is no stopping without causing irreversible damage.
When evacuation sequence had ended, I secured the barn door and turned to find the cop was still looking at me. He was laughing softly.
He pushed the brim of his hat upward and said, “I keep telling Jeremy to get that men’s room doorknob fixed.”
It’s a long way to Charleston.