Monday, June 06, 2011


Life is made up of odd little moments that stick with you afterwards, sometimes briefly, others for the rest of your days. Brother J had one on Saturday that will probably hang around for months: one of those little things that seems innocuous, but leaves you pondering mankind for a long time afterwards.

He had to haul some heavy debris to the county dump: an old refrigerator, an air-condition unit and some bags of cement that had solidified in the tool shed. So he got in his pick-up and made the half-hour trip to the dump. Along the way, he noticed something awful. He had to go. Number 2. Real bad. A feeling that just kept getting worse with each passing minute. You know the feeling: bad.

So, he gets to the town dump, goes through the motions, gets the load dumped, then drives as fast as possible to a near-by McDonalds. At that point, he was scouting out heavy bushes by the side of the road, but thought, no, have some dignity, keep driving, hold it in.

He gets to McDonalds, beelines to the men’s room, and there’s a guy just coming out of the stall. Thank God, J thinks, he’s just leaving. The guy didn’t wash his hands and went straight for the exit door – even better. So J busts into that stall … only to find this guy had pissed all over the toilet seat and floor. The dilemma: do you run out into the restaurant to confront this jerk, and run the risk of shitting your pants in public, or do you just get wads of toilet paper and clean up after this over-grown baby?

It’s a pretty obvious choice. I’ve done it myself too many times. This is one of those things in gyms that drives me nuts. Happens at work, too, but not as much. Guys pissing on seats. Sometimes dumping on them, too. Or leaving a load behind. Spitting gum into urinals so they get caught in those little plastic urinal guards. I’ll see it this week as I go to the gym, at least once.

Again, there are so many things in life, little things like this, that just leave me shaking my head. What goes through a man’s mind when he does this? I can understand a child or teenager doing this out of some misguided universal spite. But a grown man? I’ve come to the conclusion that the guy is just a prick. Not absent-minded or full of jovial, mischievous humor. A prick. He knows someone will have to clean that up. Not a janitor. The next person to use the stall. It speaks volumes about the man, none of it good.

And let’s not forget the telltale sound of a guy standing on one foot to flush a toilet with his other foot. (It’s a slight shuffling of the feet you can hear if the restroom is quiet enough. Usually you hear the left foot coming down and slapping on the ground.) This guy is so conscious of sanitary issues in a rest room that he’s afraid to touch a commode lever … so instead uses the bottom of his shoe, which more than likely has even more germs than his hand … so the next guy behind him will unwittingly touch a lever that might have remnants of dogshit or human saliva on it. Thanks, pal. Ever hear of wadding up a ball of toilet paper to touch the lever instead of using your foot, or is that too much work?

Consideration was something our parents drove into our head. I don’t mean “parents” in a generational sense. I mean my parents. It was made clear to me after a certain age that no one was supposed to clean up after me, literally or figuratively. Not in a forceful, negative way. More in a “you should be ashamed yourself” sort of way. Always think of others – that was a thought I had constantly as a kid. And I don’t mean in some universal “save the starving children in Africa” sort of way. I mean in terms of making space so someone else could sit down on the bus. Or not blasting music so the entire neighborhood would be unwilling listeners.

When I encounter people like this who don’t have that understanding, then or now, I always get this surly mix of rage and pity. This happens all the time in Queens with people blasting car stereos on the street. A guido night club sits around the corner from my apartment (is there any other kind in Queens?), thus we’re spared the full-on noise blast of a place like that. But people have to park to go there, and that’s an ongoing nuisance. People pulling up in party mode any time between 10 and midnight, car stereo blasting hiphop or metal, sometimes for over 15 minutes … right outside my window! And everyone else’s windows on the block. Then when they come out of the club between 2 and 4 am, yelling and carrying on like idiots. It just bespeaks of a cruddy sort of human being. Not people I want to know. To be jammed into a nightclub with ear-shattering dance music with people like this, all night?

Man, that’s my idea of hell. That’s something else I’m coming to terms with as I go along. The signal-to-noise ratio of our society is just so mind-bendingly out of proportion (too much noise) that we’re getting this class of people whose entire lives are like a radio tuned into permanent static. Nothing is communicated. It’s not possible. Everything about them is a nonstop stream of senseless noise. The level of thought engendered by such a mental state … can you imagine? You don’t really have to – just walk around for awhile, and you’ll run into people who are lost in their own little worlds, oblivious of everything and everyone around them, the kind of people who would take an iPhone picture of someone dying rather than try to save the person’s life.

You can blame it on the gadgets, but that’s not the whole story. I think these people have always been around, save it was less obvious in the past because there were less ways for people to show off their self absorption and crassness. I think the difference now is you have people raised inside a culture where their disconnect with other people is the norm, as opposed to being something out of place. I sometimes get a sense around teenagers and twentysomethings of people being anywhere from totally disconnected to mildly detached from their emotions … as if they were floating through life on a gentle cloud of irony. I’ve noted in the past, they seem like space aliens to me, not quite human. Pod people? They don’t seem like someone anyone could count on.

And it leaves me wondering … are there just people being people out there? Not wrapped up in all these silly trends, not trampling through life like rhinos, not more engaged with hand-held devices than the people and world around them? People are people – how stupid does that sound? But whether it was 1400. Or 1781. Or 1929. Or last year. The world is filled with people just trying to live, to make sense of it all, to get along with other people, to get by. There shouldn’t be all these weird/offputting cultural qualities attached to the way they live. I’m doing the attaching? Not really – I’m just noticing what I’m seeing repeatedly, which spooks me. As opposed to getting a sense of meeting people who, I’d gather, would be much the same if I met them 50 years ago or two decades into the future. People who have a sense of their humanity, who can laugh at themselves, or respect your presence, or grasp that the world will go on without them.

It just seems like the things so many of us choose to build our lives around have little to no meaning or value. We’re not looking to help other people, or even just keep an even keel so no one has to worry about us flipping out or becoming dead weight to everyone around them. Everything seems geared towards the self now, whether it’s in terms of rudeness or lack of concern for others, or just that sense of closing off communication from the people around us, even if it’s something as silent and non-intrusive as choosing to thumb a device all day long instead of engaging anyone else.

This is what I think about when someone pisses on a toilet seat and expects me to clean it up afterwards! Not in so many words. If I could drop it down to one word, it would be, “Asshole.” I think we’ve been veering towards a world where it’s just as normal to be a careless asshole as to be someone with half an ounce of sanity or pride. For a long time now. How to stop it? Man, you got me. I’m all for grabbing the guy who pissed on the seat and trying to drown him in the toilet bowl, but then that would make me even worse for over-reacting. I think we’re just going to ride this thing out over the course of years, and not be able to fully grasp how lost we’ve become in small ways like this, because no one will have sense enough to know.

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