31
Jul
08

The Mag Crapper

The door to the break room at the Barnes & Noble where I work is diagonally across from the door to the men’s restroom, which means that occasionally awkward encounters occur between people entering and exiting each respective door.  The other day I was walking out of the break room when I ran into Jack, a friend and fellow employee of mine coming out of the men’s restroom.

“Don’t go in there, man,” he said to me.  “It smells like barf.  I had to hold my breath the whole time I was in there.”

This, unbeknownst to Jack, piqued my interest, as I had recently begun to develop a rather outlandish theory about our men’s room.  “Really?” I said inquisitively.  “Tell me this– did you see a dirty yellow backpack underneath one of the stalls?”

Jack became confused.  “Well, I don’t know.  I don’t really remember.”

“Check this out: I think there’s a homeless guy that comes in during the day and lives in the bathroom.  I’m not kidding.  I’ve been in there three days in a row, and I always see the same dirty yellow backpack underneath the handicap stall.  You think that’s just a coincidence?”

“Seriously?”

“No joke.  And there’s always some plastic grocery bag under there with him.  And I can always smell him.  Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it a barf smell, it’s more like B.O. and old meat.”

At that exact moment, the door to the men’s room opened, and out backed James, the youngest of the store’s managers.  He was holding his nose with one hand, and in the other, he was liberally spraying air freshener out of a short aerosol can with a picture of some purple flowers on it.

“Dude, tell him,” said Jack.

“Okay.  James, when you were in there, did you see a dirty yellow backpack underneath the handicap stall?  Because I think there’s a homeless guy in there– that lives in there.  And he always has a plastic grocery bag with him, too.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t an orange backpack?” James asked.

This took me back.  “Well, yellowish orange, I guess, what difference does it make?”

“Dude, that’s just the mag crapper.”

“The what?!” both Jack and I asked.

“The mag crapper.  I named him that.  The dude comes in all the time, reads a couple of graphic novels or a few magazines, then comes back here and shits his brains out.  Does it all the time.”

“But three days in a row he’s been in there whenever I go in,” I said.

James didn’t seem at all surprised by my unfortunate bathroom timing.  He merely placed the cap back on top of the can of air freshener he was holding, shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly and said, “What can I say?  The dude takes his time,” and walked away.

Now, leave it to someone like me to ponder the existence of a man who poops in a bookstore on a semi-regular basis, but I started to do just that.  I started thinking that if I were to run into this guy on the street, or get in line behind him at the grocery store, or sit across from him in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, the last thing I would be thinking is “you know, I bet this guy doesn’t like to crap at home.”

I get these sort of thoughts all the time.  Not specifically about excrement, but just about people in general.  Where does this guy live?  What does he go home to at night? And why is his toilet so clearly unacceptable?

We go through our days walking past faces on the street we’ll forget in three seconds, not taking time to think that these faces are people who have lives and relationships just like us.  Everyone in the world, no matter where they choose to poop, makes decisions and struggles through hardships in their own lives, lives that are of no particular concern to us.  Working in a bookstore, and especially in a café setting, there’s plenty of opportunity to witness examples of this.

Every weekday evening, there is an old retired couple that comes into the café, orders two cups of tea, grabs a stack of books and sits in the big fluffy chairs between the comic books and the Spanish dictionaries.  As far as I can tell, they don’t say a word to each other, they just sit, read, and sip tea, and they usually stay for about four hours until they get up, without a word, and walk hand in hand out of the store.

Another guy comes in sporadically throughout the week, usually a half hour before we close, and orders a chocolate chip cookie and a Doubleshot on Ice, which is another way of saying “a lot of caffeine.”  He’s about 6’3″ and round, and looks like he knows the rules to Dungeons and Dragons.  He’s told me he has a job where he works from midnight until nine in the morning and sleeps through the day.

Saturday night is Bible study night in the café.  Two separate groups of thirty-somethings pull a couple tables together on opposite sides of the café and talk about what’s going on in their lives and the book that they’re reading as a group, the whole time sipping lattes and cappuccinos.

And then there’s this other guy, probably mid-forties with slightly graying hair, who wears dingy black tennis shoes and a New York Giants cap.  He looks gritty, like he works in construction– the kind of guy you’d stop on the street to help you change your tire because you know he knows how.  From what he reads, you can tell he likes good stories and he plays fantasy football.  He sits in those same fluffy chairs that the old retired couple do, quietly reading, all by himself. Every once in a while though, usually once a night, he’ll silently set down whatever magazine he’s working on and stride back to the corner of the store, tattered orange backpack in hand, off to take care of some important business.

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