Strain Like Nobody’s Watching

Today I’m writing in the middle of our office planning meeting for 2014, so I won’t have a picture of the process live, but I’ll see if I can get a photo of the office I’m in because, well, it’s wicked.

I'm not using a typewriter

I’m not using a typewriter


I want to talk about shitting in Mexico. I’m going to be blunt here because nobody actually likes those cutsey litanies of euphemisms and because I already used some the last time I wrote on this subject. What, except for the time I spent eating in Leo J. O’Donovan Hall at Georgetown University, is normally a numbingly quotidian process has become a constant struggle.

There are a few facts that help explain. One—public bathrooms here are few and often very far between. Usually the best bet is inside a restaurant or a store, but often as not whichever little store you’ve picked doesn’t have its own john and you’ve bought a preemptive pack of gum for nothing.

Two—sure, there’s a bathroom at my house. It’s inside (I live in a detached bedroom), through the kitchen and somebody else’s bedroom, possessed of a lock that doesn’t. The door’s far enough from the seat of power that you can’t hold on when you’re sweating and struggling through what’s got to be done.

Three—there are no toilet seats in the Sierra; maybe in your house, but at work or anywhere else, you’ll be dealing with bare bowls. Since it’s always hot here, it will always be slippery, and unless you’ve got a truly expansive grip, you’ll be fighting a constant battle against the elements of buttsweat and gravity.

Hold on tight, baby

Hold on tight, baby

Four—there is a bathroom I can use in security, but only at night. It’s the neighbors’ and I’m allowed in when Doña Mari locks the house at ten pee em.

Five—in Mexico, you don’t throw the paper in the toilet. The pipes and the pressure aren’t up to it, so all sanitary paraphernalia head to the wastebasket. Which presents two dilemmas in public shitteries: if there’s no paper, you’re up a certain creek unless you’re packing (you should be packing), and if there is paper but not basket, you’ve got to decide if you’ve found the fabled full-powered porcelain or whether you’re one flush from dishonoring your host family, the Peace Corps, and the government of the United States.

These Ancien Regime folks, am I right

Courtesy of

Some of this is my fault. I could man up, ignore how crowded my house is, get over my stage fright and the way that every one of the many toddlers around loves ripping that door open, no warning, and shit in my own house. Some of it, like the way that Doña Mari serves me so much food that it leaves me with sickness in the morning and labor in the afternoon, is not.

So I rely on the office. Sure there’s no seat and the window leaves it sweltering; sure the maintenance lady uses the Men’s like it’s her daytime lounge; sure, every once in a while we’re out of paper and I’ve got to buy; sure, sometimes there’s a rag in the bowl for God knows why, sitting there, inexplicable, unflushable, irretrievable, daring me, and I’ve got to run to the municipal shithouse behind the ATM which doesn’t have paper because of course it doesn’t have paper, just a basket full of brown journalism, so I’ve got to waddlerun back to the office and skip from foot to foot while I wait for Lolita to get through napping in there or whatever she does and I throw open the stall and I look that fucking rag right in the eye before I reach in and pluck it and find some stability in the slime and start to fight the fight I was born to.


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