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I hate automatic flush toilets.  They couldn’t care less about me.

Returning from vacation, tired, contemplative, feeling a little displaced and between worlds, is no time to have to stare down the maw of a soulless automatic flush toilet.  Especially after having read the complete short story works of Herman Melville, which may, just maybe, had a little influence over me.

I get really self conscious in front of automatic flush toilets.  They’re watching, waiting, judging.

Denver International Airport, however, it its drive towards efficiency (don’t I recall something about a billion dollar baggage system?) left me with little choice when it came time to do my duty (“Doo-tee! Hee hee!”—Milos, Newsradio, 1996) and I had a sudden need for solitude.

So I entered the chamber and looked upon my opponent.

Pale, lit from above, metal and ceramic and dull.  So simple that even in the instruction- and warning-mad U.S. of goddamn A., and don’t you forget it, UBL!, flush toilets have no posted rules, no red pictogram signs, no admonitions designed for the dangerously stupid.

But yet somehow I manage to screw up.

I don’t sit right. Or maybe I poop too quiet or something.

So suddenly, cold water and a sucking sound far too close to the homeland, a whooshing from underneath me like the monolith in 2001 opening up below my ass, and I’m feeling like a baby chicken prematurely hatched from the egg into the cold world.

Why? Why does this happen to me?  It has to be more than poor programming or low-quality sensors.  It ALWAYS happens.  It CAN’T be coincidence.

Is this bathroom torture a profitable side business for airport security firms, with hidden cameras strategically placed for later profit on misleading, raunchy Web sites (“See! college! coeds! squeal! Only! $29.95!”)?

Or perhaps it’s the work of an underground revolution movement of prim French counterinsurgents, set on battling American cultural bathroom imperialism—perhaps this splinter faction of the Resistance is trying to reintroduce the bidet. (But then where are the scrawled slogans carved into stall walls: ” Who smells now, American Pig? Not you!” and “Take Back the Tush” and “U.S. meet your water loo!”)

Is it instead a frigid warning shot across the stern of the good ship Humanity by the emerging sapient technology conquering our society slowly from beneath, and I’m seeing the birth of a machine consciousness with the sense of humor of Adam Sandler. (“You will be eliminated”—Dalek, Dr. Who, 1976)

Or maybe it’s a metaphysical anti-existential repost from the porcelain God—do I not exist? The toilet thinks I am gone, perhaps I AM gone.  I’m trying to sit and think, therefore I am, but if my thinking is interrupted, is my being interrupted as well?  Damn that unblinking electric eye, or do I mean “I.”  Perhaps I’m the ghost in the machine, on the machine.

Another flush! Why? Why?

Shaken, I stir.  Covering up, I leave the stainless steel stall, like a corpse walking back from the shores of the river Lethe, with red-eyed Charon watching from the bank.  Emerging, I see my reflection in the mirrors—see, there I am, a vision in metallic hues under florescent lights.  The sink sprays water on to my hands as I genuflect.  It believes in me.  When I pull the soap lever, does it not squirt? When I lather, does it not foam?  Am I not indeed a man, undeniable, lightly scented?

But now the toilet is quiet and flushes no more.



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Overheard on a Plane: Stupid People

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Why I’m in Montana


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