dec 006 hShit, we’re late. I gun the green light. I shouldn’t be rushing.

“Shoot, we’re late!” I call to my daughters in the backseat.

Ah, what does it matter if we’re late (again), I rationalize to myself. It’s only a swimming lesson.

“Oh no!” my older daughter, Julie, says.

“It’s going to be okay,” I reassure.

“But it’s a swimming lesson!”

“We’ll get there.”

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Day 29! Day 29! I’m so close I can taste the end of this silly experiment, and it tastes deloycious!

Today’s story is one I’ve told too many times before–another from the set of Puberty: The Movie. Hold on to your drawers. It’s about to get shitty in here.

 

The Shit We Do To Make Movies

Every once in a while, someone asks me about the movies I’ve worked on. Often they want to know, “What exactly does a producer do?” I tell them there are different kinds of producers, but on the low-budget, independent films I’ve worked on, a producer’s role is to do “whatever needs to be done.”

Sometimes it’s kind of cool. A producer is like a boss and it is sometimes fun being the boss. It includes being part of the casting process and putting together a crew and making some major decisions about the script and the locations and it can be pretty fun stuff.

But being the boss also means being responsible for everyone and everything. If something needed to be done and no one else could do it, I’d have to. I tried to remember how fun those casting sessions were while I was cleaning off tables, running errands, making sandwiches and acting as a human suggestion box for complaints.

On the set of Puberty: The Movie I tried to absorb all the drama to protect the directors so they could work. I couldn’t shield them from all of it, but I could sometimes postpone their involvement until our nightly production meeting. Those meetings lasted as long as the day’s shooting, making sure none of us ever got any sleep, which led to more and more mishaps.

By the second day of shooting, I had completely lost my cool. I vaguely remember biting the head off our Assistant Director in front of the rest of the crew. In my defense, she completely fucked up. But in her defense, no one should ever have to hear, “YOU’RE NOT HERE TO THINK, YOU’RE HERE TO DO WHAT I FUCKING TELL YOU TO DO!”

Not cool, boss-lady. Not cool.

The next day I got all yelly again, this time with our Unit Production Manager, who made the small mistake of forgetting to call in all of our extras and the giant mistake of interrupting me while I was talking. That was the same day I realized that I hadn’t peed in 24 hours. It’s a fucked up thing to sit on a toilet and realize that the last time you urinated was “this time, yesterday.” But bathroom breaks were a luxury I couldn’t afford on day three. That’s how crazy day three was.

After the fourth day, I took a break from the shoot to go back to my regular day job. By that time, the eight hour round-trip drive and three days of full time employment was like a vacation. I still took calls all day and night, and continued to work on administrative aspects of the production, but at least I could sleep in my own bed and urinate on my own schedule.

It was during these first few days away from the set that I took a breath and realized that I needed to learn to keep my cool. I didn’t want to be the person who yelled all the time. I wanted to be steady, unshakable and in control. So I made a promise to myself that I would roll with the flow, no matter how totally insane the flow rolled.

Frankly, the degree to which things were falling apart had long since passed “shocking” or “upsetting” and were instead becoming “hilarious.” Once I was back on set, I was Ms. Cool, rolling with the punches (there were literally punches!) and calmly taking on whatever problems arose.

Until shit happened. Literally. Someone took a shit. In a middle school. On the floor of a janitor’s closet.

We were filming for most of the weekend at a junior high school in Sharon, Massachusetts. Our directors had to beg for permission to shoot there, but once granted, they opened the doors for us and left us to our own devices. We’d need to return to the same location two more times, so we had to be on our best behavior and leave everything just as we found it, so as not to lose our privileges.

I don’t remember who found it–the production crew, when not on set or running an errand, spent most of their time exploring any open door they could find. All I know is that in the evening on our second day at the school, two of the kids from the art department found me to report that there was shit on the floor of the janitor’s closet.

Human shit?” I asked.

“Has to be,” one of the kids confirmed. “There haven’t been any dogs here today, and besides, it’s too big. Want to see it?”

I could already feel the barf forming. I did not want to see it. If I saw it, we’d have two messes to clean up. I didn’t lose my cool (or my lunch), but I did wonder who could have done it and why. The janitor’s closet was right next to the boys’ bathroom. Did somebody open the wrong door and just run out of time?

But the real question was what to do about it. The one thing I knew for sure is that it had to be cleaned up before we wrapped for the day. And I couldn’t in good conscience ask one of the production crew to clean it. We were already overworking and underpaying them all–I refused to ask them to do a job that a toilet had already turned down.

But I couldn’t do it myself, either. Until that moment, I had been a real go-to gal. I was up for whatever challenges faced me. No job was too big, too small, or too humiliating. I was willing to get my hands dirty. But not this dirty. This was a line I couldn’t cross. I could take a lot of shit, but I could not clean it up.

I found Eric, one of the directors. I laughed a little as I explained our predicament and he made, I thought, a pretty reasonable suggestion.

“Start at $40 and go up in increments of $20 until someone agrees to clean it up.”

We were so low on money, but this seemed like an extremely affordable plan. I was about to spread the word when Steve, the other director, came around the corner and asked, “Where’s the shit?” Eric and I pointed at the closet door and Steve went right in, without hesitation.

A minute later he was carrying a wad of paper towels into the bathroom. Then he walked out, clapped his hands together the way you do to communicate “It’s finished” and headed back to the set.

“Let’s wrap this up!”

The shit was all we talked about the rest of the night; we all speculated about which one of the crew members was responsible for leaving it, and eventually agreed on a suspect. But we never mentioned it to him. The shit was a punchline to countless inside jokes for the rest of production and since, but as far as I know, no one has ever brought it up in front of the probable culprit.

Of course, no one has actually talked to that guy since production, either. I mean, shit in a closet once, shame on him, but shit in a closet again, and shame on everyone for letting him into our closets, right? I’m pretty sure that’s how that saying goes. I’m from Texas.

Steve told us later that the shit was full of rocks. ROCKS! And that it was still warm when he cleaned it up. I was really proud of him for stepping up that day. When I was refusing and Eric was bargaining, Steve sailed in and TCB’d like nobody’s B. And that, to me, is what makes a great filmmaker.

I don’t know if Dennis Weaver shit in a closet while filming Duel, but I’m almost positive Spielberg wouldn’t touch it if he did.

In the weeks preceding my arrival in Beijing I did some preliminary research into popular daytrips from the capital city. The most well known is the Great Wall of China, which, depending on the section, is easily reachable within an hour or two.

Reading anecdotes on a community traveler’s website, I came upon a report from a man who visited the Wall and found himself in a compromising situation due to a discrepancy between his gastrointestinal tract and the local fare. With no time to spare, he found relief behind a small patch of shrubbery, although apparently well within eyeshot of fellow Wall-goers.

I had no trouble believing this account because I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Asia, and a considerable amount of that time has been spent wondering whether my headstone might read: “Here Lies Brian Eckert. He Died On the Shitter.”

Traveler’s diarrhea is typically caused by exposure to organisms which a non-native person has no immunity to. The clinical description of this illness is “three or more unformed stools in 24 hours, commonly accompanied by abdominal cramps, nausea, and bloating.” Practically speaking, it means you find yourself at the Great Wall of China about to shit your pants.

When living in Korea, my expat friends and I described bouts of traveler’s diarrhea as “The Korea Shits.” Adapting this title to other locations, bouts of ass-pissing in Thailand are known as “The Thai Shits,” in Vietnam “The Nam Shits” and so on. Thus, I came to China fully prepared for a bout of “The Chinese Shits.”

I didn’t have to wait long for it to strike. On my second night in Beijing, coming home from a bar, I had to squat next to a row of parked cars and let loose. Through my first 29 years of life, I’d never had to shit on a public street, something I took (a perhaps shocking amount of) pride in. After 48 hours in China, personal history had been made.

While such rogue bowel movements usually subside after a couple of months in a new country, they continue at regular intervals in China. As my Beijing buddy told me in partial jest, “Man, I haven’t had a solid shit in over two years.” Here, three consecutive days of compact feces is cause for celebration. More often than not, you find yourself gazing into the bowl at something that resembles sand and mustard. Or a ball of molasses and used band aids. Or what it would look like if a dog got into a garbage bag containing Oreos and discarded barber shop hair and vomited it up.

Enduring the China Shits in the privacy of one’s own bathroom is unpleasant enough (aside from the obvious reasons, most Chinese bathrooms smell like a reptile cage). Worse is when it strikes while you’re out and about. With a bit of luck, you end up in a bathroom with Western-style toilets. If you’re unlucky, you find yourself staring into the grill of a Kia, hoping you’re not shitting on the back of your shoes. Somewhere in-between these bipolar fates is a third: the squatter.

Anyone who didn’t grow up using a squat toilet is wholly unprepared to use these glorified holes in the ground. Unless you’ve spent several seasons as a baseball catcher, the squatting position is almost impossible to maintain with any postural integrity. Walking down a street in this part of the world you see vendors squatting on the sidewalk offering their goods for hours on end. It’s not uncommon to encounter a group of squatters immersed in deep conversation. These people can squat for days.

Not Westerners. Try it. Be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor. No rocking to and fro. Back straight, chest out. It helps to rest your elbows on the inside of your thighs. If this isn’t difficult enough, imagine now that that you are holding this position over an oval-shaped pool of water and trying to make sure your poopie ends up in it.

Of course, in an emergency, you’ll be glad that the shit is going somewhere other than down your leg. But for beginning squatters at least, any piece of loose clothing is a liability. You poorly understand your turd’s trajectory. My advice for the neophyte squatter, then, is to strip completely naked.

Also: lock the stall door. I forgot to do this when using a squat toilet for the first time. I was at a bus station in Korea, uncorking a long weekend’s worth of victuals, when the door swung open and a handful of Korean men were privileged to a money shot of my hunched, naked body. Fortunately, I have no shame. I gave them the thumbs up and asked one of the few things I knew how to say in Korean at that point: “Goguma joayo?” (Do you like sweet potatoes?)

I wish somebody had been there with a video camera to capture that scene, as it perfectly embodies the adventures of pooping in the Far East (and, come to think of it, the entire expat experience there).

As for China, I plan to visit the Great Wall this weekend. I will be packing binoculars, a camera, sunscreen, a waterproof jacket, and a wad of toilet paper. Because bowel control in China, like the assumption that the Middle Kingdom will be the world’s next superpower, remains far from certain.

Shades

It’s six o’clock in the morning, way too early for me. I’m not used to not seeing the sun yet. I wore sunglasses when I left the house, but it’s too dark for them. So now I’m wearing the sunglasses tucked behind my shirt collar, because the sun will come up soon. It’s my dog Dunkin’s first walk and so he poops. We’re on our way to the parking garage, and so he poops in front of the highrise condo tower. As always. When I stoop to collect the poop with my hand in a blue plastic bag, my sunglasses slide out from my shirt collar. Onto the poop. It’s too early in the morning to be angry. Or to laugh. I stare at the glasses sitting on the poop and think about abandoning them. But I do like them, I’ve had them for ten years.

Confession

I didn’t want a dog. I really didn’t. I wanted one when I was six, seven, eight, nine, and ten years old. My mother didn’t budge. Because of the germs. The slobber. The dirt under the paws. Because I was at school all day.

Dunkin fell in love with Sanaz, my wife. He’s okay with me, but it took him two years to be okay with me. It took me two years to be okay with him. Maybe longer. When he’s alone with me he looks depressed.

We have an understanding now. We both understand that I will never match up with my wife. It’s our little joke. I’m happiest when, before falling asleep, I can hear him snore.

Smell

Dogs can smell death on people. Even Hemingway knew that and put it in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Whenever Dunkin avoids me or won’t come close, I get nervous.

 

Belt

When we got Dunkin he was already four years old. When we moved to L.A. he wouldn’t come near my closet. I would open the closet and he would leave the room. It took me a month, two months to realize the closet was the place where I hung my belt. My pants have been sliding down ever since.

 

L.A.

In Michigan, he was just a dog. In L.A. people come up to touch them. They ask his breed. His age. They run their fingers through his fur. Women coo, smile as though he’s been winking at them. They ask to be photographed with him. They forget about me while I’m taking their picture.

Chinook

The first three years my wife and I had our dog, we believed him to be a mutt. That’s what they told us at the Humane Society on Cherry Road in the Michigan backwater. Part German Shepherd, part Golden Retriever. Tan and white. He was found in Detroit under a bridge, ribs showing through his coat, keeping a dead dog company. I loved that story as much as our actual dog.

Dunkin is well-trained, well-behaved, timid and patient. How did he get away? How did he get this way? He’s so perfect, it was good to know he was a mutt. Smarter than the fancy dogs. A dog not for shows but for daily use.

But now we’ve learned he’s a pure-bred. A rare breed at that. In 1981, there were only 23 Chinooks left.

It’s as if what you thought was your daily coffee mug turns out to be a Ming vase. What do you do with it now, and what do you use for drinking coffee?

He seems worth more, I like saying ‘Chinook’ and explaining the New Hampshire origins of the breed. We’ve wasted so much time of our time together already.


Goose Rules

By Ted McCagg

The Feed

One night, a daddy longlegs came into my room and sprinted toward my bed.

Or, I should say, it sprinted toward my futon mattress, which rested on the floor of my basement apartment. I didn’t really have a bed.

And when I say “sprinted,” I mean it. It was like it was on a mission.

I was used to this sort of thing. I lived in a basement apartment.

bathroom left, poop box rightOne of my cats has started following me into the bathroom.

Most of the day, he sleeps under the bed, while I am on the couch.  At night, we switch.  As I see it, I respect his territory and he respects mine, with only minimal crossover for such necessary exchanges as food-in-bowl and pet-on-head (he is, after all, a “good kitty”).  But now, oddly, he insists on watching me poop.

“I thought we had an understanding,” I say, knees pressed together in reflexive embarrassment.  “You know…you do your thing and I do mine.  What’s with this?” I make a little noise like a toy-gun to spook him off. It doesn’t.

“Mrrow,” he says, and saunters over, finding my huddled knees as good a place as ever before to sidle up against.

“Cat, this is very unlike you. You never like me. And it’s not like I…”  And it dawns on me.  I watch him poop.

One of them has been pooping on the carpet.  I haven’t been able to figure out which one.  All I know is at night the carpet is clean and sometime in the night, with all the mystery and silence of Santa Clause, a little present is left for me.  What’s amazing is, it’s always left in the same place: three infuriating feet to the left of the damn litter box. Never two feet, never four. That’s poop left, litter-box right: it’s like when your GPS is out of sync and a casual drive down the coast shows you a hundred feet west, driving in the water.

Now I stalk the poopers.  I stay up late at night, later and later. I’m on their time now, waiting for the sound of kitty paws on artificial gravel.  When one of the cats walks down the hall, I wait and listen.  I creep around the corner, shielding my eyes from the ambient light to keen my senses.

Tonight, it’s the fat one in the box.  Good ol’ fat one. (This is the same cat who, after first moving in, would find his way into my girlfriend’s underwear drawer. There he would lie for hours, a true predator. Eight a.m. would bring a scream, and I’d rise just in time to see gravity defied by fur, his paws outstretched, no doubt intending a kill. I was endeared to him then.)

I watch him poop, making sure it wasn’t a trick. I watch for twitches. I watch for silence. He sees me and is unmoved.  I nod, acknowledging him. He is not the carpet pooper. He sits there, proudly, little head upright, the dignity of a prince, and pierces me with his repose like a general standing tall in surrender.

And now he follows me into the bathroom to watch, and I can’t blame him. I would close the door, but it seems a little sad since nobody else is around but the cats. And even that is a little sad. I never wanted to be a cat person: they’re the ones you hear stories about. I’ve seen James Bond, and the most evil of villains, the most twisted, always has a cat curled up in his lap. They are as one.

But that’s not me and the fat one. We respect each other’s territory. Maybe being a cat person just means respecting where the other one poops.

He really is a good kitty.*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Someone, please help. Spot, “The Fat One,” has had me cornered for two days writing flattering cat stories. Even now, as I type this, he has a paw to my throat. His English is poor but his meowing is clear. I don’t have much time. Send dogs.

 

Not long ago, on a frigid December morning in the heart of Korea, I was walking to work while in front of me an old woman pushed her cart. She looked indistinguishable from any other old Korean woman – wearing mismatched baggy floral garments, a visor in spite of the complete absence of any sunlight, a face mask to protect her from invisible germs that fly over from foreign countries, and a pair of dirty white gloves.

She was about ten paces ahead of me when it happened… All of a sudden she whipped down her baggy floral trousers and giant brown underpants and proceeded to squeeze out a massive shit on the frosty pavement, followed by a splattering, spraying, steaming puddle of piss.

I was utterly horrified, of course, and for the next two hours I taught my children upstairs in a classroom, the window of which overlooked the scene of the crime. That cabbagey behemoth stared up at me until someone was kind enough to step in it and carry it into obscurity on the bottom of their shoe.

It’s always nice to have visitors visiting when you’re living abroad. They bring reminders that no matter how much you miss the States, the States stay pretty much the same. This is like everywhere, though. Our first visitor, the daughter of our roommate Deanne’s hairdresser, had won a contest. She mailed in the back of some cat food and got a 7-day, 6-night setup around the Iberian Peninsula. Her father, Deanne told us, was a deeply religious and protective man and mandated that his daughter’s trip would only extend as far as Madrid, where she would stay with Deanne (and us) away from the vicissitudes of foreignness, an isolated beaker of propriety. Her name was Carla and she was anorexic, a gargantuan alcoholic and just shy of being an “imbecile,” defined like the antiquated English usage.

Carla arrived into Barajas airport in Madrid. The four of us, my roommates, James, myself, Deanne and Caron, bought her a drink at Barajas airport and left in a taxi, a real treat. Carla later assured us that she wouldn’t burden us with having to take her on as a house-guest for a week and was excited to be out on her own in “Mexico.” Yes, Mexico. She’d only stay a night. “Totally!” Spain beat Mexico. This once.

As a guest, we felt obliged to give Carla a night on the town. We’d been living cheaply, but all of us had credit cards, so we ventured out to a German bar called the “Rats Keller.” Every city has one of these, just like every city has an Irish bar called “The Blarney Stone.” I don’t know why we always went to the Rats Keller with our out-of-country guests. Oh, sure I do.

We’d inevitably order a three-liter concoction known as “Der Vulkan,” which consisted of a liter of vodka, a liter of rum, a liter of gin and a then some Jagermeister and orange juice. The straws they gave us were Crazy Straws and the drink had a bunch of umbrellas scattered about it, drowned or drowning in the alcoholic filth. It was a real horror of drink-making, but we always ordered it. The problem is, you just can’t drink that much without ensuring some form of disaster. Especially if you’re a 90-pound anorexic imbecile with a death wish.

Carla attacked Der Vulkan with Bibilical enthusiasm. By seizing all five straws and inhaling a solid third of the drink, my roommates and I looked around at each other, rolling our eyes, knowing, or thinking we knew, what would come next.

What came next was a true tour-de-force of blacked-out endurance. After finishing Der Vulkan (My roommates and I commandeered it and drank the beast in tag-teamed flurries), we had to put some food in this creature.  The rest of us sat at a tapas bar and ate chorizo and olives while Carla went around the bar, grabbing the penises of the bar’s patrons. This is no way to operate, so James and I tried to spirit her away from these men who, at a point, were convinced (perhaps rightly so) that this drooling trollop was a sure bet. It would also be ludicrous to deny that James and I both had selfish interests in mind. I think James would admit that.I miss him.

Something kicked in Carla, though, something that I can only describe as a sort of Las Vegas adrenaline that keeps you on your heater even after you’ve had seventeen scotches. And Carla went on a heater. Through a gauntlet of dance clubs, pubs, bars and bistros, Carla tore through the night like an ethylene comet. She spoke no Spanish, so her tirades against “Mexico” were even more offensive. There is nothing so excruciating, I imagine, than to be yelled at by an American ghoul in its native tongue. We broke up fights with hookers, withdrew her from a dumpster, ceased her insistence on removing her clothes in the Plaza Mayor and then retreated back to our apartment seven hours later, James and I, quite drunk ourselves, trying to reinvigorate Carla’s insistence on removing her clothes.

“You guys are pigs,” said Carla, as James and I both went in for a pre-coital neckrub (Carla had collapsed in front of our couch, sitting upright, held in this fashion only by virtue of the durability of our couch, and sundry theories postulateed by Sir Isaac). “Why don’t you let me see your pigs,” she blathered, somewhat seductively. James and I both looked at each other. Convinced this travesty of nature on loan from San Pedro, California was in the middle of a blackout, James asked me, in a normal voice, “Does she mean our penises, I wonder?”

“I was just thinking that,” I said. James took the reins. “Carla, when you say you want to see our pigs, is that a synonym for dick and balls or does that mean something else?”

“Synonome. Syndrome. Synful. Syn,” she hissed. “I want cock.” ‘I want cock’ is a sort of desperate thing to say. It works out okay in pornographic movies because the scenarios are always so outrageous to begin with. But, if you’re standing around your apartment with your best friend, your two female roommates watching the exchange take place and laughing, it’s a desperate line, not a sexy line. It’s amazing how an orgy is the end result of most male thinking when surrounded by drunk women, but what’s really amazing is that we’ll say things like ‘to say I want cock is desperate and pathetic.’ How not desperate and pathetic of us. Synecdoche not metonymy. A teacher taught me that. There is a difference. Wake up, Smith!

James, Deanne, Caron and I all had a prodigious laugh at Carla’s expense and moved her on top of the couch, where she could find some Sandman after a long day and night. Sometime before dawn, James and I both emerged (I slept in the girl’s bedroom, on the floor this night) and bumped into each other trying to coerce Carla into wakeful, naughty ill-advised sexuality. Drunk. We laughed at our mutual desperate night moves and finally retired to our sleep spaces, this time for good.

Morning. I am hit across the face with a mop. “Tyler, goddamnit what the FUCK have you done?” This scene is repeated next door, to James. Caron and Deanne wanted their bases covered. Caron hit me, Deanne hit James, and we both woke up supremely nuisanced and confused by the crowing. I hit James, because why not?

“There is SHIT everywhere!” the girls wheezed in unison.

“Like what kind of shit, Caron?”

“Like what kind of shit, Deanne?

“PEOPLE SHIT!”

James and I were then forced from our beds to examine people shit. Sure enough, there was people shit everywhere. Rather, person shit. At this point, it’s all Murders in the Poo Morgue speculation, as nobody can prove anything. However, rubbing feces on things, I imagine, is something you either do once—then stop drinking forever—or you do it with some regularity and thus have few friends. The shit is analyzed through perfunctory examination, through gags. It’s on the living room wall, the doorknob of James’s room, and the point of origin—the bathroom—as a grotesque triptych of fecal matter, vomit and other post-apocalyptic fluid. This is nobody’s filth we know. You live with some people long enough, you know things. Why the ladies hadn’t pinned the crime on Carla earlier, we felt was sexist.

“Oh, like only a guy would shit on a wall, Caron.”

“A woman wouldn’t do that kind of thing, you idiots. Even as we sleep, we have an internal governor that won’t allow baboon shit-throwing. Even crazy women, like really crazy, I’ll bet they don’t go throwing shit around.” This sounded convincing.  James piped up,

“It must have been Tyler.”

“Dickface! Look at that shit. Those are the bowel contents of a woman.”

“Where’s Carla,” asked Deanne through a wine-soaked handkerchief. All we had was wine. It’s all we ever had. So to combat the stench of last night’s disaster, we all took a cue from Deanne and drank a large swallow of Don Simon boxed wine, wet a rag or handkerchief with some more wine, then continued on our investigation.

“She’s not here,” said James. “By the way, weren’t we supposed to not let her get away? Deanne you promised her father, who seems kind of Croatian and deadly.”

“He is,” Deanne clarified. “We should find her, then make her clean up this shit.”

“Where should we look?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just get the hell out of here.”

Where, pumpkin? WHERE?

It was for moments like these that I have an undying nostalgia. When people disappear now, there is no adventure, only panic. When people disappear now, it either ends badly or ends boringly. But in Madrid, fortified by our fortified wine and a cool morning March air, we all trundled out of the apartment to try and track down our AWOL in a kind of renewed optimistic charge.

There is nothing more invigorating for the stultified, frictionally unemployed American abroad than a project. Hell, a mystery. Caron remembered that, had her father not demanded she be incarcerated in our apartment, the itinerary of the cat food grand prize called for a trip down to the south of Spain, in Granada. The four of us hopped on the subway toward the bus station whose routes ran to the south. We arrived at the ticket counter and asked the vendor if there had been any Americans that looked like they were in pretty bad shape who had earlier boarded the train to Granada.

“All the Americans look like they’re in bad shape.”

“Yeah, but this one was particularly bad. A woman, possibly covered in mierda,” James added.

“No, not today. I haven’t seen anyone like that today,” replied the ticket vendor, sucking impatiently from a black tobacco cigarette.

“Alright,” said Deanne. “What are we doing here?”

“Yeah, what are we doing here,” asked Caron.

“How mean is this barber, by the way?” asked James.

“That bad,” said Deanne.

“This wasn’t my idea,” I defensed. They say that the first 48 hours is the crucial time after a disappearance. After that, your odds of survival go down e to the x and so do those of your rescuers, assuming this Croatian barber is as murderous as he looms in our heads, our lives. It had been around ten hours since anyone laid eyes on our guest. We called the airport. No good there. Carla is still in the country, a good thing, we agree. But where?

“Deanne, if you were Carla where would you go?”

“How the hell would I know?”

“You’re both from San Pedro and you have Croatian ties.”

“Just because I’m part Croatian doesn’t mean I’m in the fucking mafia.” Deanne would always insist that we knew her family was only partly affiliated with organized crime.

“I’d probably go shopping,” Deanne said, finally. James, Caron and I all laughed at Deanne’s preposterous reply until it was clear that this is what, according to Deanne, someone from San Pedro would in fact do after smearing their own shit around a veritable stranger’s apartment: They would go shopping. Isn’t that beautiful, in its way?

We went to The Corte Ingles, where we would later buy a turkey, but now, we were looking for a diseased humanoid in cosmetics. We cased the entire mall searching for Carla, ogling the ranch dressing and basketballs inside this ersatz America. The English Court. They’re too embarrassed to plea in front of The Corte Estadounidense. We window shopped for an hour or two, eventually realizing that Carla would have to come to us. She’s had too long to move. There is nothing we can do. We will wait until twenty-four hours from now, then we will call Carla’s father. We’ve started to call him “The Bavarian Butcher,” even though none of us are certain where Bavaria is, only that it vaguely sounds like somewhere where Croatia could be. We stop in to The Quiet Man, the pub directly below our apartment and order four calimochos (Molarity=1.5 parts wine, i part Coca-Cola, one part cocaina from Jayne, our bartender. Jayne is from London. She moved to Madrid for a man ten years ago and “here I still fuckin’ am, pouring pints for these cunts and cunts like you Yanks and just can’t find my way out. If I find him, I’ll Micky Finn’em, freeze his dick, snap it off and fuck him to death with it. For starters.”

“Jayne, have you seen an American girl, possibly covered in shit, anywhere around the neighborhood?”

“No, ‘fraid not. Not lately.” This is one reason to love Jayne. She never asked “Why,” something I think is both tragic and great. With Jayne, things were just because. There is a shit-covered American walking around this neighborhood because…The man I followed to this cunty shithole left me because…The girl last week was hit by a car in front of here because…Life is because.

We smoked cigarettes (except for James, who would only endure tobacco when mixed with hashish, thus only smoking the equivalent of a pack a day) and tried to retrace the night’s steps.

“It makes no fucking sense to retrace the night, you assholes. We were all there until we all weren’t and then we went to sleep,” Caron pointed out. We know what happened. We just don’t know how happened. It sounded like something Jayne would say, which attracted me to Caron immensely. “Let’s just set up shop at the apartment. She’s probably been banging on the fucking door all day and we’ve been out trying to find her—things always happen like that.”

“She’s right,” said James. “It’s the jinx. We should wait upstairs for her.”

“If I did what she did I wouldn’t come back,” I offered.

“Sure you would, Tyler. But you’d deny it. You’d be terrible at denying it, but you’d be convinced you were selling the hell out of your performance, your amateur gig, that everybody would feel so bad for you, I, or someone else would manage to admit to ourselves—even though we were lying to ourselves and knew it—that we had done it and this would convince you that we were convinced you’d taken yourself off the hook—that’s why I knew it wasn’t you. If it were you, we’d be pointing the finger at Deanne. She’s a softy and doesn’t want to upset you,” said Caron.

“If you weren’t so careful not to overdo it, I’d say that was almost like an angry rant,” I said to Caron, in that way people begin to flirt. She looked at me.

“I am so not a fucking softy, Caron. My family’s in the fucking mafia. San Pedro, bitch.”

“Yeah, well let’s go back up and find your girl from the Pedro.”

“She’s not my girl,” snorted Deanne. We finished our drinks and James and I took the elevator while Caron and Deanne took the stairs. James and I arrived at the door to our apartment, hearing only screams, then Caron opening the door and pleading we make ourselves scarce for a few minutes.

“Is everything okay,” we asked.

“No,” said Caron. And closed the door.

“Is she in there?” I screamed through the door.

“Yes,” said Caron.

“Why can’t we come in? Is she nude?” asked James, continuing, “because if she’s nude this is bullshit. If there were a nude guy in there we’d let you come in.”

“She’s not nude,” said Caron. “She’s having a nervous breakdown.”

“Well let us in, damnit,” I replied, eager to see what a nervous breakdown looked like. Everybody always talks about them, but you only see the anesthetized aftermath. Like Brian Wilson. I don’t care about him on his medication—I want to see what happens when he snaps. I want to see Clara snap. I want to see Clara in a sandbox, tobillo up to cat fluid, cat solid. But Caron and Deanne decided to be selfish and watch the thing for themselves. I would have probably done the same, but I still felt ripped off.

“No. You guys go down to the Lab or something. The Lab was our bar. It’s full name was “El Laboratorio.” Come back in an hour or two.” The Lab was a heavy metal/transvestite bar around the corner from our apartment. That’s right, it was called El Laboratorio. It was one of the deadliest bars in Madrid, but we endeared ourselves to the management early on. Going to “The Lab” was always a good idea, nothing bad happened there. And that’s not something I’d say because I’m trying to be ironic. That’s something I’d say because it’s true—nothing bad happened at El Laboratorio. At least for me. James and I agreed to go down to the Lab, but we threatened violence if, in an hour or two, we weren’t let back in to our flat. Our flat. Our flat—reason enough to geograph—our flat. Who can say that?

“Go fuck yourselves,” said Caron. You could always tell when she was smiling—you just had to hear her.
The Lab was situated at the end of Calle Valverde, our street. Calle Valverde is only one block long, but it’s one hell of a block. Valverde juts off from Gran Via, that main artery, pulsing blood and life for one little block, then splash…into a vomit of heavy metal/transvestite gore at the entrance to El Laboratorio. You turn off of life and roar toward frozen death, turning off Gran Via, down Valverde, open the door to the Lab (if the rest of the Valverde gauntlet hasn’t got you yet). There’s Manuel, as he always is. Nothing bad ever happens in the Lab.

Manuel is Moroccan with some French in him, he says. This isn’t at all important because he’s consistently garbed in assless leather chaps, a Houston Astros 1980s throwback jersey and smoking a “baseball bat,” his name for the enormous hash joints he’d roll and smoke and roll and smoke.

“Fucking pooosies,” he’d snarl, in what I’d think he thought was a coy way. “You need anything, I get for you. Teresa, for the American Texans two whiskey dicks, pero echalas con fuerza, eh?” Teresa knew what we drank. DYC is a Spanish whiskey.

When you say “Whiskey DYC” it sounds like “Whiskey Dick,” which everybody thinks is funny. We certainly did. That’s why we explained what “whiskey dick” was to Manuel in the first place. This way, your sympathies won’t be compromised (or they will) and you can either dilute your feelings or let them howl until they hit a wall. But nobody’s dead, not dead yet.

We sat with our whisky dicks and laughed in an awkward way about the Carla situation.

“You tried to hook up with her and she makes mierda on the walls. Does that make you angry,” I asked.

“You tried to hook up with her, too!” James barked.

“I was only watching to make sure you stayed out of her pants, out of trouble.”

“They don’t play as much AC/DC in this bar as they used to,” James changed the subject.

“I could request some. I haven’t DJ’ed here in a while. Maybe they’d let me spin a few records.”

“They never let you DJ, Tyler. You just jump behind the turntable when the DJ goes to the bathroom,” corrected James.

“Really?”

“Really.” Conversation with James had recently taken on an odd, disjointed characteristic. He was having a tough time of it in Spain. First of all, he was 6’6” and Spain does not accommodate those kinds of dimensions. He suffered repeated blows to the skull from low-hanging signs, flags, bars, trees, monuments, and just about anything else along the way. Secondly, there’s always a woman. Oh, smash. That’s later.

“It’s probably been an hour,” I finally said.

“Yeah, let’s go up.”

We took the elevator up to our 2nd floor apartment and knocked. Caron and Deanne stood at the doorway, making a “shh” gesture with their fingers to their lips.

“C’mon,” Caron said. “She’s asleep. Let’s go down to the Lab.” This was always happening. Just when you think you’ve made it home, the tractor beam of El Laboratorio pulsed on and led you back for one more drink, one more episode.

“So what the hell happened,” I asked. The girls took long draws off their whiskey dicks and began. They told how Carla said she had “never had so much to drink, that this isn’t who she usually is.”

“That wasn’t me,” they would say, but it was. People behave the way they are. There are no missteps or out-of-character episodes; it is all tied together somehow. Why demure? Wail, if you will, with all ancestry in your corner, the primordial crack. What is this nonsense about “things I don’t normally do?” You did them last night. You may do them again today. Unload and submit.

“I hope not, “said James. “Did she admit to smearing shit all over our house?”

“No,” said Deanne, “but we’re sure it’s her. She smells like shit even though she was in the washer.”

“What do you mean—in the washer.”

“That’s where she spent most of today. She crammed herself into the washing machine, because she was scared.” Deanne went on to explain that, according to Carla, she’d woken up nude on the roof, covered in filth. “She was so confused and freaked out she decided to hide in our washing machine.”
The girls found Carla this way, wedged into our washing machine that barely fit three pairs of jeans. I can’t imagine what this species of cramped solitude must be like.

“So who cleans up the shit,” asked James.

“Deanne propped a mop up on her head and lay a bucket of soapy water down at the edge of the bed. That should give her a clue,” said Caron.

“I’m not going in there until she cleans it up,” said Deanne.

“Me neither. It smells like a zoo,” agreed Caron.

“Well, I’m fine here,” I said. James opted to go back to the apartment and sleep in his bed, no matter the stench. We never knew if Carla and James talked that evening, as Caron, Deanne and I sat in the darkened bladder of the Lab and drank another night away. Maybe he didn’t say anything.

The next morning, as we stumbled in to a pristine apartment, I noticed something: Carla began to eat. She sat quietly in the corner and ate. Plate after plate of spaghetti and tomate frito sauce. She looked invigorated, plausible. Besides, she had to eat. Or talk. She couldn’t talk. Because to talk would mean to explain and to explain would mean spiritual death. There are no explanations. There is no way you usually are. The rent is late. The war is never over by Christmas. Shit happens. Shit unhappens. Did something click? Did someone say something? Whatever it was, it cured her anorexia, at least for the time being.
Caron and Deanne woke up early and accompanied Carla to the airport the next day.

Carla went home to San Pedro, to her unreasonable barber father, and to her cat, who she was missing anyway.