One would think that on the eve of my first solo day as the cook at a natural foods store/cafe I would have spent the night obsessing about how I was secretly incompetent. Surprisingly, I felt perfectly sanguine about my cooking duties, but instead of getting a good night’s sleep I spent the night agonizing about getting into the building.
“First you turn the key this way for awhile” Sarah had explained to me as she demonstrated, “then you turn it this way a little bit, and eventually, it will open.” My all consuming fear on the eve of my first day was that I would lose valuable cooking time struggling with the recalcitrant door and then have to call in a more experienced door whisperer to get it unlocked for me. After that, my anxieties gravitated toward the burglar alarm and how unpleasant it would be to accidentally set it off.
Eventually, experience taught me that it is always best to “stage” the area before attempting to unlock the door to our business. I learned that it is wise to take the key off the key ring, prop open the screen door and remove any other encumbrances while mentally setting an intention as you hunch over the lock in the darkness. Once the key is in the lock it is helpful to breathe diaphragmatically—in through your nose and out through your mouth—while thinking calm and reaffirming thoughts.
Once in the building, it is wise to take a moment to turn the lights on so that the digits are fully illuminated on the burglar alarm key pad, thereby minimizing the odds of pushing the wrong number.
Burglar alarms are terrifying to me because they directly tap into a recurrent dream that I have had since childhood. The gist of the dream is that while sneaking around someone’s house or place of business, I get caught and have to make up an excuse about why I am there. It is a mortifying and deeply unpleasant dream. I much prefer the dream about shaking the rabid rat off my bare leg.
The other morning when the alarm would not accept the code, I punched it in again, and when it didn’t work the third time I resigned myself to the fact that all hell was about to break loose, which it did.
After I had apologized profusely to the police and regained my composure, I wondered what was worse—being outed by an anemic toilet as a person who craps—another big fear of mine, or setting off a burglar alarm at 5:45 a.m and not being able to shut it off.
To write in detail about my experience in the powder room would be venturing into David Sedaris territory so I will leave that alone. Suffice it to say that when I went sailing with my best friend and her parents aboard the good ship Nefertiti, I did not use “the head” for two weeks.
Many years later when I was in my early twenties, those same owners of the Nefertiti invited me to their home for dinner. I felt very grown up and did my best to be as sophisticated as possible, which in my estimation meant matching them drink for drink and cigarette for cigarette. Eventually I found myself wobbling around in their bathroom, confronted with a rickety old crapper and a powerful need to use it.
I faced my fears that night, and I can’t say I was any better for it. I did not have the transformative experience that you are supposed to have when you go mano a mano with a primal anxiety. It was awful and only reinforced what I already knew instinctively. Problems with waste disposal and/or actual watery events involving a toilet are dreadful.
As the owner of a rickety old toilet and as a hostess, I later learned that when a watery event involving excrement occurs in your home it is easy and somewhat gratifying to do your level best to put the victim at ease.
The victim I am thinking of is my late mother who experienced the wrath of our cheap Home Depot three gallon flush toilet. She lived with us at the time, and our relationship was a tangled mess. Despite the fact that her antics had sent me into the arms of a therapist, my heart overflowed with sympathy for her far more vigorously than the toilet had overflowed with dirty water. I would have done anything to spare her the embarrassment and humiliation she must have felt as she watched the water crest the bowl and flood the bathroom.
The big take away for anyone who fears using alien toilets is that the host/hostess won’t think any less of you for having had a mishap in their home. They will feel a deep sense of responsibility for having created such a circumstance, and they will feel guilt because they probably knew perfectly well that the toilet was unreliable. Most importantly, they will empathize with your predicament because everyone fears an overflowing toilet on a visceral level.
Setting off the burglar alarm was far more therapeutic than having to drunkenly fish crap out of a toilet with my hand while my host and hostess waited politely at the dinner table. The noise of the alarm did in fact make me go blind and lose all of my common sense in that special way that dreams involving dialing a phone in a life threatening situation make you go blind and stupid, but now that I have actually set off a burglar alarm, I have learned that it really isn’t that bad.
I have yet to have a rabid rat hurl itself at my bare leg while I try to shake it off but if I do, I hope the experience makes me a better and stronger person.