Updated: Feb 17
It began with an innocent craving for a York Peppermint Pattie. It was the end of the Sunday night of Mardi Gras in New Orleans a long, long time ago. The last float had passed, the crowd dispersed, and the party retreated upstairs to an apartment far above the muck below for some post-parade libations. All matters of the day settled, two more days of revelry on the horizon, the atmosphere inside nestled into the sweet smugness of good times rolling along...that is, until one member of the party--a friend--was motivated enough by a sudden craving to excuse herself from the carnival laissez-faire. She announced her intentions of a brief absence and set out across the street to where, in the banged up freezer of an old convenience store, would hopefully lie the frozen, artificially flavored mint delight of her deepest desire: a York Peppermint Pattie. She dodged carnival sludge and scattered, discarded beads in the street, for the street cleaners had not yet made their way to this slice of the avenue. She could hear them in the distance, beyond the arching oaks covered in colorful beads and the muted hollering of pop-up parties that dotted the route. She crossed not one, but two streetcar tracks, dodged more sludge and gooky parade throws until before her, lit up like a beacon of hope, was the blinking K under which she could “get the sensation.” But she suddenly had to “go”--a need to pee that came on as fast as the need for a Peppermint Pattie. How could she get the sensation properly while holding it in? To her right was a line of Porta Potties. It wasn’t ideal conditions, but it was better than rushing through her frozen mint chocolate moment. So she entered the last one in a line of publicly used and abused filth pots, locked the door, and did her business, unaware that pulling into the parking lot was the truck that would transport the pots of stinky gold to wherever they go to be cleaned. She also didn’t hear the sequence of padlocks clicking into place down the row of potties. It wasn’t until her door briefly rattled that she heard anything. Had a truck driven by or a gust of wind blown by? She wiped, zipped up, unlatched and pushed on the door, the peppermint pleasure seconds away. Only the door didn’t open but a tiny crack, and dangling in front of her eye was a padlock, quite definitely locked in place. Holy hell, I’m trapped, she thought. Holy hell, I’m trapped in a Porta Potty! It was the kind of realization usually accustomed to nightmare scenarios that belong in “would you rather” games? Would you rather be trapped in a Porta Potty or trapped in a tiny room with ten tarantulas? Dear God, I don’t know the answer! First, she screamed, “Help! Let me out!” until she was hoarse. No answer. Then she banged on the door until her fists hurt. Still no answer. Then she resigned her mind to the idea that she would either spend the night in a Porta Potty or die by death of toxic funk stench. The first would likely lead to the second. She thought about her brief 22 years on Earth--her parents, her boyfriend, all the dreams she never reached and that her death would probably turn into an urban legend. Until the end of time, at festivals and public gatherings all over the world, those with weak bladders would enter Porta Potties and joke to their friends, “Make sure no one locks me in!” Then she heard the worst sound she’d ever heard in her entire 22 years: the screeching sound of the motor of whatever machine drags a Porta Potty onto a truck. She pushed on the door and twisted her head so she could assess her inevitable doom. The Porta Potties were being connected to a mechanism that first dragged, then tilted them into the truck until they were upright again. Forget Mardi Gras sludge! She’d be covered in shit, swimming in shit, and undoubtedly die from shock of so much shit! Oh, hell no! This is not gonna go this way! So she pounded and yelled and kicked and screamed with all her might until, upon pushing on the door one last time, there on the other side of the padlock was another eye. She jumped back and then pushed on the door again. “What are you doing in there?” The voice of the eye was a weak, wavering voice. “What do you think?” she asked. “You’re not supposed to be in there,” the eye scolded her. “Well, you’re not supposed to lock me in!” she said. “Don’t you check these things before you lock them?” “It’s almost midnight.” The eye wouldn’t be discredited. But neither would she. “So! People still need to pee!" “You really should be more careful,” the eye began. “You should always bring someone with you when you go out like this.” Meanwhile, she was still stuck inside a Porta Potty and the eye was still outside in the land of fresh air. “Um, can you let me out, please?” she begged. The voice from the eye sighed, like maybe our friend's lack of judgment made her deserving of a few extra minutes surrounded by a day's worth of urine and carnival crap. Then, rather reluctantly, the padlock was released, and our peppermint protagonist burst through the door, gasping for air and sucking life into her lungs like she’d just been born. “Thank you,” she exhaled to the eye, which she now observed belonged to the oldest looking human being she’d ever seen. And she realized that it was no wonder he hadn’t heard her. He was 110 years old, probably half deaf, and yet moved with the pace of someone who acted like he had all the time in the world. He was a captor to be forgiven--just doing his job, though pretty badly. She shook his hand. She had been freed from death by human feces. That called for a generous dose of the human spirit. Then as if none of it had ever happened, she waltzed into the Circle K, meandered over to the freezer, and bought the only Peppermint Pattie still on the shelf. Either Peppermint Patties were a popular post-parade fare, or so unpopular were they that the one in her hand was as old as the eye itself. But none of that mattered, and as she sank her teeth into the curious blast of winter that settled onto her taste buds and ventilated her nostrils, a new perspective unleashed in her psyche. Shit happens, and sometimes it happens that we become trapped in it. Smelly, yes. Repulsive, of course. But more than gross, it can be infectious--if we are weak to it. Shit tricks us into thinking it will always be this way, multiplying one negative thought on the other--despair on top of doubt on top of hopelessness. Job was, you might say, trapped in a Porta Potty right there in the desert, despairingly dejected and despondent. Like Job, it is far easier to let shit consume our outlook, define our future, yank us from hope, and control our thoughts, because whether we’re stuck in a Porta Potty or stuck in any terrible circumstance, it’s always easier to lose. Was it the day drinking turned night drinking talking, or had our friend experienced a life-changing nuance from within that Porta Potty? What if we considered all the problems consuming our fighting spirit to be nothing more than shit inside a Porta Potty? Your failing relationship, my anxious thoughts, this one's motherhood woes, that one's professional problems...your piles of crap and mine...what if we recognize that our losing response to our troubles is as infectious as the crap that almost compromised our poor, innocent, Peppermint Pattie-seeking friend? And furthermore, what if we decided that our moxie wasn’t going to go down with the shit of the world? What if instead we burst through our trapped door and breathe in a fresh perspective, one that refuses to succumb to negativity, refuses to give up hope for something better, and refuses to be taken down by the crap we permit to surround us? One that ultimately turns its back on all the muck and yuck and proclaims, "I know that my redeemer lives!" (Job 19:25), a resilience that knows we permit what our attitude promotes, one that leaves the past in the past, and gets on with living and believing, or, in the case of our friend, leaves the shit in the Porta Potty and gets on with the sensation for which she crossed St. Charles Avenue at midnight. I know enough to know that perspective can be found in the most unlikely places—like a used Porta Potty—but only if we’re open to perspective. Our friend teaches us a few lessons: never go to a public bathroom alone; never change direction without alerting your party firs; but more than anything, never let the shit get the best of you. If it isn’t worth the weight, don’t carry it into the future. Leave it in the toilet where it belongs. Our friend’s story didn’t reach urban legend status, yet it does have the makings of a sensational question: Would you rather be trapped in a Porta Potty of someone else's shit for ten minutes, or spend a lifetime trapped in a Porta Potty of your own making?
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