19 November 2011

The Garage Sale Story

I get requests for this from time to time.

A few summers back, I had a surplus of junk and a shortage of cash. A garage sale seemed like a good idea, so I rounded everything up and took an ad out in the paper. I also distributed flyers all over: laundromats, grocery stores, places I thought would attract a lot of customers. And it worked. At five a.m. the morning of, I was actually fending off early birds trying to sneak under the half-opened garage door. It was crazy and stayed that way for most of the day.

There were ups and downs. My stuff was selling like crazy, which was great. All of the big heavy furniture went right away. One lady walked off with five or six shopping bagfuls of random junk, enthusing to everyone who would listen that I had "good stuff". Then there were the baddies, like the lady who intimated ominously to me and my mom that if she happened to trip and fall on our property, she could sue us. She'd done it before, she said. It was enough to make me line the garage in yellow safety tape, which I did between her visits; she showed up every couple of hours.

We had a pretty good mid-afternoon crowd going when an old Buick stopped at the curb. A stout woman in her early sixties got out, then turned to assist a tiny little old lady in a white polyester pantsuit. The lady, who looked ancient, stooped and wobbled along behind her friend. We had a lot of people to keep track of and I didn't pay them much mind at first. About ten minutes later, the little old lady tottered her way up to me and asked if I had a place she could sit down.

I jumped up and gave her my seat. She placidly stared off into space, a multipurpose smile on her lips, as her friend went through a pile of old clothes. I figured it was a hot day, she was in head-to-toe polyester and she just needed a little rest. I went about my business, but a couple of minutes later she caught my attention to ask if she could use our restroom.

I'd never been in that situation before, a complete stranger asking to come in and use the bathroom, and I didn't know what to do. It was a sweet little old lady, it was a hot day. The house had two bathrooms: my parents' bathroom and the guest one, which I was using as my own. If she was using any bathroom, it was going to be mine. I wasn't wild about a stranger using my bathroom, but I felt like I couldn't turn down a little old lady. I said of course and took her elbow to help her into the house. She was so frail-looking that I stayed in the hallway in case she needed me.

I had waited about three or four minutes, worrying about my mom handling all the customers by herself, when I heard the little old lady's voice from the cracked bathroom door. "Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo! Miss, I've had a little accident. I don't suppose you have any baggie I could put my underpants in, do you?"

I'm thinking, aw, the poor lady's wet her pants. I said of course, ran back out to the sale, and grabbed an opaque plastic bag so that no one would see her soiled underwear. I brought it back and handed it to her through the cracked door. She thanked me, then a few minutes later the door was cracked open again. "Yoo-hoo! Yoo-hoo!"

This time she wanted to know if I had any pants to give her. That was kind of a strange request, but I assumed the urine had soaked through to her white slacks and she was embarrassed. I told her I'd find something, and I returned with a long, dark skirt from the sale. It even matched her blouse. I handed it through the door; she thanked me and things were quiet again for a few minutes more.

Then she was at the door again. "Yoo-hoo!" This time she wanted to know if I could go find her friend. I said sure and retrieved the lady from a rack of knickknacks. She followed me inside and disappeared behind the bathroom door. Then I heard something I didn't expect.

"Oh my God!"

Out scuttled the younger woman, pulling the little old lady behind her. They slammed the bathroom door behind them and scooted past me down the hallway, out the door into the garage and down the driveway to the Buick. They practically squealed the tires getting out of there. I followed along behind, thoroughly confused. For starters, the woman hadn't paid for the skirt I gave her. But when I went back and opened the bathroom door, I found that was the least of my problems.

Weak stomachs be forewarned, this is about to get very gross.

It took a moment to mentally process what had just happened in that bathroom. The closest I can come to describing it is this:

Imagine a jumbo-sized water balloon filled to capacity with completely liquid diarrhea. Now imagine that someone took that balloon, held it over their head, then spiked it at the floor as hard as they possibly could. That's about as close as I can come theory-wise as to what might have caused the devastation I was now seeing.

Liquid crap was everywhere. It was splattered on the mirror, it was running down the walls in little rivulets, it was congealing in the folds of the shower curtain. The toilet was caked in it. She had pulled out cabinet drawers and it had formed big tan splotches on the linens inside. In a couple of places, it was dripping from the ceiling. There were big hand prints in it where she'd hand-over-handed it down the counter. It was smeared on the faucet and spout. I wish I were exaggerating. I'm not.

My first impulse was to throw up. Then I realized I would have to kneel in a puddle of it to get to the toilet, and I clamped down hard on the heaving. Then I wanted to cry. If you know what a germophobe I am, you can imagine just how badly this got to me. I've cleaned up poop before, and it's not a big deal, but this was...complete stranger poop. And it was everywhere.

I went out to tell my mom and I spent the rest of the afternoon...and evening...and night...scrubbing that bathroom. It turned out to be even worse than I thought. It was up in the workings of my scale; it was splattered on the velveteen of my hot-rollers. I ended up having to spend most of the profits from the garage sale just replacing everything that had gotten ruined. The walls had to be repainted; even after I'd scrubbed with bleach, Lysol and then Soft Scrub, the brown stains remained. And we never heard from the lady or her friend again.

The only thing that we can think of that might explain what happened is this: we think the lady had a very full colostomy bag that she was trying to empty into the toilet, and it slipped and hit the floor. Not very far from the water balloon theory, really. How else could it have happened? It's not like she had a Super Soaker filled with it that she smuggled in there.

One of these days I might let down my guard and have another sale. Rest assured, though, that there are going to be NO PUBLIC RESTROOM signs all over the place. And I'll even turn down old ladies.
Coat my bathroom in liquid diarrhea once, shame on you. Coat it twice, shame on me.

I'll wrap up this story with something my Biomedical Ethics professor shared one day. He was on the ethics staff at Rush-Presbyterian, and he had just told a horrific but enthralling story involving a hooker who had a chronic infection of her colostomy opening. After some questioning as to why she was getting these persistent infections, she confessed to her physician that she charged extra for that particular privilege.

The class, mainly first- and second-years, was aghast. The professor perched on the corner of his desk, a twinkle in his eyes. "Now," he said, "who thinks that's the most disgusting story they've ever heard?"

Every hand in the room shot up.

He looked at us a moment. "And who here will never repeat it?"

Not a single hand was raised.


Lisa said...

Wow. Just wow - on both stories!

jennifer anderson said...

that is so good. i read the whole thing!

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