The Kindness of Strangers (in Public Bathrooms)

Two blow dryers, one next to each ear, each geared to its highest setting. That’s the first wave. Then the Morse code. She puts on clogs, which are really more like mallets for her feet. Once she’s in her clogs, she practices her vertical, soaring several feet in the air before landing back on the ground where she tries her best to stomp through our wooden floors. It’s as soothing as when your phone convulses with an Amber Alert.

Once she’s completed her clog-to-floor Morse code message, but before she leaves, she hovers over me to make sure I’m still pretending to be asleep. I am. She walks to the front door, opens it and then with all her strength, using two hands, she slams it as hard as she can. The frame of the house shakes, the windows next door rattle, a cat scaling our fence loses its balance as a wave of vibration rolls through our neighborhood, kicking up loose chunks of sidewalk and jolting the SmartCars and Mini Coopers between Riverside Drive and the 101.

Now that my cortisol levels are through the roof, it’s time meditate.

With expanded lungs and an open heart, I follow Sunset Boulevard from Silver Lake to Hollywood. I pull into a hospital across the street from one of the dozen Scientology Centers between Highland and Hillhurst. Inside the hospital, a woman sticks a needle in my arm. It’s full of poison. A small dose. They call this a flu shot. There may be pros and there may be cons, but like the samples at Costco, I’m not doing it because I’m particularly interested in an eighth of a chicken pesto wrap, I’m doing it because it’s free.

Before I leave, I slip into the bathroom. I’m walking with my head down, scrolling through Twitter, not registering anything: more sex offenders, more natural disasters, more school shootings and a Harold Pinter quote that I read three times and still can’t make sense of. That’s what I’m doing. I’m saying a Harold Pinter quote from a play I’ve never read in my head when I look up to see a guy, with what I guess you’d call a carbuncled face and hair like Don Draper, staring at me. He’s smiling. “Hey man.”

Remember, I’ve meditated. People say hi and I say hi back. Compassion, empathy, “I care about your pain, darling.” Some Buddhist teacher said that. I nod. He holds up a plastic bag with a small cup inside, “Would you mind?”

“I care about your suffering.” I don’t say that to him, but I think it. This is someone asking for help and I know how hard that can be. I take the cup in the plastic bag and walk to the stall. It’s locked. I think about waiting but he nods at the urinal. Sure.

While he stands behind me, I fill the plastic cup with remnants of hot water, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar. Fuck me if I’m not my guru’s follower. I walk over to the sink, wash my hands and pass the carbuncled Don Draper my urine. He takes it from me like he’s taken the urine of a thousand men before me, which makes me feel better because I was starting to feel weird about this whole thing.

He raises his eyebrows, doesn’t say thanks and walks out of the bathroom. But that’s okay. I don’t need to be thanked, because I care about his pain, right? His suffering? Though it’s starting to feel like my morning practice of compassion is wearing off. I’m starting to feel like, yes, I’m psyched I was able to pay it forward, I hope that if I ever need a stranger’s urine, someone will pee in a cup for me. But I’m also feeling like, How about a fucking thank you, Don?

Not for the first time, my medical provider declines to validate my parking. I trot to the structure, pay $54 for my 32 minute visit. I’m on my way to work when it occurs to me that as well intentioned as I may have been, as pure of heart as I hope to be, I did have an edible last night before I watched Dunkirk, so that guy is definitely going to fail his drug test.

But hey, purity of my urine aside, I still care about your suffering, darling.

1 Comment

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One response to “The Kindness of Strangers (in Public Bathrooms)

  1. Anna Laurent

    this is great. i learned so much! hope all of you are doing well. i’m in london & it’s lovely.

    On Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 11:51 PM, Exchanging Pleasantries wrote:

    > Exchanging Pleasantries posted: ” Two blow dryers, one next to each ear, > each geared to its highest setting. That’s the first wave. Then the Morse > code. She puts on clogs, which are really more like mallets for her feet. > Once she’s in her clogs, she practices her vertical, soaring sever” >

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