A fear of public toilets

The Ex-Executive Assistant, a story published on Tuesdays and Thursdays in a limited number of installments
"The Ex-Executive Assistant" is a comedic story about a young man who loses both his job and his girlfriend on the same day.

Recap: It’s Friday night, and Shep and Lyle are out for a night of fun. Because they’ve been drinking, they hail a taxi to drive them to a local nightclub. However, on the way there, Lyle decides to make a detour to the Silver Tavern, the bar where he and his ex-girlfriend, Annabelle, broke up. Shep dislikes the idea, not only because the Silver Tavern is a lame, “old people’s” bar, but because he wants Lyle to quit reminiscing and move on with his life. However, Lyle insists that he needs to visit the bar, to make peace with the past.

Shep and Lyle sauntered into the bar, bathed in a halo of red neon. Strands of flashing lights framed the doorway and unfurled along the walls. Overhead, a series of Coors light fixtures dotted the ceiling, dusty and cobwebbed and casting a pale-colored glow.

The place was packed. People swarmed the bar and the pool-table area, laughing and whooping and sloshing mugs full of beer. All of the tables and booths were occupied, leaving no room to sit.

And in the farthest corner from the entrance, a karaoke machine had been set up, complete with footlights and microphones and monitors showing the lyrics. At the moment, a seventy-something woman wearing a pink sweatsuit and matching headband was belting out Del Shannon’s Runaway. Her voice sounded like the screeching tires of an out-of-control semi as it careened into a pickup truck filled with squealing hogs. Only one person appeared to be watching the performance, and it was a withered old man in the throes of a nap.

“What do you think?” Lyle asked, looking at Shep. “Doesn’t this beat a nightclub hands-down?”

Shep glared.

“Well, you’ll get used to it,” Lyle said. “I love this place, myself. It’s the one thing in my life that’s always been there for me.”

“Unlike the generous cousin who lets you stay in his apartment rent-free?” Shep asked, arms folded.

“You know what I mean. I’ve spent some of my darkest hours here in drunken solitude.”

“Sounds like you on a typical day of job searching.”

Lyle sighed. “It’s sort of weird being back, though. The last time I was here was the day I lost my job.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. You and Annabelle broke up that day, too.”

“Uh-huh. I appreciate you bringing that up.”

“In fact,” Shep said, “didn’t you and Annabelle break up in this very bar, after you had found her in bed with Brent?”

“Yeah. She followed me down here after I found them. We sat in that booth over there.”

“Which booth?”

“The one with the guy wearing the blue jelly sandals and the red cowboy hat.”

“That guy? The one sitting with the woman wearing the neon-pink tights?”

“Yeah. That’s exactly where Annabelle and I were sitting the moment my life came apart.”

“I thought your life came apart long before then, when you lost your job at the newspaper?”

“It’s come apart several times. Until now, I’ve always been able to cobble it back together.”

“So why did we come here again, to this haunted house of terrible memories?”

“Why else? To spend my darkest hours in drunken solitude. Speaking of which, I need a drink.”

“Why don’t you find a table and order us a couple of beers?” Shep asked.

“Where are you going?”

“I got to make room for the beer.”

“OK, but be fast. You don’t want to miss this lady’s singing. I think she’s going to do Dylan next.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if she did Grover Cleveland in her day. Can we expect any people our age to show up?”

“Probably not. This is more of a drunken-solitude sort of place.”

“In that case, then, forget the beer. Order me a double scotch on the rocks.”

“Sounds good. Can I have one, too?”

“Why ask me? You’re a grown man.”

“Because you’re paying … remember?”

“Oh, right. I guess I forgot. Strike the ‘grown-man’ remark.” Shep looked around. “Which way to the pisser?”

“It’ll be the first door on the right. Just follow the vomit.”

“Thanks.” Shep walked toward the back and down a narrow hallway to the men’s room. He curled his sleeve over his hand to push open the door, which squealed open to reveal a small, dark, dingy restroom.

Water lay in puddles on the floor, and the door to the only stall hung open on one hinge. Two urinals were mounted side by side on the wall across from the sinks, with no divider separating them. Shep claimed the higher one and unzipped.

At that moment, the bathroom door squealed open, and a large man with a thick beard ambled in. He immediately poised himself in front of the urinal beside Shep. Shep closed his eyes, gritting his teeth.

“Nice evening,” the man said, after a few awkward, silent moments.

Shep nodded. “It is.”

“Kind of cool for this time of year.”

“Indeed.”

The man licked his lips, looking down at the urinal. After a moment, he said, “I keep hoping it’ll rain, but it never does.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Shep said.

Another few moments passed.

The man swallowed. “In fact, now they’re saying we’re in a drought. Can you believe that?”

“You know, we don’t have to make conversation,” Shep said.

“We don’t?”

“No — the situation is weird enough as it is. I mean, we’re poised in front of porcelain basins mounted to a wall without so much as a sheet for privacy — let alone a solid divider. Why bathroom designers continue to put men in this humiliating predicament is downright bizarre.

“Besides,” Shep added, “there’s no appropriate way to become acquainted in a men’s room.”

“I didn’t think so,” the man said. “I just felt compelled to fill the silence.”

“Well, please don’t. I can’t go when you’re talking to me.”

“And I can’t go when I’m talking to you. I was going to wait till after you left to start going.”

“I haven’t even started yet. You came in here only a second after I did.”

The man looked down. “So … what do we do?”

Shep grimaced. “Right now, I’m just trying to close my eyes and concentrate.”

“Does that help?”

“It might if we stop talking.”

“Oh, right. Sorry.” The man faced forward, staring at the wall. He and Shep stood in silence for a few moments. The only noise came from the dripping faucet behind them.

After an agonizing minute or so, Shep started to spurt sporadically … slowly working up to a steady stream.

“Ha!” the man said suddenly. Shep jumped, drenching the bottom of his shirt.

“Sorry,” the man said. “I was just reading this poem. I didn’t know the ‘Nantucket’ story had so many iterations.”

“Tell you what,” Shep said, zipping up. “I’ll use the stall, and you can have the urinals to yourself.”

“Oh, come on, man. I said I was sorry.”

“This’ll be best for both of us. It’ll be easier for us to go if we’re not standing right next to each other.”

“Oh — right. Good thinking. And thanks for volunteering to use the stall. I have a fear of public toilets.”

Shep paused. “But you’re using a urinal.”

“A urinal isn’t a toilet.”

“How is a urinal not a toilet? Waste gets put into it and flushed down a drain. That’s the definition of a toilet.”

“Right, but there’s no physical contact. If there’s no physical contact, then it isn’t a toilet.”

“What about when you flush the urinal? That’s physical contact.”

The man shook his head. “You don’t have to flush a urinal.”

“What are you talking about? Of course you have to flush a urinal.”

“Flushing’s optional … especially on urinals without pools of water. If a urinal has a pool, then yes, flushing is a courtesy. But no pool, no flush.”

“You still have to flush. It gets rids of the residue, and the residue causes odor.”

“Nope — you still don’t have to flush. That’s what they make urinal cakes for — to get rid of the odor. No flushing required.”

“OK, whatever,” Shep said, turning away. “You win. A urinal isn’t a toilet.”

“Damn straight a urinal isn’t a toilet. I don’t have a fear of urinals.”

“No offense, but I kind of wish you did. That would make this situation a lot easier.”

“I’m sure I have to go as bad as you do,” the man said. “I just can’t. Not with you standing there.”

“Yeah, well, now you have the urinals to yourself. Enjoy.”

“Thank you.” The man leaned forward, squatting slightly. He closed his eyes, his lips trembling in concentration.

Shep walked into the open stall … then circled right back out, reclaiming his position at the urinal.

“Not going to happen?” the man asked.

“No,” Shep said. “I think I just developed a fear of public toilets.”

Author: Allen

I’m a humorist and fiction writer, as well as the author of two books. One is a collection of humor, and one is a collection of short stories. Both books are available on Amazon. I always wanted to write a comic strip, but I can’t draw. Not even a stick-person. So that’s why “The Lawn-Cutting Crew” is a comic strip without drawings. I hope you enjoy!

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