Stackers is a funky, little eatery on Forbes Avenue, a part of the ethos and geography of the U Pitt campus and like any place on a contemporary college campus, locales attempt to blend the trends and discourses of the day. Two years ago this very site was a 50s styled diner. Now, the 50s are eschewed for a black and white, contemporary, New York affectation with a Pittsburgh accent. For an afternoon lunch on a sunny and excessively warm Pittsburgh afternoon, my friend Rick and I sat outside, cordoned to the side of the building with the open window into the place so close that I could feel the air conditioning touching one shoulder as the grime of the concrete and the exhaust of traffic bathed the other. Our alfresco view: the side of a card shop (where hetero-marketing occurs with clarity) and, a smoothie joint. But, as “nature” (yes, that tied-to-the-function-of-the-living-body, science portion of earthly life is called), nature dictates that before drinking a vat of diet soda, I had to first unload all the accumulated liquids of my morning. Thank the lord that I am not in North Carolina where I might need to bring ID. But I know, as many of us, do, that the codes for behavior and taste creep.
The sign on the outside of the room designated for this nature or alleviation of liquid in my particular case: a skirted stick figure, a non-skirted stick figure and a wheelchair. I’m good to go, I thought. Sort of. To enter I make the encoded pledge that one of these figures represents me. I am, I pledge, an owner of either a vagina or a penis. Or I am unable to get in with just my legs. The wheelchair, it seems, erases the need to testify an accurate representation. Does it mean I fuck men? Women? Do I need to do this standing or sitting? In my case, on this day, I am “skirted” metaphorically speaking and I walk, but I’ll keep the reasons for that quiet. Am I still entitled to do this? For how long?
It’s hot on this day, humid and steamy, and I just want to pee and wash up after.
Don’t we all?
But there is a problem in this particular room. The soapy thing spits foam into my hand, but I wave and wave my hands in front of what should be a faucet. No water spits out. I touch it, try to move the top of it by turning it to the right or left. Nothing. Maybe, I think, the soap is not soap, but some newer version, a cross between soap and those disinfectants we have invented to be sure we catch no disease from those who carry it. I want to open the door and cry out for help, but this door opens in very close proximity to diners and that somehow seems unseemly. So with sticky hands, I grab a towel and wipe them, but that makes it worse. Now I am coated with slime.
I go to the register and ask the attendant, a young woman (should I have tested my assumption?), “Is there water in the sink?”
“Yes. The handle broke off. Just pull it up.”
Huh, I thought. Pull it without a handle. Now that needed a sign.
I want to see someday, in a joint like Stackers that has on the menu a grilled chicken Caesar salad, topped with an order of fries, topped, too, with a lob of cheese sauce (not, perhaps, at all natural, but very, I am told later, Pittsburgh), a new sign.
I want the sign to say, Shit Happens Here or We All Do It or (with a winking icon) You Know.
Why not? Why not call a shit or piss what it is? We take in food, we leave waste. But in every moment, at every turn, we must declare, by word or deed, by habit or conscious choice—this is what I am, understood in the simplest of terms and this is whom I fuck.
Donna Marsh teaches writing and rhetoric at Syracuse University. She lives in central New York with her husband, Robert O’Connor and her life partner, Lando–a Yorkie Bichon. She is currently at work on two books: a book of interconnected essays about the loss of her daughter on 9/11/2001 and a book about her dogs in the post-9/11 world.
Duane Locke lives hermetically in a city called “Tampa, Florida,” that he doesn’t know anything about. He dwells isolated and alone near friendly alligators, gallinules, heron, ibis, egrets.