Everyone poops. I know it, you know it, and every kindergartener knows it. But that humble fact has not appreciably diminished the bewildering, debilitating, widespread psychological condition known as Poop Shame.
I believe I am America's leading authority on this condition, by virtue of the online chats I have been conducting with readers for more than a decade. Freed to anonymously discuss deeply personal matters, chatters of both sexes have repeatedly unburdened themselves about the extraordinary lengths to which they and/or their colleagues in the workplace have gone to avoid being outed as a pooper.
These lengths range from the mildly neurotic — for example, concealing that you have reading material when you enter or leave the bathroom — to the truly bizarre. One man keeps a second, distinctive pair of shoes in his desk, which he smuggles into the bathroom and puts on in the stall so that no one knows it is him in there, doing that awful thing.
Women have confessed to participating in excruciating standoffs: bathroom duels, where two or more find themselves in neighboring stalls, each holding off on The Act, waiting for the other(s) to leave. It's sort of the opposite of the shootout at the O.K. Corral.
Lately, I've been hearing tales of toilet tent-building. Appalled at the gap between stall and door that might allow others to know at a glance who is in there, people hang toilet-paper bunting down to cover it. One reader snapped a photo of just such a gap-caulking device in use by a co-worker. He texted it to me. I published it.
Poop shame is not just an American phenomenon; it is said to be rampant in Japan, as is constipation among women who unwisely hold their fire until their husbands have left for work. Japanese ladies' rooms are sometimes equipped with a stall jukebox called the "Sound Princess" that emits sound-camouflaging flushing noises at the timely push of a button. (It was invented in part as an environmental measure; shamed poopers were basically draining the oceans.) Other variants of the "Sound Princess" intended for home use play sounds of birds, babbling brooks, etc. (I have noted that it would be a great practical joke to get hold of one of these recordings and re-dub it so that every few minutes it blasts out an ear-splitting fart.)
The most recent manifestation of Poop Shame plopped onto the Internet recently, via a saucy commercial for a product called Poo-Pourri. It features a sophisticated Englishwoman sitting on a potty discussing pooping in blunt but chirpy fashion (" ... and when your little asstronauts splash down ...").
You are supposed to spray Poo-Pourri into your toilet bowl before you sit; it is said to create a film on top of the water that not only traps odors below, but also releases, with each deposit, "a refreshing bouquet of essential oils." It is the ultimate weapon against Poop Shame: "Our business," the ad concludes, "is to make it smell like your business never even happened." I of course ordered this product immediately.
I am here to make my report. I am typing this in the first-floor powder room of my home. I have just used the product as directed and can report that, as promised, there is no typical bathroom smell. Instead, there is a suffocating pseudo-floral stench far more vile than anything the human body can produce.
I feel as though I am trapped in a bathysphere into which is being pumped not life-giving air but pure cologne, a thick mist of it, like the stuff worn by low-rent drag queens. It smells like a garland of flowers, but only sort of, in the sense that drag queens only sort of resemble Judy Garland.
It is overwhelming. But so is Poop Shame. I have no doubt this stuff is selling well.
© 2013 Washington Post Writers Group