“You’re not living close enough to the edge if you don’t shit your pants once or twice a year,” says a friend of mine. You may not agree with him. I for one am the kind of girl who gags if someone so much as mentions a toilet near the dinner table. But you know what? Shit happens.
“You’re not living close enough to the edge if you don’t shit your pants once or twice a year.”
This was a couple of years back when I was living in San Francisco working as a waitress at a mediocre Asian diner whose owner lacked imagination and basic healthcare for employees. The rat infestation was so bad the owner had blocked the nooks and crannies of the restaurant with stainless steel scrubbers so rats couldn’t gnaw their way to the dining area.
One night, I came home from work and I couldn’t get up for my next dinner shift, soaking in my sheets sleek with sweat. Fever chattered my teeth, my legs and arms felt like they were being crushed by a medieval torturing device, but nothing compared to the shredding in my throat. The pain was so bad I jolted awake on the periphery of sleep every time I breathed through my mouth.
There’s nothing like being sick in a city to remind yourself you are alone.
After three days of this I was able to leave my room and consult my roommate, hoping for consolation. He scowled, saying, “You should go to the hospital,” making it plain I was putting his health in danger. “How?” I wanted to ask. How was I supposed to get to a hospital when I could barely walk? But I suppose that wasn’t a question he had to consider, someone who a car and health insurance.
Eventually I dragged myself to a clinic where they told me I had strep throat. The doctor patted me lightly, saying, “You must have been in a lot of pain.” I tried not to cry but I was weak. There was nothing like being sick in a city to remind yourself you were alone.
Clutching the antibiotics I shuffled back to my apartment. My phone chimed with a message from the manager of the restaurant, “When are you coming back to work? We can’t keep covering your shifts.” I had missed almost a week of work. Of course we didn’t have sick days: this was America, after all. I texted back I would return the next day. I knew the strep would clear up soon although I’d have to continue taking the medication for a week. No problem.
The pain was so severe I took 2 gel tablets of Dayquil every 2 hours against every recommendation on the box.
The next morning, armed with a family-sized pack of Dayquil gel tablets I headed to work. I had to be on my feet. That was the day of Radiohead. They were touring North America with the release of “A Moon Shaped Pool” and were playing the Greek Theater in Berkeley that night. Tickets at this intimate 8500-person venue had sold out in less than a minute. But my friends, Danni and Barrett, had gotten their hands on 4, and invited me to join probably because they saw me ugly crying at Outside Lands where we saw Radiohead together the year before.
I was scheduled to work until 5, giving me ample time to get to the East Bay from the Castro. It was the longest lunch shift of my waitressing career due to the anticipation, but more so because I was terribly ill. The pain was so severe I took 2 gel tablets of Dayquil every 2 hours against every recommendation on the box. But I made it through my shift, 6 tablets after. Two transfers and an Uber later, I got to the Greek Theater. My friends were waiting in line for me and burst out laughing when they heard my voice, a diminutive and breathy whisper, so unlike my normal voice or self.
But I couldn’t hear the music. Light flashed in my eyes.
It was a wet and foggy day. Danni had prepared plastic ponchos for all of us and I gratefully put one on over the persistent shivers running through my body. We each bought two drinks, determined not to leave our seats during the performance. We found spots at the top tier and plopped down on the slabs of concrete that sent icy currents through my legs. I took a sip of my wine and then another to warm up.
The lights came on and we screamed. Thom Yorke was in an exceedingly good mood, enough to put the first week of Coachella behind him, which he called disastrous. He danced and twitched freely: it was going to be a brilliant show.
But I couldn’t hear the music. Light flashed in my eyes. My insides were jumbled, my hands shook. I was cold, I couldn’t breathe. I turned to my friends, and said, “I don’t feel good.”
Their faces changed when they saw me.
“Yeah, you don’t look so good,” said Barrett.
With a weak wave to their calls, I got up and trudged down toward the exit. I wasn’t going to be that girl whose friends had to leave a Radiohead concert because she got sick. I could take care of myself. But I couldn’t walk properly. The people in front whose shoulders I tapped to ask to pass through looked back angrily at the heaviness of my hand, then saw me and let me pass, helping me down each large concrete step.
There was no longer sympathy, but disdain: curled lips, wrinkled noses.
The moment my foot landed on the ground level, the lights went off. When I came to, I saw a circle of worried faces looking down at me. They shouted for the medics. I bounded up.
“I’m OK,” I said, and started moving.
Then, Bam, the lights went out the second time. I opened my eyes to the circle of on-lookers again. But something had changed. In their faces was no longer sympathy, but disdain. Curled lips, wrinkled noses. When I got up, I felt a warm wetness that was not unpleasant on that cold night until my brain caught up and realized I had shat myself.
I started limping away. But I couldn’t figure out which way was out. A big bouncer came near me with a look that said he would handle me if I acted out of line. I was nothing more than a drugged out stupid kid at a concert.
“Can you help me?” I said.
“Huh?” he grimaced, making sure I knew he wasn’t going to do anything disgusting for anyone.
“I just need to leave,” I said in a crawling voice.
At that he offered me his arm. He glanced at me sideways all the way to the exit. When we got there he freed his arm and nudged me toward the street. By then I knew I had to get home as soon as possible. The mist had turned into a drizzle but I decided to take the plastic poncho off. Only when I saw the poncho through the glaring headlights of passing cars did I understand the magnitude of the accident. But I couldn’t bring myself to put the soiled thing back on. I shoved it in the garbage can. I brought out my extra hoodie I had in my backpack and tied it around my waist and clicked on Uber.
The cost estimation for a ride to my house back across the Bay Bridge was sixty dollars. But the night I shat my pants wasn’t going to be the night I spent all my meager lunch tips on Uber. I looked at the prices for Uber Pool, where you could sometimes get rides for a quarter of the price. The estimation showed up at seventeen dollars. I hesitated only briefly before I pressed that button. I would have time to regret it later.
The night I shat my pants wasn’t going to be the night I spent all my tips on Uber.
While I waited, I sprayed an entire bottle of sample perfume on myself, because that’s the kind of fancy girl I am, someone who carries a tiny bottle of perfume just in case. This was not a scenario I had planned for.
The car stopped right in front of me, and to my dismay, I opened the back door to cream-colored seats. I tightened the knot around my waist, took my waterproof jacket off and tied it on top to prevent leakage. I climbed into his SUV and opened the window, pretending to drink in the night air and fan my face as I guarded against the scent of my shame from reaching the driver, a nice Asian man with floppy hair.
I heard that dreaded chime on the driver’s phone.
There were almost no cars in Berkeley, the streets were deserted. I let out a sigh of relief and leaned back. But as we were about to take the last turn onto the Bay Bridge, I heard that dreaded chime on the driver’s phone. A rider had been added. The reason Uber Pool could be so cheap was that they matched riders with similar routes who shared the cost of one cab ride. Sometime you got lucky and rode the whole way by yourself at a margin of the price, but tonight was not that night. The driver swerved and we went all the way back to downtown Oakland, where waiting on the curb wasn’t one, but two black girls who were clearly a couple. I was paralyzed. The girls looked at each other like they couldn’t believe how rude I was being and proceeded to each get into the car.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. I didn’t move a muscle, not wanting to disrupt the air and diffuse this mess. But stagnation wasn’t good, either. Never in my life had I prayed so hard for a light to change green so that air would flow in the car.
I nearly lost my mind getting to Emeryville where they finally got off. I’m pretty sure I was still on drugs then because I don’t remember crossing the Bay Bridge and driver had to wake me up when we were at my front door, thirty minutes later.
I jumped out of the SUV and looked back inside. The cream seats had a sheen of green-brown liquid that looked like mud, which I knew for a fact wasn’t. I wasn’t wearing my jacket at this point, just my slinky black button-down I wore for serving. I swiped one arm, then the other vigorously over the “mud” off the seats. It looked passable. I said goodnight to the driver before slamming the door and running up the stairs with arms akimbo. I dashed straight to the bathroom, locked the door, turned on the water to scalding, and stripped naked, throwing my clothes on the floor.
The cream seats had a sheen of green-brown liquid that looked like mud.
Before I got into the stall, I glanced at myself in the mirror. I don’t know why, maybe to pat myself on the back for making it home without anyone noticing. And on my face, laughing back at me was a dried up brown lightning bolt etched across my forehead down to the bridge of my nose like Harry Potter.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you save forty-three bucks.
Thank you and good night!
This is the second installment of a 10-part series that will be published every Thursday to celebrate the completion of my debut novel.
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Next week, I am switching gears and bringing you, “10 Best Quotes on Writing and Life As I Know It.” So give me a follow and let me know your thoughts.