My father used to shit with the door open. Growing up, I might be walking down the hall of our small, suburban, ranch home in Kendall, and there, out of the corner of my eye, would I spot my father on the toilet shitting. Maybe he was reading a newspaper. Maybe he was not reading. Maybe he was thinking about his life, his job, his boat, his suburban dream. Maybe he wasn’t thinking at all. As he sat there, he was visible to anyone in the home who happened to be in that part of the house. I don’t believe the sight of my father openly shitting traumatized me. I, however, close the door when I shit.
I wiped my kids’ asses for quite some time. I was the first to change their diapers. I’ve always washed their clothes. I know all about their shit. My daughter clogged a Chicago hotel toilet once with a massive shit. I had to call down to reception for help, all the while making it clear that I did not do it. She did the same thing in our China apartment. We couldn’t use the downstairs toilet during our stay. My daughter told me a story a few weeks ago about some shit ending up in her panties while she was at school. Once, coming back from the Dean’s house, my then infant son shit so much that it seeped out of his diapers and covered the car seat completely. I took my daughter to the emergency room once because she couldn’t shit. As the X-ray revealed, there was a football size mass of shit stuck inside her. “It’s my baby,” she said. When they were both young and we lived in a rental house in Lexington, my daughter sat on the toilet with massive diarrhea, my son’s diaper was overflowing with shit, and the diaper dandy was knocked over. Filthy diapers spilled across the floor. That trifecta moment became known as Poopageddon. When I was very young, I had a bad habit of stuffing too much toilet paper in the toilet and overflowing it. The panic I felt as the water slowly rose within the bowl to its rim and out on to the floor is one I can still feel today. Those moments traumatized me more than seeing my father shit in the open. “Please, God, please, God, please, God, no,” I’d say as I watched helplessly, and the floor flooded.
When I was a kid and sent to summer camp in North Carolina, there were no doors in the bathroom. Anyone could see anyone shitting. When I was in the army, more than once I took a shit while on guard duty — in the open, near where we were standing, against the rules. Once, our commanders made us go through the nearby open desert area outside of our base and pick up all of the used toilet paper covering the sand in an endless scattered, stream. Everyone had been shitting outside and not in the latrine. We didn’t have any gloves. In my kids’ Montessori school, their first to third grade class had a bathroom inside of the classroom that sported a half door. Shitting was clearly visible to all, teachers and students. I once received an email from the teacher wanting to know whose kid kept shitting on the floor. Mine denied doing so. Is there anything worse than shitting in a port o’ potty? They are always full of shit. No matter how early the event is, no matter if no one has shown up yet, no matter how many people are in attendance, there is shit in the port o’ potty. It’s a given.
My dog waits throughout the day to be taken outside so that he can shit. I can shit almost everywhere: gas stations, restaurants, rest stops, at work, on guard duty. When my dog shits, he moves away from the shit and then kicks up grass like a cat in a litter box. I had a girlfriend once whose dog ate its own shit. Which is worse? Cat shit or dog shit? A cat shits and then throws it all over the place; litter cannot prevent the subtle spread of cat feces. Cat faces never remains completely in the box. It’s in the air. On the floor. Behind any adjacent furniture or appliances to the box. At least a dog understands to use grass. Sometimes, though, my dog will shit on a sidewalk or on the street. I have no idea what he is thinking when he does this.
“You are full of shit,” is a common way to call someone’s bluff. “Don’t give me that shit.” “Don’t shit me.” “Are you shitting me?” Out of all of the things in the world to be full of — food, beer, coffee, blood — shit attracts our attention. Why is lying connected to excrement and not urine? At the same time, shit may equal something enjoyable “That’s some good shit!” “That’s some heavy shit, man.” Pulp Fiction’s Jimmy responds to Jules’ compliment that his coffee is “some gourmet shit” with “I know how good it is. When Bonnie goes shopping she buys shit I buy the gourmet expensive stuff because when I drink it I want to taste it.”
Or one lies, or one bullshits. “I didn’t lie to you,” Elwood tells Jake in the early moments of The Blues Brothers. “I bullshitted you.” In “Dang,” Mac Miller sings
Complicated, got you frustrated,
every single night I keep you waiting
You say you don’t care,
is what you’re saying
We both know that’s some bullshit
George Carlin told us that bullshit is everywhere. “High quality, world class designer bullshit to be sure.” Biggie Smalls liked to party and bullshit. “I call bullshit,” is a common saying when something appears to be unbelievable or untrue. I am a rhetorician. Rhetoricians are supposed to bullshit. This is the sophist legacy. We are supposed to know how to argue and how to persuade. Persuasion typically involves, according to some cynics, bullshit. I often ask students in my class: What’s the difference between rhetoric and bullshit? They are not sure “You are a good rhetorician, so stop,” my ex-wife said to me in a moment years ago when I tried to save the marriage. She meant: “I don’t want to hear your bullshit.” It did not feel like bullshit to me. I wasn’t bullshitting.
At some point, we have all felt like shit. Hungover. Depressed. Sad. Burned out. Crappy. Done. Exhausted. Shit gets a bad rap. There is a Yiddish proverb: Az men hot nit vos zu tun, iz kakn oykh an arbet. This means: “If you have nothing to do, shitting is also work.” Shit is associated with the worst of our mental and physical states. Yet, there is no life without shit. We need shit to grow our food and to empty our bellies. To keep our lives fulfilled and meaningful, we need to do shit. Once, during one of our beer trips, my friends placed a public bet on Facebook regarding how many times I would shit over the course of the trip. I don’t remember the amount or who won the bet. People seem amazed with my ability to shit throughout the day. “Get that checked out,” I’m told. Get what checked out? That food leaves my body? It’s supposed to. Wouldn’t it be worse if I never shit? How many times do I shit? Maybe once a day. Maybe five times a day. Who’s to say what the proper amount is — if there, indeed, is such a number? We should not shit shame each other.
Why should I care so much about shit? Why do I want to talk about shit? Can we divorce our lives from shit? I don’t believe we can. My father was a difficult man to joke around with. Our lives together have been quite shitty. I remember, when I lived in Detroit and he was visiting, trying to be funny in the car. “You are pissing the living shit out of me,” he angrily responded to my jokes. That made me feel like shit. Riding in that car, with muzak on the radio as if we were in a generic American grocery store, with nothing really to say to each other because we never have anything to say to each other, I joked. Such a gesture pissed the living shit out of him. When I feel like shit, I may withdraw, or I may joke. The antidote to feeling like shit, for me, is basically to make light of whatever situation I am in or the world is in. The world feels shitty these days. Really shitty. For personal and for global reasons, it feels like the ultimate shitting time period. I need jokes. I can’t live all the time in this fucking shit. Even that humor gesture towards inner salvation, however, has its limits. I cannot bullshit myself forever. I cannot tell a joke and always manage to cover everything broke and shattered inside as if I’m not really that way. Mat Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting is reluctant to believe that anyone wants to hear about his problems, inner demons, brokenness, or trauma. “Don’t bullshit me!” he yells at Minnie Driver’s character when she tries to understand him and get him to talk. Don’t bullshit me means: “I don’t believe you care.” Don’t pretend as if you do.
“You are a piece of shit.” I have said this phrase. I have said it more than once. It seems to represent, to me, a vile, unethical, immoral state of being that I see in someone else. Maybe I have not said it to too many people, but I have said it. To think that a human is nothing more than excrement is likely the feeling that such a human could not be any worse than she/he currently is. “You are a piece of shit” is a response to betrayal, hurt, theft, anger, pain. In my eyes, that person has become the lowest of all possible statuses in our culture, in any culture. Even as hyperbole, the phrase has its place in certain communicative moments. “You are a piece of shit.” Just a piece. Not all of the shit. Not tons of shit. Not an overflowing toilet of shit. Not buckets of shit. Just one piece. One piece is enough for the evaluation. One piece sums up the person’s value. No more is needed.
I am not sure why I wanted to write about shit. Moments trigger our thoughts, our beginnings, our desires, our interests, our writings. We call this in rhetoric “exigence.” Some moment reminded me of my father shitting with the door open when I was a kid. I don’t, however, know what that moment is. I’m confused Why did I suddenly start writing about shit? What is my exigence? I do not know. When I sleep, I have many reoccurring dreams, and one of those dreams involves shitting. Usually, I am out in the open, on a toilet, with maybe enough toilet paper to use. I am visible, too. No one says anything, though, about my shitting. It seems natural to everyone that I am on the toilet in the middle of a room, or in a dirty bathroom somewhere, or in a place where a toilet really should not be. I don’t want to interpret this dream because I can more or less guess what it might mean.
One would think that my father’s willingness to shit with the door open proves that he is a very secure man. He is not. He’s extremely insecure. One might think that my dream proves I am an insecure man. I may very well be. While I am brave enough to shit in any gas station or leave my post to take a shit and risk punishment, my dreams seem to suggest that some type of vulnerability is being symbolized in my shitting. It took me too long in my life to admit to vulnerability. That is a shame. It is shitty.
One last anecdote: every month my dog gets diarrhea. I have no idea why. It’s like clockwork. His diet never really changes. Maybe he eats something off the ground when I don’t see. But every month? And when he gets diarrhea, he wakes me up in the middle of the night, asking me to let him out so that he can shit in the backyard. I find this endearing for some reason. I find, despite all of his other stupid, crazy shit he does, this one gesture to be quite endearing. He seems to care that shit belongs outside and not inside. I take that to heart. He seems to care about me and my home. He’s ok after all. He also pulls too much on the leash, though, and barks like a mad lunatic when it’s time to go on a walk even though I tell him not to! That’s fucking bullshit.