Monday, August 1, 2011

The Time I Was Asked by a Total Stranger Whether I Needed to Deficate

This is a photo of the recently renovated bathroom at Penn.
I don't think my incident would have had the same kind of
"magic" in such a comparatively shinier place.
I no longer commute to New York City, and though it's been very beneficial to have a shortened commute — particularly because I'm home earlier so I can assist Mrs. The Anthony Show, who's outnumbered by the kids from the mid-afternoon onward — I do miss the occasional and unpredictable wacky and/or zany episode that is always possible when you travel in an area inhabited by several million random people.

This is the story of one of those episodes.

This was during the brief period when Mrs. The Anthony Show herself was commuting to the city, and that brings up a small digression.

The day I learned that Mrs. The Anthony Show landed a job in the city, I was very excited. This was before we had kids, so it didn't matter if we didn't get home until 7:45; we'd be together! We could go to a show after work! Try out a fancy-schmancy restaurant like Aquavit, even though I hate seafood!

We soon learned, though, that the wife soon hated hated hated working in the city, a combination of her lack of interest in working in the city, her despising the commute exponentially more than I ever did (even if I were accompanying her), and the nature of some of the jobs she had, which included magazine "closings" that left her to walk to the Canal Street A/C/E station at 3am.

So this was one during a time when my workday ended slightly before my wife's, so I'd wait for her at Penn Station near the waiting room and bathrooms. I had a little time to kill, so I wandered into the men's room to take a leak.

There are two restroom areas at Penn. On the lower level, near the Long Island Rail Road, you'll get a quick rotation of commuters and the occasional bum/weirdo. The upper-level toilets, on the Amtrack and NJ Transit floor, are close to the stairway that leads outside to the corner of West 33rd and Eighth Avenue, which attracted a lot more crazy people. I wasn't expecting the crazy that I encountered that evening at Penn.

In New York City, as it probably is everywhere else, perhaps even within your own home, crazy can take on a few forms:
  1. There's the crazy of a guy who's hunched over, wearing clothes that are colored in various shades of filth, and shuffling along slowly and silently in green high-top sneakers that are noticeably several sizes too big. Easy to avoid, because you see him coming from a mile away, and he doesn't want anything to do with you, either.
  2. There's also the crazy of a bald lady leaning against a thick silver pillar, having a loud — well, not so loud that it attracts the Transit cops -- argument with a someone who walked away an hour ago, if the person was ever even there in the first place. Again, easy to avoid, because she's too busy delivering an unsolicited rebuttal — "That motherfucker wearin' a hat!" — to deal with you as you whoosh by on your way to Track 18.
  3. Finally (though there are probably several other layers of crazy) there's the crazy person that you don't suspect is crazy, and it takes a few minutes — and by that point it could be almost too late — before you realize that the individual is quite nuts.
I could also say that crazy can also be, among other things, "scary-crazy," "sad-crazy," or "funny-crazy." Fortunately, this was an episode of funny-crazy.

I entered the men's room, and there was a queue of about four guys waiting for an available urinal or stall. At most men's rooms (this tibdit is for the ladies) there's usually one all-purpose line, unless the restroom is large enough and the stalls are far enough away from the urinals to avoid confusion.

I'm waiting on line, looking at the ground as I always do, and I hear the following:

"Anybody gotta take a shit?"

I look up, and I see a tall black fellow — he had to be 6'6" — in the middle of the restroom, at the island-style sinks between the urinals and the stalls, frantically yelling, "Anybody gotta take a shit? Annnnnnybody gotta take a shit?"

He was working the room like an auctioneer, pointing and asking each of us whether we had to go Number 2. Amazingly, people were answering him with shy nods (I shook my head briskly), and he would register this information with:

"Anybody gotta take a shit? One! Two! Two people gotta take a shit! Two people gotta take a shit! Anybody else gotta take a shit?" He did this like his life depended on having an organized circulation of guys taking a dump. The whole time, while his behavior was clearly crazy, he didn't seem crazy otherwise.

Then he'd go over one of the stalls — he was tall enough to practically look over the wall — and banged on the door. "Come on! You [rhymes with biggers] gotta hurry up in there! People out here gotta take a shit!" Then he sighed and smiled and said, "We all gotta get along, you know?"

Can't argue with that, I thought as I relieved myself into the shiny metal box that serves as the Penn Station urinal.

I left the men's room and was about to take my usual position near the podium at the front of the waiting room when I saw an annoyed-looking cop with one hand near his utility belt walk briskly into the bathroom. Within seconds, the two stepped outside the men's room, and I nudged as close to them as I could without attracting attention.

The conversation was very brief:

COP: What the hell are you doing?

CRAZY: What? [The way the guy said this, I really believed that he really believed that was he was doing was perfectly normal.]

COP [I should note that what follows is one of the funniest questions I'll ever hear anyone, especially a cop, ask]: Why d'ya gotta be asking people if they gotta go to the bathroom?

CRAZY [What follows here is a statement that I began to use, even though I never learned its original meaning]: I be activating!

COP: Listen to me, all right? I better not catch you around here again, or you're gonna be in serious trouble! Understand?

And with that, the tall fellow, chastened, jogged away. The cop slowly walked off to yell at a panhandler, and Mrs. The Anthony Show appeared. And I had one hell of a story to tell her.

I never saw that tall dude again. But I think of him often, whenever I'm on a long restroom line that could use better management...and ACTIVATIN'!

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