Seventy-two percent of shopping carts have been tested positive for fecal matter. I read it in a free morning newspaper one night.
I park cars. My bare hands on strangers’ steering wheels five nights a week. Strangers are public. Shopping carts are public. Doorknobs, toilets, pools, sinks, subway poles, bus poles, all public.
I’m fine with others looking at me, thinking, “public.” I wear a uniform and nametag. I’m not concerned.
I require food/water/air/sleep/eliminating waste like all. This says nothing about connection/separation or it says both. These are not aspects of living that are chosen.
I never had to consider this before. Biology is seed, but environment is soil and experience is water. My experiences are just work and news now. I took student loans out in my name. This was her final gift.
The days after school, while my mother cleaned wearing long black gloves such like Trent Reznor, my two friends listened by the chained crack of the door, faking coughs and sneezes, snickering as I said things like, “I just read an article in the newspaper, it says scientists made a list of the best living things ever on this planet. Above the dung beetle and humans are dangerous bacteria.” Or something like, “Stop being a genocidal madman, diseases are human beings too, you know.” She tried to have no reaction, but I could see her lips tightening around the curves of her teeth. Maybe it was a grin.
I started holding the steering wheels as if displaying a piece of soiled evidence, putting pressure down on my fingertips to maneuver. With every car parked, they would numb and involuntarily tremble.
One night, all the guests/patrons, male/female, were dressed in black turtlenecks tucked into belted khakis. A coworker handed me a set of keys. “What is this event?” I asked him.
“I want a baconator.”
“Is this the asexual convention?” I asked.
“Shit looks mad gay.” He wiped a corner of his mouth. He walked away.
I entered the vehicle, a gold-champagne colored 1970 Porsche 911.
The interior smelled sweet and medicinal such like cherry cough syrup. There was a stack of contact prints on the passenger’s seat.
They were a series of photos dating from the mid-80s to the early 90s of homeless men defecating in public view on the sidewalks and streets of New York City. Any disgust was neutralized by a low curiosity about the kind of person that would have these photos.
I went to put the photos back. I noticed a pair of driving gloves. They were a powdery amber such like dried figs. They stood out nicely against the dark brown leather seats. I touched one with the back of my hand. Velvety leather. I turned them over. Civet cats embroidered below the knuckles on each glove in gold metallic thread. They stood in a non-threatening, neutral-science stance, on all fours, looking behind over shoulder.
I stared at the matching leather steering wheel.
I slid my hands into the gloves. Cashmere lined. Perfect fit. I gripped the wheel tight. I lay back in the seat and slowly opened and closed my fists.
I had no fantasies about money or material possessions lounging about in a car like this. The opposite, I wanted an opening. Something felt very womb about where I was.
At the end of my shift, I was going to put them back, but I didn’t. I didn’t forget, but I didn’t remember. I never encountered the owner. I heard nothing about them, gloves or owner.
I don’t drive. I wore the gloves home on the 7 train, sliding my hands along the poles, feeling impervious.
The embroidered civet cats gleamed as I passed the parking lot lights of Shea Stadium (still call it this by habit), still on just before sunrise.
Those photographs reminded me of times of driving with my father through Manhattan in the old wood-paneled 1989 Ford Country Squire station wagon. Once at a red light near the Roosevelt Island tram, there was a homeless man squatting, gripping the corner of a cement planter, his huge dark penis draped over the front of his sweatpants onto the cement, a 7-11 big gulp cup positioned at his buttocks. My father slapped my arm and pointed and in his non-native English speaker’s accent said, “Hey look, look, Hershey squirts!” A blackish viscous stream was spraying out at first onto the side of the cup and then just knocked it over and coated it. The homeless man looked up at me at the green light with blank yellowed eyes without shame or pride. I turned in my seat and kept looking back at him from behind the brown vinyl as he became small in distance.
When I got in I looked at my framed master’s degree hanging over the radiator. I left it alone. I checked how much it would cost for a replacement. I left it alone. I made some minimum student loan payments on some .gov sites, which will be lost in interest. In this position there are only two things to do that don’t include involving another.
I heard a woman screaming. I looked out the window, didn’t see anything. I pulled away, a glove was caught on a piece of nail. I tried to be careful, but did maximum damage, leaving a small hole. I’m sure this was just simple miscalculation, like the state of this world. I felt my lips tightening around the curves of my teeth.
Something I’ve always done. What I do is I take a moist paper towel, fold it into fours, sprinkle on a mixture of ground cinnamon, paprika, clove and Szechuan peppercorn and put it in the microwave for twenty seconds. I stick it in a small bamboo steamer and carry it with me into the bathroom.
My mother had many skin problems from all the abrasive soaps, sanitizers, rubs, creams, and solutions. She kept up with all the newest seasonal vaccines and had a stash of new and leftover antibiotics that she consumed as if vitamins. She formed a short-lived group of other enthusiasts to trade tips and info called Where the Rainbow Ends. The group met in the entrance vestibule of Macy’s in Flushing on Wednesday nights and was composed entirely of baby boomers. I wondered if it was truly about health.
I thought about this under a minute. This is how long it takes me to defecate. There is no reading material in my bathroom. I just want to be in and out. Who could sit there with feces inches away for blocks of time, the smell emerging from the gap of the bowl, clogging the air? Who could concentrate under those conditions?
I pressed in firmly as I wiped four times and flushed. I stepped into the tub and out the window onto the fire escape with the gloves tucked under arm.
The slight burn and numb from the wipes felt comforting. I slid my hands into the gloves and clenched my fists.
I froze. I realized I hadn’t washed my hands.
I sat there for a moment and slowly, nearly shamefully removed them. I sniffed my fingers. I sniffed inside each glove. Musky from the buildup of my sweat, no fecal smell, but there was one more scent. A fading sweet moldy woody scent embedded in the cashmere. An oud-based cologne.
It was subtle, but still enough to remind me: these gloves were not mine. They had been on strange hands that may have done what I have done.
I didn’t feel disturbed.
Maybe I had something in common with the owner of these gloves.
I wonder if civet cat poop coffee was a prank lost control? Those who started it died without laughing openly and now it’s part of Indonesian culture.
I’ve never tried it. It is the world’s most expensive coffee. It is thirty whole U.S. dollars per cup.
Don’t know if I want to try it, but I like good coffee, but poop.
I must avoid my own eliminated waste like all. This says nothing about beneficial/harmful or it says both. Other living organisms take nutrients/use from the eliminated waste of other living organisms.
I wonder if beneficial events are due to a failure in another’s harmful plans?
I took the gloves out and looked for a tag. Something with a name of the owner or maker. Nothing. They were probably custom made.
I spent the last of my break walking around the block then loitering outside a dark bistro. $$$ out of $$$$. I turned my fingers into pincers near the window and pretended to take a shrimp off the plate of an old guy wearing tight leopard print pants sitting across from a 19-year old with some Jack Kerouac quote tattoo in typewriter font. They pretended to not notice.
I had a feeling that I was duped without knowing by whom or out of what.
I looked at my nametag and noticed the venue’s logo looming above my name in much larger font.
I once got into a fight over whether or not you were looking at the backs of your eyelids when eyes shut. Even if you place your hands over your eyelids, the darkest you’ll see is charcoal grey, which doesn’t matter since your mind will display abstract shapes and colors over it. I contracted pink eye that summer. My mother bought a pair of pool goggles to put on near me.
My hands started to feel hot. I yanked the gloves off and aired them out.
The sun was coming up. I made myself a Batman Special (half orange juice, half black coffee) and sat on the floor. I lay the gloves out in front of me.
My mother even with gloves couldn’t change diapers. So the feces would stay caked in and around my buttocks until my father got home. He was a man who didn’t like doing anything in general, so he’d use whatever worked fastest and did it half assed. Dish sponges with the rough plastic webbing on the outside. The inside of my buttocks, my anus, my perineum and the bottom of my testicles felt like they were on fire.
The gloves were becoming smoky with accumulated filth, scratches and deep gashes varying. The identical civet cats’ stitching began to appear slack. They were both looking over at each other’s shoulders, looking at each other.
The inside of the gloves were beginning to smell sour and mushroomy.
An all-encompassing barrier of safety always eventually becomes an incubator of disease.
I went out to the Vietnamese sandwich shop for a pork meatball banh mi and a bottle of Ito En unsweetened green tea. I sat on someone’s stoop.
I flipped through a free morning newspaper from a few days ago. On my way to the Food and Drink section I stopped on a clear head on photo of a man with thinning slicked back hair in a tight black turtleneck standing at a podium.
On his hands were a pair of leather gloves with embroidered civet cats, but in white leather. Those must have been his indoor pair.
GLOBAL POPULATION GOAL: 500 MILLION! FORMATION OF DEPARTMENT OF BIOLOGICAL SECURITY DISCUSSED AT EXCLUSIVE LOWER EAST SIDE VENUE was the headline. I like the word “exclusive.” I thought of the guy who has to clean human waste and other bodily fluids off the marble bathroom floors.
I waved a bee from the trashcan away from my sandwich. Five hundred million.
I know what side of that threshold I’ll be on.
I felt a frustration trailing the creases of my brain, chained at both ends, unable to trace where it was coming from/wanted to go.
Around 3:40 AM, I started revving a brick red1978 Pontiac Firebird. My worn gloved hands gripped and wrenched around the wheel. I yanked back on it a few times with my back pressing deeper into the seat as if trying to tear it off.
I turned on the radio. It was tuned to some strange experimental music using a vibraphone and organic-sounding electronics being broadcast from Columbia University. Some guy who sounded such like Crispin Glover stopped playing in the middle of a note, the clack of him putting his equipment down, moved too close to the tinny microphone to say he used to play this song to calm his baby brother who had hydrocephalus. It calmed me down for a moment.
I started revving the car up again. I put it in drive and peeled down the parking lot. I tried to drift left down a corridor. One of these things happened next first: steering wheel right along my eyebrows at the bridge of my nose / seeing a gold ball squatting in the middle of the parking lot / plunging down the break.
I was lying in my bed for a moment, waking up frightened in the middle of the night, but I also was standing in front of my toilet urinating. I jumped up.
As I put my foot out the car door, my whole body spilled out toward it. The gold ball was heaving sobs, her scales glittering in the headlights, which made my eyes hurt. The top of my skull started to feel hot, I dragged the other foot out.
I leaned on the car for support and tried to act like nothing happened and then I felt compelled to chuckle as if something did happen and I was cool about it. And the flavor of blood. The bottom of the frame of my vision kept turning from six o’clock to three o’clock repeatedly.
I closed one eye and squinted the other as I went to touch the gold ball as I asked her if she was alright. She stood up such like a mantis, far taller than me and she screamed something like, “Stop touching me, you disgusting fuck,” running toward the street where she collided with a group of American Apparel NYU party girls who with at least one political slogan about some “global issue” on their clothing. They quickly pushed her off the curb and kept moving.
She lay there, screaming/flailing, until two patrons from the club in suits held her slumped by the arms and threw her in the back of a black unmarked SUV that sped off.
The blood that trickled from my nose was dark, some already hit the gloves several times and stained the stitchwork of the civet cats, soaked into the mesh under-fabric in the gnarled leathers. My crotch and inner khaki legs were a shade darker as well.
The manager ran over. He pulled a hole in my vest as he ripped my name tag off. His voice trembled, life threatened, because his “livelihood” was at risk, “Get the fuck out of here!” Some saliva hit me in the lips.
I mumbled something as my head swayed, motioning to the front of the car. He lounged out to choke me, but some of the other workers held him back. I couldn’t even think straight enough to defend myself. I left.
I wandered into a Dunkin Donuts bathroom. I turned on the hot water and waited for it to start steaming. The steering wheel curved bruise on my forehead swelled and looked such like a Korean blood sausage. It was better than expected. The vision problem scared me the most. I flung the gloves over the handicapped rail. The left one looked like it was going to slide off into the toilet. I waited for it, but it didn’t occur.
I started rubbing liquid hand soap counterclockwise around my lips. The dried blood became wet again and curled into the foam, turning it pink, some got on my teeth.
The following afternoon, I wore my work uniform to either go in like nothing happened or apologize.
On my way, I heard an ongoing tide of shouting. I turned the corner to the entrance of the Astor Place K-Mart and witnessed teenagers running out, knocking into each other with hands and arms filled with merchandise and going in with fists clenched.
Hundreds of teenagers were locusting the place either by theft or destruction. Some of the polo-wearing, low-level employees blew right passed me out the door. A crowd started drawing behind me.
The managers probably tried to stop it at first, but they just stood there, so dejected. One of them, a woman in her 50s was squatting near a torso mannequin displaying a shirt with the Tasmanian Devil dressed as a NASCAR driver, crying.
I tightened down the gloves and went in.
I slowed my breathing and tried to not make eye contact with anyone as I walked over to the registers. A young girl in her work clothes was ducking in the workstation. She asked me what was going on. I started peeling some plastic bags, making triple bags, ignoring her.
When the cops arrive, I figured, and I head out the door, it’d look better to flee with bags than carrying things in hand or in a shopping cart. With my face in this condition, they’ll think I was a victimized customer. But there were now witnesses to my entering empty handed. I’d have to leave through the downstairs entrance that leads into the subway. Best to be safe.
There’s no need to go to jail because I’m already in hell.
I looked at the girl behind the register. She was stiff, staring at the Styrofoam coolers with NFL team logos. I made a few more bags. “Please help me,” she said, looking up. “Just go out the front door,” I said. I walked away.
One kid was stomping in the jewelry cases while others cut up their hands grabbing up pieces. Another tossed a skateboard to another who made a running wind up and cracked the general manager in the side of the skull with the edge. His body started heaving on the ground such like a lobster being boiled alive.
I turned back and told her to wait there, that I wouldn’t be long.
I took the escalator down to the health, food and home supplies. There was less going on. The looting was probably concentrated in the electronics department.
I loaded the bags up with one of each: unscented shampoo, anti-bacterial face wash, eye drops, rubbing alcohol, unflavored toothpaste, unflavored mouthwash, a bar of pure castile soap. I started to feel lightheaded as I picked up a gallon of hand sanitizer and put it in a bag. To start thinking of my mother surrounded by kids ten to twelve years younger made me feel embarrassed.
I continued: hydrogen peroxide, antifungal cream for wounds, vaginal antifungal cream, antifungal cream for athlete’s foot, lemon juice, white vinegar, baking soda, laundry detergent, dishwashing soap, mildew eliminating tile scrub, bleach. I began to hear sirens.
The entrance leading into the subway was clogged with people looking in, who had seen me the whole time. There was no leaving with these items in hand.
My detour stop was in the pet section. As I was lifting a closed cat litter box off the shelf, I felt a hand on my back pocket, my wallet. I grunted as I backhanded a kid in the mouth, he slowly collapsed into a cardboard doghouse display of Snausages. We both said sorry quickly, he ran off.
The plastic hinges snapped as I tore the lid of the litter box and kept the pan. I dumped the contents of the health items in quickly before it fermented into a substance with a noxious gas. Two girls, one wearing an Inu Yasha shirt turned the corner with a couple of six packs of Dos Equis and yelled, “Holy shit” and darted out of there when they saw what I was doing. I didn’t think I was doing anything threatening.
I pulled the gloves off. This seemed ritual, but there was no need to say goodbye to gloves. No need to say goodbye to anything/anybody detrimental.
I pressed them down into the concoction with a rawhide bone.
The gloves rose back up in the color of sweetened condensed milk, flakes of corroded leather floating around them. The stitched civet cats were completely rotted, no longer recognizable. The gloves had the appearance of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial when they found him dying in a stream. They were completely clean.
I stopped hearing chaos.
The last of the mob ran out, some stayed in hiding. I went back to the registers for the girl. Only her nametag and K-mart polo shirt were there.
I lifted my sweat-pruned hands to block out the setting sun and strobing lights through the doors. The wall of indistinct silhouettes, peered in at me as I cautiously moved toward them, but still moved toward them, with nothing to look forward to.