A shitty situation

Hastings, William D.

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"A Shitty Situation" by William D. Hastings As if I was observing some kind of sickening and sadistic scientific experiment, I watched the garbage bag I had wrapped around the toilet slowly rise as the unflushed feces emanated methane gas. I was fascinated by the sight of science in action and horrified by the knowledge that soon I would have to remove the plastic covering to take a leak - and in so doing, get a mighty whiff of my own shit. There had been a glut of rain, too much too fast, and the parched earth drank all it could before the water began to fester in impromptu lakes and ponds where before there had been open fields of dead grass. After the days of precipitation, the baking sun and slick humidity of July returned with a vengeance that, coupled with all the stubborn puddles, felt disgustingly muggy and sticky. Of course, it didn't help that we were on lockdown, so there were no showers or leaving the cell to catch a bit of fresh air. It also didn't help that my cellie, JoJo, was a Sasquatch in size and hirsuteness, which made the already tiny cell seem that much smaller and mustier. However, if doing time has taught me anything at all, it's that things can always get worse. It was the morning of the fifth day of lockdown when I awoke at my accustomed early hour only to find that I couldn't flush the toilet or get any water from the sink. Knowing that no answers would come for hours, and rather than let this unexpected drought wreck my regular routine, I spooned two scoops of gritty instant coffee directly into my mouth and swallowed deep from the cup of water I had set out the night before. After that, I popped a peppermint into my mouth to counteract the film of bitter nastiness that coated my tongue, and I went about my day. Breakfast came and went uneventfully. No one had any information about the water situation to pass through the chuck hole. The announcement came shortly after the seven o'clock shift change. We were informed that there would be no more running water. There was a broken water pipe. We had actually been using reserves from the telltale water tower that marks every joint, but now that supply was running low. The C/O in the bubble went on to say that, when he was done talking, the water would be turned back on for ten minutes and then deactivated until later in the day to conserve water. As promised, the toilet flushed as if by magic, along with every other one on the deck simultaneously - a roaring Niagara. The tiny torrent took with it the bits of toilet paper and neon urine that had been accumulating all morning. JoJo jumped down from the top bunk and squatted to handle his business as quickly as he could. After an Olympic record-breaking speedy dump, it was my turn to assault the toilet, which I also did in record time. Unfortunately, our toilet was on a timer, so even with the water turned on, the timer mechanism was still enabled. The clock on the toilet was set for five minutes. The water was only on for ten minutes. JoJo was fast, but not fast enough. I frantically pressed the button to flush, but it was no use. My fetid turds looked up at me mockingly from the steel bowl. It was abundantly clear to me that my feces did not, in fact, smell anything at all like roses. The cell toilet is designed in such a way that it protrudes off the front of the sink, which, in turn comes out of the wall. I took a garbage bag that was slightly smaller than one appropriate for an average kitchen garbage can and slipped it over the toilet, tying it so it was spread tight as a snare drum over the offensive bowl. An old towel covered that, followed by my correspondence box for good measure, as if my mess might turn out to be some kind of mutant crap that would angrily splash its way back out if I wasn't careful. Then we settled in for a long, hit, shitty day. As if to add insult to injury, at lunch the powers that be deemed it proper to dispense two gallons of water per inmate. They encouraged us to drink plenty of it to stay hydrated in the sweltering summertime blaze. Biologically speaking, for those who are unaware, the more one puts in their body - as far as food and drink are concerned - the more must necessarily come out. Drinking gallons of water would only produce (roughly) gallons of piss to deposit into a toilet that would not flush. However, to forego liquids altogether would to be invite dehydration and all the attendant symptoms: headaches, fatigue, nausea, and -- the most horrifying and inopportune symptom of all -- diarrhea. The situation required a skilled tightrope walk of sipping just enough water to stave off extreme thirst and dehydration, but not so much as to necessitate frequent urination. No matter how little we drank, it was a foregone conclusion that the toilet would eventually have to be uncovered and poop particulates released into the limited atmosphere of our cell. The expanding bulge of the garbage bag at the base of the toilet as it slowly filled with trapped methane assumed a threatening, malevolent quality -- daring me to see how long my bladder could hold out. The day after the water was shut off, the lockdown was lifted, but it did me little good. I was at a disciplinary joint, a medium-max, so I was only allowed a few hours of rec per week and three showers. Except there still were no showers. Going to yard to hang out in the 100-degree heat index or to the gym to work out in the oppressive stuffiness meant coming back to the cell with no way to wash except to dump some bottled water over myself. With the water off, I couldn't even take a proper bird bath. Being off lockdown did mean that we were once again walking to lunch and dinner chows, which provided at least a small respite from the extremely foul conditions of the cell. But it was always all too brief. Within twenty minutes we were being driven like wide-eyed cattled back into our tainted quarters. As much as JoJo and I tried to time it just right, we inevitably ended up with a toilet brimming with our own eliminations. It would be another week before water was fully restored and showers became available. The smell in the cell house during that time is difficult to describe. The combined funk and waste of nearly one hundred men left to broil in the humid air isn't something experienced by many, and it won't be bottled as an eau de parfum anytime soon. Over it all hovered a faint cloud of baby powder. It was blown into the air liberally to mask the odor of excrement, but mostly, it only made matters worse because the combined fragrance was reminiscent of a giant dirty diaper. Despite our unique and lamentable predicament, there was little compassion. You'd think a cool C/O would let us exit our cells and hang out on the deck for a while, but no. I watched with my eyeball (a small piece of mirror or polished steel) as one guy got walked to Seg. Apparently he had taken a dump into a milk carton, and a C/O had caught him as he tried throwing it in the garbage can at the front of the wing. Not a bad idea, really - better than letting it float in the toilet all day, but he needed to be a bit more slick with his disposal method. The guys in the cell below me were constantly calling for a plunger that never came, though without water to help the process along I suppose all they'd be doing was stirring their shit stew. I had a visit during this period. I went up top after applying a heavy layer of deodorant, sprinkling baby powder generously all over my arse and nethers, and slathering myself in some sweet-smelling coconut lotion. I also had a gut full of fecal ammunition because, fool that I was, I figured the water just had to be working in the visiting room. I was wrong. It was a tense visit. After being informed that I could get no relief from my burden in the visiting room bathroom, I squeezed my cheeks for hours and tried not to think about it. Eventually, with many apologies, I had to cut the visit short. I felt horrible that my parents had driven several hours to see me only to be sent away prematurely, but the hard mass in my bowels was like a fist pounding to be allowed its proper exit. It could not be denied any longer. During my requisite strip search, where I was supposed to bend over at the waist, spread my cheeks, and cough, I prayed hard that I would not blow my hefty load at the curious C/O. Thank the good Lord that -- miracle of miracles -- I kept everything inside. Sticky with sweat, my clothes clinging to me, I hurried back to the cell house, making a mental checklist of what needed to be done to facilitate my imminent bowel movement: removing my visiting clothes so as not to taint them any further, retrieving shit paper and baby powder, putting a sheet up for privacy, positioning my fan for some relief from the heat, and finally the uncovering of the toilet. Piece of cake. With my plan firmly in place, I nearly ran the last twenty yards to the cell house. Once on my deck, I actually did run to my cell, unbuttoning my shirt as I went. Once I was inside the oppressive heat and stench of my cell, I kicked off my shoes and stripped to my boxers, grabbed what I needed and positioned it all with as much economy of movement as possible. JoJo was trying to ask or tell me something but I didn't hear him. I didn't care. I had more pressing issues. With a nearly disastrous grunt, I heaved the correspondence box off the toilet and put it on the floor with an unintentionally loud bang. I didn't have the time or intestinal fortitude to be delicate, as anticipation had pushed the mess in my guts along so that my too-long-gestating crap was crowning. Like the proverbial Band-Aid, I tore the towel and garbage bag free from the toilet in one swift flourish and caught the full force of its smell right in my nose. It made my eyes water, and I gagged against a dry heave. Sitting in the bottom of the bowl was a huge hill of poop that breached the surface of the water, and instinctively, I knew that's what JoJo had been trying to tell me. The problem was that I was miles past the point of no return. All I could do was try to manage the damage. In one fluid motion I turned, dropped my boxers, and squatted -- hovering over the toilet like a yogi engaged in some strange kind of meditation. Blessed release, and a modicum of relief. I let out a pleasant sigh that was cut unpleasantly short by the necessity for me to employ all my skill and concentration. Like the consummate lumberjack felling a mighty oak to crash perfectly into the open space between two neighboring trees, I directed my lovely log around the mound that JoJo had already left. Working mostly on instinct, with just a few quick awkward glances to my rear, I maneuvered my ample bottom (aka: fat ass) in a slow circle so my waste was evenly distributed and wouldn't pile back up onto me. By the time I was done with my necessary, my thighs were burning and trembling from holding the stagnant squat position. Casting one final furtive glance into the bowl, I saw only an amorphous blob covering the entire bottom of the toilet, leaving no steel visible. Much of the mass was above water. Streamers of soiled toilet paper were dissolving all around the poop pile. With nothing left to do but wait for the water to be turned back on, I covered the toilet once again. When the announcement finally came that the water would be turned on for ten minutes, it was nearly midnight and I was exhausted, near dozing, after having been up for over twenty hours. The last time we had flushed the toilet was shortly after seven o'clock that morning. I had added my mess to JoJo's load at around four in the afternoon. The stench was utterly unbearable, unquestionably unsanitary, and most definitely disgusting. Of course, we were forced to succumb to our stubborn bladders a few times each throughout the evening and into the night, necessitating the unwrapping of the toilet, which made the smell infinitely worse. This time, though, I pulled the covering free with relish, wanting to be sure our deposits were accepted. There was a brief pause, followed by the expected rush of dozens of toilets flushing in unison. The problem was that our toilet only let out a choked gurgle before the water level began to rise too quickly to think of any course of action other than the most obvious one. I later reasoned that anything was better than flooding the cell with shit water. I plunged my hand, open palmed, deep into the brown isle of excrement. It was cold, which surprised me. I wiggled my digits to dislodge the mess, felt it squish through my fingers, fought against the rise of my revulsion. Brown water splashed and I cringed, but clenched my jaw -- determined to have it all out of my life for good. At last there was a loud, wet sucking sound that in a way reminded me of when I used to cover the end of the vacuum cleaner hose with my hand when I was a child. Water and waste swept past my palm, and I pulled it out quickly, as if I had been bitten. It was covered in all kinds of nasty detritus and residue - animal, vegetable, and mineral - and once more I squelched the impulse to barf. I lathered and scrubbed viciously, rinsing as best I could in the slow trickle of water running into the sink, but there wasn't enough disinfectant soap in the world to make me feel clean after that shitty situation.

Author: Hastings, William D.

Author Location: Illinois

Date: August 20, 2018

Genre: Essay

Extent: 8 pages

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