I’m blaming Jim Morrison

Or What Goes in Must Come Out


I was a good couple of blocks into Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris last October when I had the sudden realization that I was going to be very much in need of “facilities.” There are not a lot of facilities in most ancient French cemeteries. In fact there aren’t a lot of “facilities” in general in France. So it behooved me to find another venue. And fast. The streets surrounding the cemetery are not populated with cute cafes and bistros where one might purchase a coffee in exchange for unloading the remains of recent meals. Instead there is a dreary assortment of funerary shops whose windows feature granite and marble grave stones, gray and mauve fabrics, and gloomy artificial plant arrangements that didn’t seem like the sort of places you’d just pop in for a pit stop. At the far end of the street, a good 2 blocks away, there was some neon signage that might possibly have indicated the presence of a toilet, er, cafe. And, indeed, it did. The second we entered I bolted down the stairs into the bowels (as it were) of the cafe where the toilets are almost always located in these old buildings. In this case there was un hommes and une femmes in the very cramped area at the bottom of the stairs. You literally stood on the last step to wash your hands in the communal basin. Of course the hommes was in use!! But there was no time, no choice . . . I used the femmes. (I am gay after all so I get some sort of pass here). In the midst of what was one of the most prodigious and, shall we say redolent, toilet-related events of my life someone, a woman I presumed, tried to open the door. 

After some time, during which I said more than just a few of my most potent prayers to various saints (and to be fair, I had lighted many, many candles, with no particular intention in mind so I ought to have been able to call upon the reserves there, at an assortment of churches—one of them would have come in handy right about then) that she not be waiting when I made my exit (really it would be impossible to walk past anyone in the tiny cramped area outside the door), I frantically flapped my hands around in a very masculine manner attempting, futilely, to “freshen” the air inside the tiny chamber. When I opened the door the woman, a young very chic French woman stood hunched over on the step proving to me the uselessness of prayer. In order for me to get out she had to go directly into the toilet. I did not meet her gaze. 

Once upstairs drinking my Coca Light (I had to order something) I made another silent prayer to St Whoever-was-listening that she not be seated in my general vicinity. Another miss there. She was seated in the booth behind me looking directly at me. Fortunately I did not have to look at her but I could feel that gaze on the back of my head.

This episode, though, was only the beginning of months of misery. Whatever I got there stayed with me and I have existed since then on a steady diet of Imodium, popping them like M&Ms to keep myself from further events of this same nature. Weeks stretched into months the entire time I’m thinking “Oh, this will clear up” until, finally, I went to see a doctor.

In order to determine what it was that was making my life a misery I needed to give them a specimen. I had not thought this through, although I had never had to go through this before so I really wouldn’t have known what I was in for, and therefore how to think it through. But now having lived through it, I’d gladly have at least considered living on Imodium for the rest of my life. 

They give you this handy toilet insert for the ease of collection. Bluntly speaking, you sit on it and fill it. Eight hundred MLs is pretty much but there was a moment when I thought there was going to be an overflow issue. This sort of stress makes me sweat, so there was that too. 

When that portion of the exercise is complete there are several vials that need to be filled. For this they give you a pair of latex gloves and a not at all handy tongue depressor with which to shovel your specimen into the various vials. There is no explanation on the instruction sheet as to what exactly one does with the rest of the “specimen” and/or proper disposal of the receptacle. I figured it out but seriously, this was not even vaguely fun.

From there the vials go into bags that are clearly marked as containing something dangerous. Bright orange and black. When I had to hand them in at the clinic I did not meet the technician’s gaze either. I did thank her, though. 

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