By Kara Martinez Bachman of karamartinezbachman.com
I once wiped my ass with a souvenir hat from the city of Chicago.
It was a lovely hat. It was white and featured colorful line drawings of landmarks. The Sears Tower was on the front. Around the sides were the skyline, and some Frank Lloyd Wright house or another, and a depiction of green water spanned by a machine-age era bridge.
Although I’m no big fan of Chicago, the act of wiping my rear with its visage was not intended as a slight. I didn’t set out to choose the city as a target; I wiped with Chicago because I was a kid.
When you’re a kid, you never remember to check for a toilet paper supply; you just “go.” And when you “go” and discover moments later that there is no way to maintain cleanliness for the rest of the school day, you do the only thing that makes sense: remove from your head the souvenir hat your parents brought from a recent vacation and set things straight.
The rational next step–the one involving disposing of said Chicago souvenir–leaves a lot up for debate. Despite being only a kid, you intelligently imagine that flushing it will not work:
Kara: “Uh, excuse me, Mrs. Smith, but I think the Chicago hat I just used to wipe myself may have clogged the toilet.”
Mrs. Smith: “Wait, WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”
Kara: “Um…I clogged the toilet with a souvenir Chicago hat.”
Mrs. Smith: “I can’t believe what I am hearing. You are telling me that you threw a Chicago hat in the toilet?”
Kara: “Um… yes.”
Mrs. Smith: “Well, no recess for you, young lady. Atlanta, I could understand. But CHICAGO?”
You also don’t want to throw it into the trash bin, because everyone in the classroom had already seen you wearing it. What can you do? You are in third or fourth grade, and there’s no way to burn the evidence without setting off the school fire alarms. You figure somehow–God only knows how–that the best plan of action is to walk into a neighboring classroom and shove it into the storage area of some other kid’s desk.
You never consider, until you are grown, the implications of this. You never consider what it would be like to reach into your desk to get a pencil or a ruler or a box of 64 crayons and pull out a Chicago poo hat instead. You never do consider this.
But when you are older, you think about it quite a lot; you wonder who ended up with your DNA. You want to seek out this person, to apologize, to buy them some after-the-fact but well-intentioned hand sanitizer. You feel as an adopted child would while on a quest to find birth parents. You just want to know what they look like, just want to know what they are. You want to know if they accidentally wore the hat before realizing the implications. You want to know what they looked like when they grimaced. You wonder if they were changed at all by the experience. You wonder if they are today going through a divorce.
If the poo hat recipient happens to be reading this, I hope he or she will contact me. We are, after all, like family.
I know most of you have left your own version of excrement in a desk; it’s a rite of passage that we all go through at some point or another. Your hat may have been different. It may have featured a smear of something else, like ketchup, or blood. It may not have even been a hat. It may have been a kerchief, or an old Justice League T-shirt, or even a pair of little undies with a patch of yellow in the front. But we all had a poo hat, somewhere, once.
I know you are now awaiting the great metaphor–or analogy–that seems implicit in what’s written here. You are waiting for me to connect the skid marks, draw lines between the dot-to-dots. You are waiting for me to say that the smelly hat somehow represents our incompetence, or our innocence, or something grand. You are waiting for me to explain that the smelly hat is a microcosm of some larger scheme that we are all trying to grasp.
But no: it’s just a hat.
And honestly, I hope its recipient will someday come forward so I can put to rest this extremely important and unfinished business.
This story was originally printed in Funny Times.
About the Author
Kara Martinez Bachman is author of the women’s humor essay collection, “Kissing the Crisis: Field Notes on Foul-Mouthed Babies, Disenchanted Women and Careening into Middle Age.” Her work has been heard on NPR radio and has appeared in dozens of publications, including The Writer, Funny Times, and the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Find out more by visiting Karamartinezbachman.com or by following her on Twitter: @80sMomKara.