Strange things sometimes happen to me, and my mother recently reminded me of where this particular curse-blessing (a curse because they often suck, but a blessing because then I can write about them) may have originated.
My mom is currently teaching a seminar on bathrooms. You did not read that wrong. My mom, a respected scholar in her field, is teaching a class on bathrooms at the liberal arts college where she works (I mean, how has this not been on “Hannity” yet?). I assume next semester, she’ll lecture on Sour Patch Kids or wainscoting.
However, while we were discussing the social, sexual, economic, and racial history of bathrooms, she reminded me of this story: when I was nine-years-old I had to be rescued from a bathroom.
My family and I used to go to this pizza place called Frankie’s in Howard, Ohio, which was on the ass-end of Knox County. To give you an idea of how out in the middle of nowhere this pizza place was, we had to drive fifteen to twenty minutes from our part of the middle of nowhere to this other part of the middle of nowhere just to get pizza. To be fair, it was the best pizza in Knox County, and nine-year-old Steve Markley basically requested it for dinner every night of the week.
Anyway, on this one occasion we went out to Frankie’s for a summer dinner. I’m sure I was wearing purple Umbro soccer shorts and whatever YMCA basketball shirt I’d procured the previous season, and I’m sure I ordered pepperoni pizza and a large soft drink, which I brewed into a “suicide.” (A “suicide” was when you went to the self-serve pop machine and combined Dr. Pepper, Mt. Dew, Pepsi, and Sprite into one delicious sugar-gorged concoction; my friends and I clearly did not understand the connotations of calling it a “suicide.”)
Then I went to the bathroom to pee before the food arrived. The bathroom at Frankie’s was one of these unisex, one toilet, one sink jobs that could only be occupied by one person at a time. Because I didn’t want any pervs—or worse, girls my age—walking in and seeing my yet-to-be-impressive genitalia, I obviously locked the door. Upon finishing up and not washing my hands (nine-year-old boys wash their hands once a year), I went to open the door back up. When I turned the knob, I felt something in the knob pop, and then it just turned freely without opening the door.
Being the resourceful nine-year-old boy I was, I decided to go pee again. This, I’m sure, was influenced by a certain “video game logic” in which I just went and repeated my steps and hoped the result turned out differently. Plus, I’d sucked down half a suicide so I had to go anyway. After not washing my hands again, I tried the knob, but still it just turned without actually pulling back the latch.
Luckily, there was some guy on the other side of the door who was trying to pee (or just a perv listening to me pee).
“Hey, I can’t open this,” I told him.
“Let me try,” he said, and the knob turned but with the same limp effect.
“Did you unlock it?” he asked.
Yeah man, I thought. That did occur to me. I mean, I’m in fourth grade, not second.
Then he told me to sit tight while he went and found someone. Long story short, the next hour-and-a-half was like some shitty avant garde movie where the entire story takes place with one person in an 8x10 bathroom. I heard some pounding, some weird noises, a bunch of talking, and every once in a while an adult reassuring me that they’d get me out of there.
Right, I thought. I assumed that was the idea.
The door to this bathroom in Frankie’s Pizza, it turned out, was apparently the same one they were using to keep the velociraptors in their pens in Jurassic Park, and they had to call the fire department—the motherloving fire department with like the jaws of life or some shit—to get me out of that bathroom.
When the door finally popped open, everyone in the restaurant applauded and patted me on the back like a hero.
One of the (at least) three fireman sent to this emergency tussled my hair. “Least you if you had to go to the bathroom, you were in the right place,” he said.
“I just had to take a whiz!” said the mustachioed trucker’s hat guy who’d been on the other side of the door. He then bolted into the bathroom.
Frankie’s gave us a free pizza, and the entire incident faded from my memory in short time after I milked it for a few show-and-tell sessions at my elementary school, exaggerating the length of my entombment in the bathroom by many, many hours. Over the ensuing years, the incident completely disappeared from my memory, and when my mom brought it up, I had to go digging to unearth all the details. It definitely loomed larger in my mom’s mind than in mine, but that makes sense. I remember when I got out of that bathroom, she hugged me and had tears in her eyes.
“I just couldn’t hear you, and I didn’t know if you were scared,” she said, just another testament—among evolutionary history’s countless examples—to the fierceness of moms, who will murder everyone in a pizza joint and claw apart the door like a velociraptor if it means protecting their cub velociraptors.
Jeez, Mom, I thought. I was just locked in the bathroom. I’m not a total pussy.
Then I dug into our free pizza with the hands I still hadn’t bothered to wash.