Karma and the Shame of Conducting Private Business in Public Places

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I spent a good portion of my younger days pondering the central question of life: why am I here? Now in the full glory of post-menopausal wisdom, I can state unequivocally that I have been put on this Earth for two reasons, to humiliate myself and to eat crow. And, impressively enough, I recently accomplished both in one fell swoop.

My tale of karmic payback began some time ago when my mother was entering the twilight of her 96-year-long life. Though my sisters and I were obviously grateful she was still with us, she developed a habit that regularly had us crying out in frustration, “Why didn’t you go before we left home?”

Without fail, the instant we crossed the threshold of any retail establishment, she declared her urgent—and previously nonexistent—need to use the bathroom. And for doing serious business, too; no “piddling” around for her. Her bowels beckoned with such maddening predictability on these excursions that my sisters and I were convinced she was somehow doing it on purpose to drive us crazy, much like her refusing to wear her hearing aids and then accusing us of whispering in front of her.

“Walking into a store is not a documented intestinal trigger!” I vented in exasperation. “It’s not a thing!”

To expedite the bathroom treks, my sisters and I memorized the layout of every nearby mall, shopping center and superstore with the diligence of thieves planning a heist. Even so, my mom could still throw us a curve ball, the most notorious of which became known as the gas station wino incident.

One afternoon an unexpected road closure landed us on a seedy stretch of highway with our gas tank edging close to “E.” We kept our eyes peeled for a gas station among the mostly abandoned, graffiti-splattered buildings, and finally spotted a dilapidated, but open one. My sister pulled into its littered lot. Our plan was to get in and out as fast as possible, pumping just enough gas to make it back to civilization. My mother’s digestive system had other plans.

“I need to go,” she announced decisively, insisting over our loud protestations that this place didn’t look so bad.

There was no reasoning with her, so in a desperate attempt to convince her of the unsuitability of this spot, my sister pulled around to the back of the building. She got out of the car and dramatically pulled open the rusted-through door to Exhibit A, thereby exposing the wretched wasteland of a bathroom, as well as taking the drunken vagrant lying in the middle of it—complete with a bottle in a paper bag—quite by surprise. (Despite his surprise, he was rather cordial, you know, in an E. coli carrier kind of way.)

We high-tailed it out of there and sped off down the highway, with my mother shouting the whole time about how we should have offered him some money to vacate so she could use the facilities. Seriously.

My mother has been gone more than four years now, and it turns out the joke is on me. In addition to some of her lovely qualities, it appears I have also inherited my mother’s unpleasant habit of “retail pooping,” as I’ve indelicately come to call it. And despite what I formerly believed, it actually is a thing, according to Google, at least. And I have it.

Name the store and I’ve probably used their facilities. From Target to Home Depot to El Corte Inglès in Madrid, I have made a beeline for the bathroom within minutes of entering. At first, I tried to pass it off as coincidence and my husband insisted it was psychological, but after the latest incident, I can no longer deny the force at work—it’s karma, all right. Super-sized karma. With fries.

I was on my way home from work last week when I suddenly remembered that I needed candy for an activity the next morning. I’d already passed the supermarket, so rather than backtrack, I decided to make a quick stop at a rather rundown dollar store up ahead. In the sixty seconds it took me to enter and walk to the candy aisle, the store worked its laxative magic on me with a magnitude too great to ignore.

Panicked, I ran to the back, praying a rest room would be there, while also mentally preparing myself for sanitary conditions several notches below a Walmart on Black Friday (which I’d actually once experienced). I whimpered in pain upon seeing the “Out of Order” sign on the women’s room door. Directly across from it was the empty men’s room, and my roiling intestines left me no choice but to duck in there. Fortunately, it was a single, but unfortunately, the lock was broken and the door was too far from the toilet for me to hold it shut with my hand or even foot. So, there I sat, retail pooping in a rundown dollar store men’s room, praying no wino carrying a plate of crow would burst in to complete my humiliation.

They say your poor decisions, such as losing patience with your elderly mother, come back to bite you in the butt. Karma knew just where to find my butt, parked atop a dollar store toilet, and it surely put the bite on me. And I know my mom was laughing about it all the way from heaven.

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About the author ~

Lee Gaitan has worn many hats in her 25 years as a professional communicator, from public relations writer to television host to stand-up comedienne. She is an award-winning author of two previous books, Falling Flesh Just Ahead, and the Amazon #1 bestseller My Pineapples Went to Houston—Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. She has also authored chapters in the bestselling books, The Divinity of Dogs, Feisty After 45 and Angel Bumps as well as the award-winning These Summer Months. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Workshop, The Good Men Project, Mothers Always Write and Bella Grace among others. Lee lives with her husband and dog in suburban Atlanta where she divides her time among speaking, writing, teaching and keeping tabs on her tri-continental family. You can find Lee at leegaitan.com and on Facebook.


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