Monday, February 28, 2011

Port-a-Potty Fiction - Part 6

Reggie Custos and I struck a pretty straightforward deal. He'd approve my access to the Teleport-a-Potty system if I'd keep my mouth shut about it.  He deleted the Gotta Pee Map App from my phone and found the original source on the internet. He'd be dealing with that end of things immediately, he told me. Mr. Custos also made me sign a form declaring that I would expunge the application software from all other personal electronic devices or risk losing my rights and privileges to free use of the system. On condition that I read Personal Safety and Responsibility during Transport-a-Potty Travel cover-to-cover and complete the Self-Test in the back, Reggie provided me with the Bainvoige proprietary TP Ware (short for Teleport-a-Potty Software) and my own passcode for access.  I also promised not to transport via potty until I'd been through the tutorial.  Mr. Custos said the risks were too great that I'd end up at inappropriate or challenging locations this early in my travel career. I looked longingly at the plastic door of the port-a-john as I walked to my car. It seemed such a shame not to just teleport to the end of my street like I'd done earlier that day.

When I arrived home, I grabbed a bag of potato chips, a beer from the fridge and scooped the safety manual off the floor.  I flopped sideways into my over-stuffed chair and swung my legs over the arm.  A shiny but slightly yellowed rectangular pamphlet slipped from the safety booklet and landed on the floor. I started to feel a little nervous about the technology that had de- and re-materialized me when I saw this photo staring at me from the cover:

What else could I do? I ripped open the bag of chips with my teeth, drank a big slug of cold beer and dove into the pamphlet for some learnin'.

Teletrip TL-1440 Personal Teletransporter Owner's Manual. (click me, Dear Reader...)

Special thanks to Joey, the first ever Cozy Toes guest-contributor,
for creating and sharing the TL-1440 technical document. 
And to Chip for building weird electrical things.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Port-a-Potty Fiction - Part 5

"Is that what you call it? The System? Like it's some kind of low budget Sci-Fi movie?" I asked.

"Well, it doesn't actually have an official name, yet. 'The system' isn't in caps like you're imagining. It got kind of tedious to say, "the portapotty teleportation system" all the time. So, you know how it is, people in a hurry, stuff gets shortened. We've been looking....".

I waved my hands in front of my face and shook my head. This was not what I came to talk about. "Fine, okay. No capitals on 'the system', duly noted. I just want to know what happened to me on Wednesday."

"Simple. You teleported. Via portapotty. As far as I know, everyone who utilizes the system completed a safety training course and then obtained a personal passcode to use in conjunction with a smartphone app. So, without that stuff, I don't actually know how you did it. By the way, I wrote the manual for the safety course:  Personal Safety and Responsibility during Transport-a-Potty Travel."  Reggie arched a hand in front of his face, proudly imagining the title spread across the air in front of his eyes.   "Of course, no one - at least, no one I know - really understands why it works, just that it does and that they can use it. When folks get to talking about what makes the system work, fights generally break out. One side demands that it's god. The other side yells back, 'Quantum Theory!'.  Of course, neither side really has a clue what its talking about. Just throwing fancy words around to sound knowledgeable. Their arguing also helps to cement their delusions that they know what's in control of it all. Makes them more comfortable about using the system."

"Can I have a copy of that manual?" I felt like I'd never get any real answers from the philosophizing foreman.

He handed me the thin, spiral-bound safety manual. "So, Eve, tell me. How did it work for you? How'd you access the system? Did you get the app somehow and a passcode too? It just doesn't make sense otherwise."

As quickly as I could, I summarized what I'd seen out my office window and how, on Wednesday, I'd stepped into the john near the trailer to see if I could figure things out. No special Smartphone application involved, no passcode. Mr. Custos wanted to look at my phone anyway. I pulled it from my pocket and tossed it to him.  He fished around for a few minutes and then suddenly he did a little jig in front of his desk and shook his head in disbelief, "Well, I'll be damned. This must be it. This must have been your way in." He launched the culprit application and handed the phone back to me. It was set to something my friend had downloaded onto my phone a month or so ago.

 "Gotta Pee Map App".   "Active". 

We thought it was a joke - that it didn't really do anything. We had configured it to be always on,  pretending that it might tell us the location of the nearest available toilet when we were in dire need.  But we'd never actually tried to use it.  I hit the "start" icon.  A map screen loaded and flashing port-a-potty icons lit up.  A green push-pin marked the john next to the trailer.  Several of the other port-a-potty icons on the screen were marked with red push-pins and others were just grayed-out johns that must have been inaccessible for some reason.

"This is crazy." I whispered. I moved the map around with my finger. It contained all the roads I travel on regularly in my town. When I zoomed the map out, I could see flashing potty icons all up and down I-91 in Vermont, over on I-95 in Maine and all along the NYS Thruway. All the places I regularly travel had lit-up port-a-potty icons. I zoomed-out even further and saw a handful of activated potties and hundreds that were inactive, grayed-out. They waited expectantly on the West Coast, in Hawaii, in France, South America, everywhere.

I zoomed-in  again to the town view. The port-a-potty at the end of  my street, where Bainvoige Construction Corp had been working on a demolition project, flashed green. Before Mr. Custos could stop me, I jumped from my seat and bolted out the door. I ran into the john where this all started. With a shaking finger I tapped the flashing icon located on my street, waited while the request processed and then stepped back out. There I stood at one end of the street, my house at the other. I ran the quarter mile to it, just to make sure it was real enough. I looked in my mailbox - there was my credit card bill ready to go out. I ran up the steps and in through the front door. The smell of maple syrup and sausage lingered from my breakfast.  I stood for a few moments in complete silence. I dropped the teleporting safety manual, which was stuffed under my armpit, onto the floor. Then I turned back out the door and ran down the block, back into the john. Out-of breath and shaking, it took me a moment to successfully tap the flashing green push-pin on the map next to the foreman's trailer. Request processing... Request complete. 

I opened the port-a-potty door, leaped out and plowed into the chest of Mr. Custos.

"Well, I'll be dipped in shit!" he said quietly. "We've got a leak in the system."  He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back into the trailer. "Now then, Eve Stigatus, we can't be having two system apps floating around out there. That'll just muck things all up. We're gonna have to shut you down." He tried to grab my phone from me but I jerked it away just in time.

"Uhn-uhn. No way you're gonna take this away from me now. We make some kind of deal or else I start talking to the public. I can prove it works and I'll expose what's going on here. I've got this application in other places - this is the 21st century, Reggie,  there's never just one copy. So even if you take this phone, I can still make the system work for me." I squirmed out of his grip and stood my ground.

Mr. Custos knew the truth in my words. Any private control over the system would be gone if I went public and so we made a deal.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Port-a-Potty Fiction - Part 4

From my cowering vantage point on the plastic toilet bench the foreman's frame filled the entire doorway. His hand came forward and grabbed a chunk of my wool coat and scarf. He twisted it tightly against my sternum and lifted me to an upright position. My feet were off the floor; my face just inches from his. I smelled the tuna salad he ate for lunch and salt and vinegar potato chip fumes drifted up from his fingers just below my chin.

"How the HELL did you get in here?" he pushed through clenched teeth. I opened and closed my mouth several times but nothing came out. My chin quivered and my breathing came high and fast in my chest. I hyperventilated my way into a convenient faint and out of answering that question for the moment.

When I came to I was stretched out on a duct-taped vinyl bench seat with Ford logos on it. The vehicle didn't seem to be moving. Then I noticed that there were no doors and no windows, nothing car-like at all.  I sat up slowly and found myself inside the foreman's trailer - safety yellow headquarters. Five men stood with arms crossed, blocking the door, as if there were a risk I might have energy enough to bust through the door at any moment. The clock above their heads said 7:45. The whole fiasco took only 15 minutes.

"Okay, now, tell us. How the hell did you get to the Bainvoige Transportapotty central station?" the Foreman asked.

"What do you mean, 'how'? You know damn well how, I'm the one who doesn't understand! All day yesterday I watched your men going in and never coming out! I just did what they did!" I accusingly flung my hands toward the men standing in front of me as if casting a spell on them. "I walked into that portable toilet out there and next thing I know, I'm stepping out of a different john that's strapped into the bed of a pickup and then I'm in some giant parking lot of port-a-potties before being whisked back here somehow. Now, how 'bout you tell me what the hell is going on here?" They looked at each other but their expressions gave away nothing.

"It's not for you to know about. You work at the clinic, right? You're the shrink who does the stuff with dreams, right? Well, you're gonna pretend this was some crazy-ass dream and you're gonna walk out of here in the middle of all of us so no one sees you leave this trailer. And you're gonna go to work, and you're gonna forget about this. Got it?"  He pulled me to my feet.

"I'm not sure I can do that." I said as safety yellow surrounded me. The trailer door opened and I was squeezed unwillingly out the door.  They ushered me right into my building and deposited me at my office door as they kept moving down the hall and then up the stairs to the second floor. Once inside my office, I immediately rang my secretary, told her I'd made a terrible mistake coming to work today and that I'd be going home right away so as not to get stomach flu germs around the office. I made a slight retching sound, dropped the phone clumsily into its cradle and hurried to the bathroom to complete my performance. She canceled my patients for that day and the next.

Which brings me to Saturday. I returned to the clinic campus with the thought that I might poke around a little more without interruption. I wasn't sure I wanted a repeat performance of Wednesday's unexpected travel, but I felt like there was something I could discover. To my surprise, the light was on in the foreman's trailer. I thought I'd try again to get an explanation. Maybe he'd be in a different mood today, willing to talk, explain what had happened. I walked up the metal steps, took a deep breath and just as I reached up to knock on the door, it opened. The foreman let out a strangled sound of surprise and just stood, staring for a moment.

"I need some answers."  I said. "Please."

He sighed deeply, ran his hand through his gray hair, stepped to the side and granted me entrance.

He took my hand when I offered it. "I'm Eve. Eve Stigatus." We shook on it.

"Mr. Custos, the Foreman. First name's Reggie ." He gestured toward the Ford bench seat so I sat.  He perched on the edge of his desk, just looking at me.

"I don't want to cause trouble Mr. Custos. I just need an explanation."  I said.

"I'm sure you do. But we need an explanation, too. What happened on Wednesday was highly irregular. Everyone in the company is up-in-arms about it. No one outside the company has ever been able to pottyport like that before. Plenty of ordinary folk have used our johns with no ill effects. I don't understand why you were able to access The System."

"The System?"

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Port-a-Potty Fiction - Part 3

"....ood morning! Well, it's a frosty start to the day! This morning's temperatures ranged from 3 degrees down in Brattleboro to minus 17 up in Newport. Thanks for all the calls from around the state. Today's high won't get much above 15 degr..."  

Like a swimmer doing the backstroke in her sleep, my left arm emerged from a warm ocean of down. It swung up and back over my shoulder, landing expertly on the SNOOZ bar before returning, by a slightly less arching path, back into the warm, sleepy ocean. I barely even felt myself executing the motions. I snuggled deeper into my pillow, but then....

...shit! My eyes flew open. My plan! I threw back the covers, hurried to the bathroom, showered, dressed, forgot to eat and was out the door in 15 minutes. The humidity lingering under my eyebrows froze on my way to the car. Two days later I'd be back in my house and panicked for a moment to hear voices coming from my bedroom - just an expired SNOOZ sounding off to wake an absent snoozer.

The note I'd scribbled after witnessing the port-a-potty fiasco the day before, flapped in the currents of cold air blowing from the heat vents.  It's what I do when I'm overwhelmed or nervous, I make lists.
 I rolled through all the stop signs and sped to the other side of town. I stomped too fast and hard on the brake when I realized I that 55 in the school zone might be a problem. "Jeezus...take it easy 007." 

7:30am - I arrived at work a half-hour early. Step one of  my plan accomplished. I resisted the urge to pull out a pen and cross it off my list.  I parked in my usual spot next to the dumpster and looked around to see who might be lurking about. I didn't want anyone to see me sniffing around the Bainvoige Construction Corp's port-a-potty. I mean, really, what business could I possibly have in that little plastic loo? I saw the lights on in the maintenance garage and a few cars over by the admin building. No motion anywhere except for chimney smoke blowing away in the wind. The foreman's trailer sat thirty feet or so to the right of the john but I'd be coming in from the left.

I got out of my car and followed a dirty, boot-hardened path to my destination. The snow screaked under my boots and the wind unwound my scarf so that I had to make a lunge to grab it as it blew off my neck. And then there I stood, at my goal. Clouds of condensing breath obscured the molded plastic door.  I moved closer and reached out to test the handle, but stopped short. Through my puffs of breath I made out a small crescent with the word "occupied" in red. What? Who'd be in there now? I hadn't seen anyone around. I took a quiet step forward, held my breath and pressed my wool-covered ear to the door. Nothing. The smell of piss, fermenting shit and chemical deodorizer wafted from the louvered vents near the top. I swallowed hard and removed my mitten.

knock, knock, knock   Nothing. So I knocked again. A little louder in case he couldn't hear me. Like the Love Shack, I thought. I involuntarily shivered at this mental reference in combination with the smells hitting my nose. Just then, a ssclick! and the crescent window turned "vacant" green. I stared in disbelief. Maybe the flimsy locking mechanism had gotten jostled around and my knocking jostled it back. Maybe the little wheel that says, "Vacant" "Occupied" is loose. Maybe.... Maybe... maybe I'm crazy.

At this point I had two options.  Option one, retreat and learn nothing or option two, enter, just like I'd watched the workers do yesterday, and find out what the hell was going on. I  checked my six and pulled the door open. I half expected to see a pair of Carhartt's bunched up around work boots, naked knees and a newspaper opened to the sports section. But no, nothing. I stepped into the empty space. I don't know what I'd hoped might happen, but I admit disappointment when nothing did. Lumps of wet toilet paper clung to the corners. Dried trails of hand sanitizer oozed down the wall beneath the Purell dispenser. A partially dissolved cake of disinfectant sat in the plastic urinal to my left and, of course, the throne's main seat was in it's 'up' position. I laughed a little to myself, mocking my over-active imagination and feeling the adrenaline's effects in my body. Just for the hell of it, I lowered the seat.

Footsteps!  Headed right toward the door of the john. I'd have to step out right into someone's view.  How would I explain myself? Closer and closer the steps got. The worker's hand must've been on the door ready to open it and enter. No escape!

"Wait, wait! Someone's in here! Don't come in!" I shouted and bombed right out the door, not caring that I'd smash squarely into the man hoping to enter.

I careened down onto my knees, rolled sideways and crashed into some sort of low metal wall. My stomach looped around inside my body and my eyes lost focus with vertigo. Exhaust fumes floated in the cold air and I heard sounds of a transmission shifting through its first three gears. Without warning my body lurched to a stop against the place from which I'd just stepped. I scrambled to my knees, heaving in huge gulps of air. Nothing made sense. I could barely tell up from down, right from left. The back of my throat tingled. My body filled with the nonsensical heavy-weightlessness you experience just before you vomit or faint.

A parking brake ratcheted into activation, a door opened and closed, footsteps headed my way for the second time in what seemed like mere seconds. I turned around to look behind me and there, strapped tightly to the bed of the pickup I seemed to be riding in, loomed a Bainvoige Construction Corp. port-a-potty. I ripped the door open, fell inside on my knees and vomited into the gaping, black hole. Thankfully the seat stood in it's upright postition. The smell of blue chemicals and bile from my empty stomach permeated the small space.

"What in Sam Hill's goin' on back here? Who's there? Come on outta there."  A hand banged on the side of the john. The plastic urinal rattled against the wall. I threw up again. The man outside kept banging and hollering. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, found my hat on the floor and pulled it back onto my head. I sat, shaking and sweating, on the nubbled floor. Maybe this man would know something; maybe he could help me.

On shaky legs I stood and said in a weak voice, "Okay, okay..I'm coming out. It's okay. My name's Eve. Eve Stigatus. I'm a therapist at the Center. I don't know how I got here. I need your help. Don't hurt me."  I pushed through the door and stepped out slowly, carefully with just one foot, testing the waters.

"No! No! What the hell is going on!" I screamed. Row upon row, to the left, to the right, in front of me and behind me - all I could see were Bainvoige Construction Corp. forest green port-a-johns. I stumbled back into the john, let the door slam closed and locked it. I dropped the toilet lid down to make a seat for myself. I hung my head into my hands to cry but decided to scream instead.

"Helllllp! Help meee! Someone! Helllllp!" I yelled until my throat was raw and then I started to cry. Hours passed. At some point I fell asleep and dreamed of swimming through molasses while holding my cat above my head to save us both from a rampaging black bear.

*knock knock knock. KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*  "Hey in there. Hello? Open up! It's okay. You're alright, just unlock the door so I can come in to you. Don't try to come out here. Stay put! Okay?" I recognized the voice of foreman from the construction site back at the Center.

 I stayed put on the toilet and kicked the oversize plastic lock to the open position. I wanted to be as far from that door as possible when it opened.  The Bainvoige foreman, covered head to toe in safety yellow, stepped inside.

not the end yet...

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Port-a-Potty Fiction Part 2

That all happened on a Monday. Tuesday I became a dedicated Port-a-potty stalker.  I sleuthed from my office window, waiting for that one particular worker to appear on stage for a repeat performance.  The first part of the morning brought no sightings; the port-a-potty stood a silent, unvisited sentinel while the workers crashed and cursed on the floor above me.  My therapy patients kept me busy but bored, pulling out their tedious dreams of the night before, like loose baby teeth. My plan was to have my patients spend most of the 45 minute sessions creatively exorcising their demons and disappointments with paint, markers, clay and drums. If they didn't want to do that I'd ask them to quietly rake designs in the miniature Zen Garden on the coffee table to create “space and permission to just “be”.  This removed me almost entirely from active participation in the sessions. I could watch out the window uninterrupted.

Ten minutes before lunch and finally, jackpot! Or should I say jack-potty? My subject arrived on the scene, looked around quickly and stepped through the portable bathroom door. Just like yesterday, he had one arm out of his jacket before the door fully closed. I looked at my watch and started timing. Five minutes later, I hadn’t taken my eyes off the door.  No exit.  Almost lunch time and another worker appeared on the scene—hard hat in hand, safety yellow coat thrown over his shoulder, heading toward the port-a-john.  The shout rose in my throat, I raised my hand up to the glass ready to bang and say, “No! You can’t! Someone’s in there!” I steadied myself. He hooked his work-worn hand around the door handle, looked over each shoulder quickly and pulled the door open. There would be an altercation! Embarrassment! Yelling! I stood on my tiptoes and craned my neck as if that would help me see around the man’s frame, into the dimness of the port-a-john. I saw just enough to realize that the plastic throne stood open and unoccupied, Worker One no longer existed in that space.  Worker number two stepped inside and let the door bang shut behind him. I gawked in disbelief.

“Dr. Stigatus? Eve? Hellooo? Did you hear what I said, what I just told you?”  My patient's voice cut through my shock. I’d forgotten I was still working.

I could feel my face flush and my voice catch in my throat as I scrambled to answer her. She held a wad of tissues clenched in her fist and waited with huge, wet eyes for what I might offer.  

“Mary, it took a lot of courage to say that. Just to let it out into the open like that. I feel a real shift in the paradigm we’re dealing with here. This week, I’d like you to pay particular attention to any wild animals that appear in your dreams. I can see it in your eyes, it's all going to be different now.” I spoke as fast as I could and moved toward the door to usher her out.  She jumped up from the couch and violently hugged me, clamping my arms to the sides of my body. 

“Thanks, Dr. Stigatus.  This was the best session I’ve ever had with you."  To this day I have no idea what she confided or confessed. I pushed her gently out of the office, dropped the shade on my door and locked myself in. I ran back to the window. 

You couldn't really say that a line formed outside the port-a-john, but every 50 seconds or so a worker would saunter up, glance around quickly and slip inside. If you weren't paying close attention nothing seemed out of place. But I was paying very close attention. 

No one ever seemed to come back out. No one ever seemed to walk in on anyone else. No one saw me watching.  No one knew I already had a plan.

stay tuned....

Port-a-Potty Fiction - Part 1

The building's original windows, 5 feet tall and single-paned, let in long parallelograms of weak winter light and enough draft to gently ruffle loose papers on the counter below. Coffin-sized chunks of snow and ice dumped in quick succession from the slate roof four stories above me. On impact, the old brick building trembled and I cowered, both of us almost imperceptibly.  I pushed back from my desk, away from the Mandatory Annual Self-Assessment Survey for Rating Personal Performance and went to the window. The view couldn't be beat, best thing about my job, really - an expansive open hillside flanked by hardwoods sloping steadily upward to a pine forest at the very top. It was verdant in Spring, beckoning in Summer, a riot of color in Fall and marshmallow-y with snow in the Winter.

For two months Bainvoige Construction Corp. had been spoiling the view with their chain link fencing, foreman's trailer, dumpsters and Port-a-Johns.  It makes sense really, where else would all those workers go to take a leak or a dump in the middle of a shift? I started noticing them all over the place actually.  I guess I've just been more aware, like when you get a new car of a certain color and you feel like suddenly you're seeing your model car in your color everywhere you turn.

I stood at the window wondering if I should rate myself a 1, or perhaps a 2, out of 5, (with 5 standing in for "Always") in response to "follows office dress code".  I looked down at my scuffed hiking boots, corduroy pants and flannel shirt and decided that since nothing had holes, I should go with 2. I sighed, slumped against the cold window and looked out at the mess of the construction zone. A guy in Safety Yellow clothes with reflective tape on every limb (making him impossible to miss and therefore hopefully less likely to become a worker's compensation case) stepped up into the port-a-john. He was taking off his heavy yellow coat before the spring-hinge had time to close the door. So, I looked away. Do safety work clothes get in the way of male urination? I didn't have a clue; it wasn't something I'd ever wondered about before. It puzzled me.

 Up the hill, some kids from the school were sledding as part of gym class. A woman parked her Subaru, let a shaggy dog out of the back, strapped on some snow shoes and they romped up the hill together throwing snow in all directions. I think a minute or two might have passed when I realized that I hadn't seen the worker exit from the port-a-john. I smirked a little and thought of various sophomoric comments about what might be taking him so long. I watched the door intently for another 15 minutes before my secretary buzzed in over the intercom to let me know the big guns were waiting for my MASASRPP form. Payroll wouldn't be able to process my check this week until they'd gotten word from HR that it was satisfactorily completed. I told my secretary, thanks, returned to my desk and quickly circled 4's and 5's for everything on the page, including the statements about appropriate clothing and effective time management skills.

I spent much of that afternoon wondering if I had missed the worker coming out somehow. Or maybe he was avoiding his boss and stayed in for longer than I'd been able to stand there watching, waiting. But did he really need to take off his jacket? Something felt strange about it all. The light finally faded completely from the sky, my clock hit 5:00pm and for the first time in 10 years I couldn't wait to come to work the next day. I had something to do.

To be continued...