Today marks the one-week anniversary of me nearly shitting myself. It happened at the FedEx Office Print & Ship Center on Astor Place in Manhattan, which I had visited to copy a stack of letters I wrote in 1986. The letters had been sent to a former girlfriend who dumped me and moved to the Midwest to attend college. The text of the letters was highly incriminating. On my walk to the FedEx Office Print & Ship Center, I clutched their bagged bundle with great alertness, as if I possessed the nuclear football. In emotional terms, this collection of letters was a nuclear football. If anyone had found these letters and done anything other than toss them into a burning barrel fire, I would have been in serious trouble. The letters were filled with all sorts of compromising phrases like, "why don't you call me?" and "what have I done wrong?" and "Anthrax is a great band."
So I carefully guarded my copy machine. Included in the cache was a copy of an x-rated Choose Your Own Adventure book I'd drawn up with a pal, which was subsequently discovered by my mom on a copy machine in early '86. That incident had resulted from a lack of copier vigilance. I wouldn't make the same mistake again. These were some of the most sensitive documents I'd ever copied, and I felt an ache of pride that I was, finally, adult enough to trust myself with such an awesome responsibility.
Then my ass failed. Longtime readers of this column will remember my tribute to the human sphincter back in June of 2011. Apparently this praise was premature. After quickly ascertaining that the FedEx Office Print & Ship Center offered no working public facilities, I did the unthinkable: I abandoned my post. I realized I just might be able to make it to the Starbucks next door. During the brief, intense transit between the two businesses, I had twin revelations: 1) I was not going to make it, and 2) I needed to prepare for impact.
My mind turned into a new and terrifyingly bleak Choose Your Own Adventure. Would I hide behind a car? Run? Scream? Embrace the moment and start laughing? This wasn't 1986. In those days, Astor Place was a fine spot to catch a burning barrel fire, or a Puerto Rican cockfight, or to watch Jimmy from the Crumbsuckers curb stomp a police horse. In the 1980s version of Astor Place, one could use any available trash can as their own public toilet without raising any eyebrows. The 2011 version of Astor Place is full of tourists and shoppers and slender socialites. Another fear came to me. Would I be arrested?
Miraculously, I somehow forced a young mother and her child to cede the facilities, retaining my dignity with seconds to spare. But even this happy ending came with a brutal warning. I've retold my triumphant tale many times over the last week, and nearly a dozen friends have later taken me aside and confided the same terrible secret: they'd suffered similar incidents and hadn't been as lucky. My own scenario could easily have gone the wrong way. It still could go the wrong way in the future. And the next time the brown reaper comes for me, I may not have a Starbucks to hide in.
More importantly, what if I'm copying a bundle of incriminating letters from 2011? Will I, at long last, have the resilience to maintain my post, crap myself like a man, and keep right on copying?
Previously: The Entire State of Florida