Saturday, January 24, 2009


I was thinking of Invisible Man by Ralph Elison this morning as I was waking up, about the time I was reading it, sitting outside a Starbucks when a stranger asked if he could sit at the table with me. I obliged. He asked me if my book was about the television show, or the movie. I politely smiled and described the plot of the novel. He wasn't too interested in that, but began relating pieces of his life. He was once a carpenter and had lived in a Christian commune some twenty or thirty years ago. He had a belly on him, had a grey beard, wore a sailor's cap. It was crisp Autumn weather--chilly, but comfortable enough to wile away the time outside. I could tell this guy was a recovering alcoholic by his demeanor, his desperate humility, and not too far into the conversation he hinted directly that he still battled to avoid the bottle. I liked him. I like all suffering, desperate fools for I am one. 

Toward the end of our conversation, I felt a little splatter on my shoulder. My new friend laughed and said, "You've just been crapped on!" I examined the white streak on my shoulder, then looked up at the sparrow's butt hanging off the eaves overhead. Seeing my disgust, the alcoholic said, "That's good luck, you know. To be crapped on." 

"Oh, really?" I asked. 

"Yeah, I get crapped on all the time." 

Well, I could see it was working wonders for him. I gathered he hadn't held down a real job in years, was shuffled from friend's house to relative's house, was barely holding on. 

Weeks later, I was standing outside work while a coworker smoked a cigarette and we talked about women and cars. It was quitting time. I felt a huge plop on my hatless head. I looked up. Perched on a metal rafter, I met a pigeon's butt eye-to-eye. We're talking a huge bird turd, not a tiny splat. I said to my coworker, "I've been shit on!" I cupped the area of my hair to keep the rotten mass from shifting as I ran into the office bathroom. Can't tell you how many times I rinsed my hair with hand soap. After the shock subsided, I laughed maniacally. Suddenly I had all the good luck in the world. 

Milan Kundera, in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, waxes briefly on the theological dimension of poo. This is from the translation by Michael Henry Heim: 

Shit is a more onerous theological problem than is evil. Since God gave man freedom, we can, if need be, accept the idea that He is not responsible for man's crimes. The responsibility for shit, however, rests entirely with Him, the Creator of man.

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