My father’s timeless advice – “never trust a fart” – is timeless and wise, assuming you think it’s going to be a fart. Alison had me laughing so hard a couple of days ago that she stopped long enough to caution me not to poop my pants. Yes, she’s that funny, and no, her warning was not based on any prior incident … that she knew of. But that’s not to say that it didn’t strike a chord.
When I was a kid, I had a friend named Robbie who lived two doors down from us. He was the oldest of the gaggle of kids that lived down at our end of the street, but only a year older than me, so we hung around and generally pretended we were cooler than my younger siblings and their friends. We also played on the same soccer team, which meant that occasionally his mom or mine would take us to our games together.
One particular Saturday, we were in a hurry to get out to the game and I opted not to hit the bathroom before we went. I didn’t really think ahead — hey, I was eight. So Robbie, his parents, his golden retriever Noah, and I piled into their station wagon and we were off to the game.
Quick side observation. I’m sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t get excited about pooping in airports, restaurants, public places in general. It’s not that I can’t, but I prefer to have a clean and familiar bathroom. Generally, there are tricks that allow you to drop the kids off at the pool at home. You can distract yourself with work or travel, you can psyche yourself out of thinking you have to go, you can eat cheese.
None of that mental discipline availed me 28 years ago because 1) I was eight, 2) my soccer team was excellent, and 3) I played goalie. That basically meant I was standing there in my cleats, kicking at daffodils for four quarters. It started early in the game as a rumbling in my gut which pacing back and forth between the goal posts did nothing to alieve. By halftime, it was clear that I had a problem brewing. The team took a knee to listen to the coach with me standing at the outside of the circle, shifting uncomfortably and trying to focus keeping my buttcheeks clenched. I didn’t see any Porta-Jons and I didn’t have any parents there I could tell about my growing discomfort.
Somehow, I got through the second half of the game, no longer hoping desperately that play would come down to my end of the pitch. When the final whistle blew, though, I started looking to leave. Fast. As I pulled on my sweatpants, Robbie’s mother stood for what seemed like forever, chatting with other parents. Robbie played with his dog, waiting much more patiently. I tried every mental discipline I could come up with, trying to hold in the disaster that threatened my social standing for the rest of my life. In retrospect, I have absolutely no idea how I managed to make it to the car, but eventually we were underway for the 10-minute drive home.
I was a station wagon and those were not the days of drastic parental over-protection, so Robbie and I were sprawled out in the flat area in back. Noah lazed next to us, panting and enjoying the trip. Hell, everyone seemed to be enjoying the trip but me. I think Robbie had scored from the striker position, so he chattered about the game, and his parents rolled along with their Leave-It-to-Beaver, let’s-sing-show-tunes happy faces.
No one shared my sense of impending doom.
When it happened, I was lying as still as I could and sending up to prayers to every god I’d ever heard of and some I’d just invented. The dog noticed it first, a faint sound as things that were supposed to be inside me were suddenly outside me, and he moved his head toward me. I had sweatpants on over my shorts, so the fecal apocalypse in the back of the station wagon wasn’t visibly evident, but I felt the muscles surrender and the weight in my pants. So close to home and safety, I thought.
I must have made some little sob of frustration and horror, because Robbie interrupted his tale of sports glory long enough to look at me and cock his head. All I could do was stare at him; I couldn’t even blink and the explanation I was searching for dried up in my mouth. And then the STENCH hit, blowing out instantly to every corner of the car like an aerosol bug bomb. Life as I knew it had just ended. Everything was over. For the rest of my life, people would know me only as “Loose Stool,” and they would see me and make fart noises with their mouths.
And then the dog lifted his head and rescued me. Robbie looked at him instead.
“NOAH!” he yelled. I’m pretty sure I heard a choir of angels singing as I realized that Robbie thought his dog had farted.
I could see Mr. Ballogg glance in the rearview mirror as we pulled into their driveway. My friend and his parents were disgusted, the dog was confused, and I … I was in the clear. Maybe. There was no way for me to get away clean, but I wasn’t looking for a perfect exit strategy at this point. As soon as one of the parents came around the car and opened the back window, I vaulted the tailgate and was gone.
No one ever said anything to me about any of this, so I’m not sure how low my pants were dragging as I sprinted back to my house or whether anyone was wise to what actually went down in that car. But in the years since, there have been all kinds of reasons I’ve heard or surmised for dogs’ status as Man’s Best Friend. Topping all of them is that they will patiently take the blame, or at least can’t speak up to defend themselves.