Many years ago, when I was in high school, I worked at a movie theater. Allow me to preface the story by saying that I pride myself on my ability to accomplish tasks that I find unpleasant. My parents own several section 8 rental properties around Youngstown, and I had been roped into innumerable “This house is a mess, we’re not paying anyone to clean it, we feed you, here’s a bucket, get started” adventures in my short life. I had dealt with festering diapers left in the open air for months in summer, rotten food, spoiled milk, animal corpses, used hypodermics, anything you could imagine. Cleaning the grease trap in the concession area did not phase me. I was woefully unprepared this day.
I arrived in my polo shirt and slacks through the lobby entrance as some of the theaters were letting out. I could tell immediately something was amiss. One of the managers had put the caution tape we normally used to mark defective chairs over the door to the women’s restroom, and was standing in front of the door looking worried. When a patron would try to enter, the manager would stop them, nod apologetically, make a brief “mia culpa” gesture with her hands, and usher them away. When she saw that I had arrived, her eyes immediately brightened and she waved emphatically for me to come over.
“Jenkins,” she said, “You want to do something for me? There’s gas cards in it for you.”
This should have been my tip off. Gas cards were highly prized commodities in the theater, being given only for the most exemplary service. To receive multiple gas cards was unheard of.
“How many gas cards?” I asked.
“What do you want me to do?”
“There’s a mess in the first stall. I want you to clean it up.”
“Sure, no problem,” said 17 year old me, ready to earn the easiest 30 bucks in gas cards of my life. I was naive, and did not expect the horrors that awaited me.
I was allowed entry into the women’s restroom, and the first thing I noticed was the smell. It was the foulest thing I have ever smelled to this day. Imagine that a dozen homeless people are filming a scat porrn with a dead dolphin inside a sweat lodge inside a paper mill next to the Jersey River in August. That pales in comparison to the unholy aroma permeating the room; its soft pink tiles ironic in the face of such an insidious odor.
After leaving the room to get a lungful of fresh air, I held my breath and proceeded to open the stall door there. What I was to bear witness to was a travesty. What had been done to that stall could not have been done by any creature, human or animal, but rather some breed of deranged shit demon conjured from the 8th circle of hell for the sole purpose of wreaking psychopathic excrement torture on the souls of the living.
Before me sat what I would estimate to be about two gallons of sludge-like human waste, coating the area immediately surrounding the toilet as if it had been somehow weaponized. It had caked the toilet, formed a 3 foot halo around the toilet, splattered and stuck to the back wall, caked itself onto the toilet paper dispenser, seeped into the little bin used for sanitary napkin disposal, and caked itself in a Pollock-esque pattern on the stall doors. Amongst the refuse, draped over the toilet’s handle and pump was a medium-sized woman’s cardigan that had originally been white, but appeared to have been subjected to a profane fecal tie-dye. To imagine this volume of crap being expelled from a living thing’s anus in such volume and with such velocity as to form the specific pattern of disaster in front of me was to break the natural and physical laws of the universe. To look into that first stall was to look upon the face of God, and know with certainty that he is an angry and terrible God. Beware ye who would fight monsters, for when one stares into the shit abyss, the shit abyss stares back.
I left the restroom to prepare for my struggle against the cesspool. I donned gauntlets of nitrile, blue and sterile as the cleanest lagoon. From a hefty bag, I fashioned a hauberk and adorned my shoes and shins with packaging from frozen pretzels, held securely in place with rubber bands. I gathered 8 rolls of paper towels, three additional hefty bags, a mop and two extra mop heads, a bucket, and two gallons of green, undiluted industrial strength disinfectant. To finish my raiment, I stole the face mask from the blood born pathogen kit and doused it in industrial air freshener so that I could smell pine groves clearly when it was extended to arms length.
The battle began and raged for two hours that passed in a blur. I lost all sense of time. I forgot my hopes and dreams. I forgot my name. In retrospect, this may have been because I had doused a face mask in aerosol air freshener and was higher than an entire Phish concert. I scrubbed. I worked. I cursed. The battle raged on, and new enemies were discovered. In addition to the cardigan, there was a pair of formerly pink ankle socks. Anything that was not held in place by bolts or mortar had to be removed and destroyed.
In the end, I was victorious. I lost a lot of good men. The mop and mop bucket died valiantly in the effort, and were given a burial with full honors in the dumpster behind the theater. Because they were not proud men, and the general manager had a fragile temperament, whenever she inquired about them afterwards I maintained that they were lost. They would have wanted it that way.
I went on to leave the theater for college later that year, but the employees still talk of it to this day. I am the shit-slayer.