My Encounter with a Steamer in the Gene Pool

Sunday evening I jumped off the subway at 8th and Market amid a crush of people. As the crowd hurried and hummed like a swarm toward the exit, I noticed there was an escalator offering a direct route straight up to the street. It was out of commission, which is why I supposed no one was climbing its tall metal steps. But I wasn’t afraid of working harder to get there faster so I swung a left and lumbered upward.

No sooner had I cleared the first couple of steps when some rogue odor punched my nose. It was a stench, really, one that took me back to my 80s upbringing in a trailer park plopped next to the city’s sewage treatment facility. My first 13 years of life, you could say, were spent dealing with others peoples’ shit. But even the air of a million flushes was never offended the senses as completely as this.

Being from Wisconsin, whose place as America’s Dairyland has made Come smell our derriere its informal motto, you might think I’d be used to unpleasant smells. But you no more get used to noxious vapors anymore than you do the freezing cold. Freezing in Wisconsin is the same as freezing in Pennsylvania. And stink is stink, though a sewer has a panache separate from that of a cow pasture. And what I knew was that whatever had forced me to bury my nose in my arm was no cow pie.

The smell thickened as I climbed the broken escalator. It became clear as the upper-level atrium came into view that this was a living room for the homeless. Newspapers were spread like rugs across the maroon tiles. In the corner was a sleeping bag and pillow. A broken exit sign hung above smoky glass doors. To my left was a walkway leading to the elevator and in the corner, near the big silver doors, was man taking a shit. This, despite there being a Burger King with a fully functioning, unlocked bathroom right next door.

I saw him through the corner of my eye, but it didn’t immediately register why he was squatting. So I turned my head and the moment we locked eyes I realized he was dropping a bomb. On the floor next to him was a roll of toilet paper. The only thing missing was a toilet and a place to wash his hands. The shitting man said nothing and I quickly turned away. Holding my breath, I made a fresh retreat onto Market Street.

Philadelphia had never smelled so good.

1 Comment

  1. Josh says:

    lol  good morning!

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