Last week, the bathroom became my home within my home.
It was the only place that gave me comfort, because I know nothing bad can ever happen there...unless you're Elvis.
When I was away from home, it had to be close by - like, four walking steps, if possible. Everybody knows that getting the runs is a bitch; but it's even worse when there's no place to sit (and with nothing underneath, of course).
Being far away from a bathroom, however, can be a tragedy or comedy, depending on your perspective. Just picture the typical bad teenager movie from the 1980s with some member of the brat pack holding his pants, ready to let it fly after drinking half a keg of beer.
But for someone with IBS and a history of eating disorders, getting the runs can feel like the start of World War III, and the bathroom more closely resembles a fallout shelter.
I'm recovering from what was perhaps the worst stomach virus of my life.....or, so I think it was. It coincided with the salmonella scare, which appears to have people who are both sick and not sick on edge.
Everyone from Lou Dobbs to your mother is demanding an investigation. Tomatoes are sitting on supermarket shelves, rotting away.
I was convinced I had it, of course, because that's what I always do -- make a leap to the worst case scenario.
It reminded me of the Anthrax scare of 2001, when everybody in the New York metropolitan area was convinced that killer white powder would pop out of their mail the minute they opened it.
Now that I feel like I've recovered, I think about the last two weeks and I realize just how paranoid we've all become. In these days of uber-media hype, everybody is worried that something's going to pop behind that tree or wall and hurt them. It seems that, since the terrorist attacks of 2001, very few people have found a consistent way to relax.
Now that the media has found a new fear to hype, I was right there with them, feeding - so to speak -- the frenzy.
I wish I could find a way to relax. But any number of conspiracy theories popped in my mind.
See, I'm a lover of tomatoes, and with hundreds of people getting sick from salmonella tomatoes, it just seemed so obvious to me (and paranoid to others, I suppose).
I started to bug people who were going through the same thing (and there were a lot, coincidently) as well as those who weren't.
I started to worry that my summer was going to be dominated by food poisoning that can run for weeks, even months. I started to think about my graduate studies, how I'm trying to put together the ultimate New York-area transportation site (NJ Commute, New York City Commute or New Jersey Commute) and how hard it is to be a good father on top of all that...especially when a bathroom won't always be just steps away.
At my Rutgers part-time teaching job, I felt the urge one morning and made a bee-line for the potty right while I was giving a final exam to my students. I was stopped by another professor, Steve Miller, and immediately dumped my troubles on him (because when you have OCD, anybody and everybody becomes your psychologist).
Unfortunately, he was living and breathing human being with a brain, and he was within my path to the bathroom, so he had to hear my tales of woe.
When he saw my stressed-out, mushy-face look, he knew right away what was going on.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"What the hell is this?" I asked him. "Why won't it go away?"
"I know -- I have a little of the same thing."
"Do you think it's salmonella?" I asked.
I know Steve, and I know he doesn't take his life so seriously. He'll interrupt me in the middle of a class to talk about a Mets game or a M*A*S*H repeat he saw the other night.
Still, I was naive enough to hope that he had some pearl of wisdom that would put my mind at ease. Maybe he would be able to diagnose me right there. Maybe he even had a cure! (yes, again, you think these things).
"You mean Sam and Ella?" he said. "No, I haven't seen them."
All I could do was sigh...and run to the bathroom....and go...and worry. I thought: Why does he have to be that way?
With all this talk of an incoming recession and constant fears of terrorism and now, well, food poisoning, the paranoid person doesn't want somebody who is flip. They want somebody who validates their fears. They want somebody who is ready to jump into the fallout shelter with them, hold their hand and feel their palms sweat.
In other words, they want somebody who enables them.
But maybe Steve was just what I needed. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what he was trying to do.
When you really think about it, Sam and Ella ain't so bad.