Coffeeshops and small businesses are everywhere, but they’re hit or miss. They do not have consistent policies, and their staff can be too hip or standoffish.
The best places are hotels and bars. (If you’re white,) you can walk into any hotel and beeline for the lobby bathroom, and either nobody will bother you, or they will go out of their way to help you find it. Bars all have bathrooms and nobody cares what you’re doing as long as you’re not fighting. Though they’re a bit of a gamble because of lines and impatient bangs on the door, in instances of emergency, they’re safe.
However, the problem was that he did not have his wallet on him—he was wearing athletic shorts and a light sweatshirt, having run earlier that day. The other problem was that there is only one hotel on 9th Street, and he had never been inside it before. It was modern with jutting, floor-to-ceiling glass panes that pointed onto the corner of a street, to draw pedestrians’ attention to the yellow and curving staircase. The floor was white, and the whole structure shined in the afternoon like a huge, ultimate traffic light.
Aside from that hotel, there were bars that he knew checked ID at the door, and because he did not have his wallet, those were not options. There were lots of coffeeshops and small businesses, but this neighborhood’s real estate was expensive, so their staff was cool and thus scary. He only really came down to this neighborhood for yoga and had not mapped its options more thoroughly. He began to regret not doing more thorough advance work here before.
It was picking up intensity, churning and stabbing the inside of his stomach like cactuses tumbling in a dryer. He had felt it when he was at home, but then, it felt like a Google calendar hit, a brief reminder that he had to do something. It did not yet have the gravity of necessity.
1) Stared straight ahead at a spot on the ground, like he learned to do while doing tree pose, and focused on deep and peaceful breaths.
2) Walked compactly, not allowing his legs to spread too far away from his frame, in worries that such physicality could be an unwelcome invitation for involuntary evacuation.
Before, he was frantically scanning the neighborhood for options he may have missed in previous strolls. Perhaps there was a construction site with a porta potty. In other moments, he had deep mixed feelings about development in this neighborhood. In this moment, he yearned for it. For more bars and hotels and porta potties.
The studio was in an alley with a sleek architecture firm and a hip sandwich shop that was closed on Sundays (this was a Sunday). Its architecture was one 24 x 24 box with exposed brick, smooth/tan wooden floors, and one little adjacent room where they kept mats and bands and blankets and wipes for the mats.
It was spacious and clean, like the rest of the studio. Its problem was proximity. It was right next to the class. And his problem was timing. He was not arriving early, and his awkward compact walking was not helping him.
He was one block away, but he was walking like a Southerner unfamiliar with ice on the sidewalk, even though it was 60 degrees. Against his more grounded inclinations, he broke his concentration on the spot in front of him to check his phone. 3:53. The class started at four. He prayed that today was going to be the class that nobody came to. He turned the block into the alley and saw the bright blue door 100 yards away from him.
The cactuses in the dryer had stopped spinning and banging against the walls, but they had all put their total weight against the dryer door, demanding to be let out.
He opened the door to the studio more delicately than he would have if the class was in session, perhaps to repent for future sins. Six people already sat with their mats, and four more got situated in various spaces between the shoe rack and the adjacent mat room. The instructor stood at the door, checking people in on an iPad. He had been coming to this class for a year and change now, and usually spent time small-talking with her.
He said hi and took off his shoes and when she asked him how he has been, he said, “good,” and that was it. He felt bad about this, he did not want to come off as rude, but the dryer was beeping now.
After his shoes were off, he hobbled with his backpack on his back and his crotch stuck out in front of him subconsciously to the bathroom. If he relaxed backwards, all of him would leave in the same direction.
Now, he had to wait with all of his stuff in plain view of the class. He felt like a fish, and their eyes felt like six hooks that had caught him at once and torn him into different directions. Everybody got to see who would go into the bathroom next.
He waited there for 43 seconds, which to him, felt like a childhood. The woman who left was dainty and professional. They made eye contact for a brief second. He felt like he had run over her dog with his car.
Once he got into the bathroom his pants were at his ankles and his ass was on the toilet seat in one, simultaneous and graceful maneuver, like a gymnast’s dismount. He looked up and caught sight of himself in the mirror. Shame washed over him. As he looked into the deep pools of his own eyes, he remembered a child who had once played the violin, who made something beautiful. With his pants at his ankles, his gut over his waist and the expression of a dejected gambler, the violin would deny their past relationship.
Nothing came out. It was like a lane on a highway that was previously closed became open instantly, and none of the cars knew who was gonna switch lanes first. So, nothing happened… but everyone knew they would switch lanes.
Perhaps he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from the sounds of his sins, but he told himself he wanted to do something right, participate as much as possible in the class.
Then, with the frazzle and fury of a global campaign launch, it began. The first spurt brought the violence of trench warfare to the studio, as if he was determined to scare yoga into submission. The second spurt felt like a sustained carpet bombing, more subtle, but intended to suck the will to fight out of yoga.
“Peace”—“Ease”—the guide on his phone tried in vain to help him. He tried as hard as he could to retreat into himself, to find calm and somehow float above the toilet, a different and more elevated being.
The third wave came like a drip coffee machine filled with acid, slow and acerbic. It almost sounded like the running water in the background of his meditation.
He focused on the water in his earphones and like his meditation told him to, acknowledged but did not focus on the water in his ass.
He was in a field, the waterfall lightly splashed his legs, and he was calm. But then, with the determination of 1940s Imperial Japan, his body made one final stand. It sounded like the end of a symphony—loud, deliberate, and final.
Then all was quiet.
He sat on the toilet for 49 seconds, wiped for another 42, then opened his eyes and caught himself in the mirror again. He remembered a poem he wrote in the fifth grade that was selected to be read at a local museum. That was a good day.
As he was washing his hands, he thought of the fish hooks just outside of his door—the very being who heard every shelling from the war he had just involuntarily ravaged on yoga, a past-time he loved.
He opened up the door as if his priest had told him that the only way he could atone was to be delicate for the rest of his life. There were eleven bodies in the room, all lying down with their eyes closed, motionless.
He assumed they were dead…
so he joined them.