There are many moments in a man’s life when he feels purely helpless: a double flat tire on the highway during a blizzard, that moment when you look at the test and realized you spent the last 24 hours studying the wrong revolution, when the bouncer hears you call him a douchebag under your breath. However, there is unequivocally no instance that embodies the word helpless as thoroughly as this (Bear with me):
You’ve made a huge mistake. You ate the hot pot. That bubbling, boiling concoction of limit-pushing spice and heat is now pushing its limits in the pit of your stomach. You’re walking the streets like you’re in some sweaty, drug induced mind haze. Everyone looks evil. You’re like a scared, deranged dog, head to the sky, twitching aimlessly. You want to ask for help, but you fear, that anyone you talk to might figure you out. Figure what out? You have nothing to hide. You’re deep within the bowels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization is but a mere far flung illusion. Love and safety are figments of the weak. This moment is pure physiological anguish. It’s you against the hot pot.
You sink deeper into your despair and then you see it. A tiny shack with the handwritten “公厕” on it. Public toilet. The old woman at the entrance wants half a Yuan for admission. You only have a five. She takes precious time to make change. 10 seconds, 15 seconds. Every moment of hate you have experienced in your life projects onto her. She is all the world’s villainy anthropomorphized. She gives you the change. Onward, you inch forward to your dark, dank sanctuary, careful not to disrupt the powers that be, threatening your insides. You squat. You’ve made it. Eden. The promised land. Like a young knight on a mythological quest, you vanquished the hot pot and you conquered that 65 year old devil at the door. You’ve won. Hi, hater you murmur in her direction.
But then, you look left. You look right. You look up and down, in and out. “OH FUCK.” Your victory turns to pure and utter destitution. Paralysis. Hopelessness that not even Barack Obama can solve. You’re like Thomas Dewey holding the paper that reads, “Dewey defeats Truman,” as you watch Truman give his inaugural address. Then you think, if only you were Thomas Dewey holding that paper, any paper. All the electoral defeat and misery would be worth it to be holding that paper. Any form of parchment, even the Gutenburg Bible would do. Nothing is sacred in this moment. But you haven’t got it. There isn’t a piece of toilet paper as far as the eye can see. You’re categorically shit out of luck. You scramble. Your neurons fire at unprecedented speeds. Your knees can’t hang in their much longer. What can I do, something anything. Your latent belief in God resurfaces. You pray. Any God will do. Vishnu, the Flying Spaghetti Monster… does Pat Robertson count? The light flickers. You’re in a room with four walls, no door, and one abominable chasm beneath you.
Alas. What’s that on your feet? Yes, the most dispensable item of clothing: the sock. But you have so few. This one’s argyle. JCrew. Not even clearance. High quality. You’ll have to go foot to shoe, direct. It doesn’t matter. It’s the sock’s unlucky day. You acrobatically dislodge it without making any potentially life-threatening foot to ground contact. It’s a bittersweet farewell.
As you pass the smiling woman at the door, who no doubt is wearing two socks, your silent acrimony comes back. She hands you a small packet and says: “Hey, you forgot to take your paper.”