The right, or shall we say, privilege to go the bathroom is one of the biggest things you miss on the streets. I feel so strongly about this that ten years later I stormed out of a restaurant after ordering when they didn’t have a public restroom. (When the restaurant went out of business a few weeks later after 50 years I felt vaguely guilty, as if my uneaten hamburger and negative energy were the culprit.)
Oh, going to the bathroom wasn’t such a big deal when I started on the streets in Cambridge: there was Au Bon Pain, the Garage, and that nice little church that gave out free coffee. If you had to pee at night there were a couple bushes, and us newbie girls would leave little bits of pilfered toilet paper in desultery heaps there.
It wasn’t until I hit sunny (ha ha) San Francisco that going to the bathroom became a big issue. Oh, everybody’s had the experience of having to go to the bathroom somewhere and everywhere they go it says “no public restrooms,” storming up and down the street until you beg plead or bully your way into a John. But on the streets that was every single time. Oh not every time: I became adept at peeing between cars and in bushes–peeing in a half crouch and forgoing toilet paper to drip dry. There was one very special alcove off Haight Street with some plants that I watered regularly, their big leafy branches shielding my squatting form from the public eye.
But what to do when you had to number two? If you had money you could buy some time and the restroom key at a coffee shop or restaurant. But what if you had none? What if it was late at night and everything was closed?
On one such a night I was loitering on the street with my sole possessions and a few neer’ do wells. “Where can I poop?” I asked them. I had to go so bad!
“No problem” Said the gutter punk next to me, streetlight glinting off of his spiked hat and vest. “Just go down to the park.”
Ookay. I walked with him down to the panhandle with him. There was no privacy in the well-lit, sparsely tree-d park, cars zooming by on all sides. There were also no people.
“Well, go ahead” He pointed to the skirt of a tree, right there in the open.
Feeling nervous unsure, I gamely squatted down.
“Sure you can!” He squatted a few feet away and took a big old junkie shit. To this day I can’t remember if he wiped or what he wiped with.
“No, I really can’t”
As we walked back to Height Street, him feeling much relieved and me worse than ever, he spotted a shopping cart.
“Get in! It will be a cool ride!” He then proceeded to push me on the shortest, scariest ride of my life. If you ever want to get the (proverbial) shit scared out of you, let a junky push you drunkenly up the steep, uneven streets of San Francisco.
When we got back to the doorway we had been hanging in, a guy who was only slightly sketchy offered to take me to his friend’s pad to use the bathroom.
Another time I found myself struggling with #2 was late at night at N Judah, the end-of-Judah, the beachy home where we slept either wrapped in tarps in the dunes, or later in sleeping bags in a garage/storage hall. Again I confided my situation to an older, more street smart compadre:
“Just poop in the bushes up on the hill.” He advised, gesturing with his scraggly beard at the steep dune that separated the beech from the street.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, sure! People do it all of the time!”
“Well, I really have to go.” So I wended my way though the scraggly paths between low lying bushes. Since it was dark and private-feeling, I was able to accomplish my mission, although I had no means to bury it once the deed was done, only covering with a used bit of toilet paper.
A few days later as I was hanging out in front of a coffee shop across the street I watched a fellow street person wend his way through the bushes with a bag in his hands. He came towards us dragging his foot and grimacing.
“I just went up to get my bag from where it was stashed and stepped in human shit!” He exclaimed.
“Ew that’s disgusting!” said the dread-locked girl next to me.
I–wisely–said nothing at all.