The Poop Story
“Tell the poop story!”
“Which one?” I ask with a knowing smile.
There’s an old joke about two Jews who get stranded on a desert island. When they’re finally rescued, the rescuers find they’ve built three synagogues on the island. “Why did you build three temples?” they ask. “Well,” says one of the Jews, “that one is the one I go to; that one is the one he goes to; and that one,” he says, leaning in and whispering, “is the one neither of us go to.”
Stories about faux pas are a popular rallying point. They’re often funny, interesting, and embarrassing, and they allow the listeners to smile at their own superiority. It’s like having a not-so-secret club which lets people separate themselves from the dreaded “them” without repercussions.
Kids are no different. From an early age, they’re judged, ranked, rated, compared, and promised the heights of success. It’s no wonder that as they get older, they compete, act selfishly, and require constant reminders of the worth of others. Through stories like the poop stories, not only do they get to hear about taboos, but they get to remind themselves that they know better and feel a slight boost of self-worth.
The most popular poop story I tell is one that haunted me as a kid. My first year at Newsport, a sleep away sports camp, (and my first time away from home for any significant period) I was saddled with the nickname George. No one would tell me why, but it was obvious it was an inside joke and I wasn’t on the inside. They had run out of space in the dorm for kids my age and stuck me in with the slightly older kids, but the older kids weren’t as excited about the prospect as I was.
My father, thinking he was doing me a favor, had made up clever, funny business cards which I immediately knew would lead to utter embarrassment if the other kids saw. After shirking and refusing them, my dad carefully tacked them on my door before leaving. I didn’t notice until the printed pages featuring my name and slogans such as “the kid you met at camp” and “he’s a messy eater” had been snatched from their post and distributed among my future bullies.
After a day or two of getting reamed, called names, and hazed in every imaginable way but physically, I was ready to call it quits. I called home crying. I wrote letters demanding I be picked up. I hid in solitude at the edge of the campus and dove into books as my only means of escape.
And then they started calling me George.
It seems innocuous enough. It’s just a name. It’s not an epithet or slur. Whatever mysterious meaning it carried was elusive and ethereal to me and the other kids my age. But my proximity to the older kids, my inability to wander to the other dorm with kids my own age after a certain hour, meant I was eminently aware that whatever it meant was the worst thing in the world.
My roommate, a bigger boy from Maryland, and I would argue and fight. He would reclaim my spaces when I wasn’t around, moving my things, cramming them into corners as if I were a second class citizen. After a week of hatred, I made it physical. He took something I had purchased on a field trip and we fought. There were no winners. We both got in trouble and were punished with chores. He ended up with scratches across his face from my untrimmed nails (I hadn’t brought a nail clipper) and I ended up with bruises on my back neck and arms.
I also ended up with a new nickname (Wolverine), a little respect, and the story of George.
George was a chubby Asian kid who had been at camp the year before. My roommate told me he was guilty of drawing on the walls with poop, smearing it everywhere, even the ceiling. He didn’t come back to camp after being sent home.
I was horrified that I was somehow connected to this fecal artisan. My roommate admitted I looked nothing like the kid. In fact, the only reason I had been connected was because the other kids wanted to razz me.
The story of George wasn’t as cut or dry as I thought either. Sitting down with Hunter, one of the junior counselors, who had been a camper for years, I got the full scoop.
One morning, between breakfast and the first period of the day, George went to the bathroom in his dorm. It was a wet, nasty, sloppy poop, perhaps the wettest, nastiest, sloppiest poop anyone had ever taken. I’m sure it got wetter, nastier, and sloppier with each telling too. George was dismayed to find that the stall was out of toilet paper. He checked the other stalls in the bathroom with no luck. Even the paper towel dispenser was empty. But George couldn’t pull his pants up without getting poop all over them.
Since it was between breakfast and first period, most of the kids had already headed to the fields to throw around or play with a soccer ball or chit-chat with the coaches. A few were getting their things from the dorms or watching Sportscenter in the lounge between the wings, as was tradition. George figured that since no one was around, he might be able to make it to the other bathroom in the other wing of the dorm. He hitched his shorts up in front, keeping them riding below his unwiped cheeks in back, and carefully checked the hallway before beginning his slow waddle to the other bathroom.
Only moments into his journey, a couple other boys came into the hall.
George panicked. He slammed his back up against the wall and began to sidestep toward the other bathroom. If the boys noticed the strange way George held his shorts, or the way he sidled along the wall, they didn’t say anything, ducking into a room long before reaching George. George, meanwhile, was spooked, and decided to keep sidling just in case, his eyes darting back and forth on the lookout.
He made it down the hallway, leapt to the other side of the hall, and carefully made his way past the distracted kids watching Sportscenter. On the other side, he once again hugged the wall, finishing the trip to the other bathroom.
It was about this time that Hunter, the self-same junior counselor telling me the story, returned to his room to grab something. As he entered his floor, he noticed a new feature: long brown streaks smeared in a line along the wall.
Hunter checked the bathroom, and finding it empty and devoid of paper products, logicked out what had happened. He grabbed a counselor and was sent off to whatever sport he had first. The counselor, meanwhile, followed the streaks all the way around the building, collecting a small audience of kids as he reached the other bathroom. By this point, George had cleaned himself up and was washing his hands.
It’s unclear if the counselor tried to send the other kids away before talking to George about his repainting of the walls, but it wasn’t long before everyone at the camp knew that George had gotten poop all over the walls of the dorm. The counselor made him clean the walls, taking care of his mess, but the damage was done. He was the laughing-stock of the camp, and he never returned to camp after that session.
When I tell the story to kids, I leave out a lot. I tell it as if I were there, as if I was one of the clueless boys sitting in the lounge. I tell it as if George only had to clean the walls and we could all laugh about it together afterward, that his faux pas, while embarrassing and unfortunate, didn’t have far-reaching repercussions.
For the camp, though, George was the poop story and the poop story was George. Without him there, it became myth.
“Don’t let the other kids get to you, Wolvie,” Hunter said. “If you do, you really will be like George. But if you don’t let them bug you, if you show them how awesome you really are, how much stronger, then they’ll respect you. George is just a name. Don’t let it become who you are.”
I can’t speak to Hunter’s honesty in how he told me the story. He was trying to convince me that camp was a cool place and my hatred for it was unfounded. He did a good job of it. By the time my parents arrived at the end of the session, having promised to take me home if I wanted, I was happy, successful, respected, and having a blast. Hunter had a lot to do with it.
A few years later, when a trio of those same bullies had become junior counselors, one of them recognized me and remembered I had once been nicknamed George. He asked if he could call me George just because it was easier, even though I was nothing like George. “Sure,” I said, playing it cool. “No skin off my back.”
With the three of them, I wore the name like a badge. When they called me George, it didn’t feel like it came with baggage. There was no animosity anymore. It really didn’t bother me.
During baseball practice one day, I ended up sitting on the bench between innings with one of my former bullies. “You know you’re pretty cool, George,” he said.
“Yeah,” I said with a smile, knowing that he meant me and not the story
. “I know.”