Howell’s called into Fasano’s office and Fasano says, “Take a seat.”

“I prefer to stand,” Howell says.

“Suit yourself. But if you get tired it’s not going to make me tired.”

“I have a new assignment?”

“We’re waiting,” Fasano says, “and Mazza’s joining.”

“I’ve never worked with Mazza,” Howell says. “He’s Health and Fitness and I’m Home Living. A joint piece?”

“No,” says Fasano. “He’s a man, I’m a woman. You’re a man. There’s no together-story. It’s for the meeting he’s coming. Assurance.”


“My assurance. Your assurance. Mazza’s. The company’s.”

“All the same assurance?”

“I’ll say nothing until Mazza arrives,” Fasano says.

Mazza arrives, jogging in, breathing hard. He’s in workout clothes, a soaked headband. “Handball,” he says, “every day on my lunch hour. And after the meeting I’ll need to shower, Boss?”

“Understandable,” Fasano says. “A seat.”

Mazza sits, looks up at Howell. “Hey, you’re standing?—oh, yeah, forgot why we’re here!”

“That means?” Howell says.

“Shall we shut the door, Gentlemen?” Fasano says. “Or keep it open for assurance?”

“More assurance?” Howell says.

“I for one,” Mazza says, “am down with assurance—then again, the door, hey, it’s why we’re here!” He laughs, gives Howell‘s pant leg a slap.

“Ouch,” Howell says.

“We’re here, Howell,” Fasano says, “airing things out.”

This time Mazza slaps his own knee. “Airing things out! Airing things in!”

“Really, Mazza,” Fasano says, “you’re only assurance. Now, Howell, normally I would not conduct this meeting, but I’ve been asked, as your superior, to discuss your habits.”

“My work habits? In Home Living?”

“Certainly no. Your work habits are top-notch. Your last piece, the houseplant as metaphor for collective family wounding, exceptional.”

“It’s on my fridge,” Mazza says. “Not me, Briana. My partner loves it. Gnat eggs as microscopic motes of spite. Overwatering as a need for personal space, personal time—”

“Mr. Mazza,” Fasano says.

“Then I’m confused,” Howell says. “What habits?”

“Other habits. Those beyond our formal work areas.”

“The breakroom? The lobby?”

“I’m blushing,” Fasano says, and she waves her hand in front of her face. “I did not want to blush because I didn’t want you to confuse an excess of blood in my face as an emotional reaction. Note that this is purely a physical reaction to established apostrophes that I’m recognizing but you’re not recognizing? In this context? Not recognizing? My blushing is neither embarrassment nor shame, as our meeting is not a question of emotions. Good. So, Howell. No, it’s pragmatic social ethics. Similarly, it’s not about preference, with the exception that I would prefer not to be having this discussion, but it’s my job to keep this machine running, this office in tune with itself.”

“If I may explicate,” Mazza says, “to give you time to recover composure, Boss?”

Fasano nods, takes a long drink of water.

“Your spider plants are getting far too much temperature change. Being right next to the window there? Fasano? Aren’t they, Howell? Explaining the crisp, brown tips? The sallow, flaccid leaves? Much like teens, spider plants may appear gregarious and thick-skinned—”

“Stop, Mazza,” Fasano says. “I’m fine now.”

Mazza pretends his mouth is a lock. His fingers hold an invisible key. He turns the key, puts it in his breast pocket.

“I get it,” Howell says. “The bathroom.”

“The bathroom.” Fasano smiles, nods.

“My gassiness increases when a big project’s due…”


“But, so,” Howell says, “so isn’t it best to take care of it in the bathroom—”

“Gas isn’t our concern,” Fasano says. “The stall. The stall door? You take it off its hinges?”

“Though carefully. And I always put it right back on.”

“Do you want people to … view you, Mr. Howell?”

“View me? I’m claustrophobic is all. I can’t go when I’m claustrophobic. It’s like I’m being locked away.”

“You’re not being locked away,” Fasano says, grinning, “you’re being given privacy.”

“Then I don’t want privacy.”

“You’re giving others privacy.”

“Or,” Howell says, “they’re trying to steal privacy from me.”

“It’s uncomfortable for people,” Fasano says.

“It’s physically uncomfortable for me if—”

“Mr. Howell, stalls exist for a reason. Stall doors for a précis of that reason. Reasons greater than the individual.”

“Exist? Where did the stalls come from?”

“Meaning origin?”

“Sure,” Howell says. “Genesis? Galapagos? Cooperstown?”

“Do you, Howell, shut the bathroom door at your house? With your wife? Your kids?”

“I have a huge bathroom. I open the shower curtain. There’s a window just above the—you … you‘re blushing again?”

Fasano waves both hands now. “Mazza, where’s your key? Mazza, please explain why, as a man, you don’t want to view another man engaging in bowel movements.”
Mazza unlocks his lips, puts the key back in the breast pocket. “See here,” he says, and crosses his hands behind his back, stretches out his ribs. “First off, you look like a girl when—”

One looks like a girl,” Fasano says.

“With one’s pants down and one’s thighs bare, one looks like a girl sitting on the john.”

Howell frowns. “But I have defined quads. I have thick, black hair on my thighs. Fur pants, my wife calls it—”

“Forcing me to wonder,” Mazza presses on, closing his eyes as he speaks, “if you’re sitting down to poo or if to pee—”

“Why does it matter to anyone else which—”

“Mr. Howell,” Fasano interrupts, “let Mazza finish.”

“Thank you, Miss Fasano.”

“Just Fasano.”

Mazza cracks his knuckles. “As the Head Editor of Health and Fitness, I can say that pooing is grosser than peeing. Now, I realize I’m beginning with basics, but only to strengthen the foundations of my claim. Pooing is grosser due to the sheer aesthetics of our given acts. I put a good deal of weight in science, I do, but we cannot forgo the sheer social significance of conventional signification.”

“No,” Fasano says, shaking her head, “no, I don’t feel we can forgo that.”

“Pee is golden. If not golden, clear. Where scientifically this distinction may mean something drastic, all it means with aesthetics is that golden and clear both, traditionally, symbolize loftiness, sunshine, limitless skies, spring water, wisdom, lucidity—”

“Except for blood in urine?” Fasano says.

“Absolutely right, Boss,” Mazza says, blinking. “Blood in urine is more terrifying than blood in poo because of the stark contrast. Poo is dark and earthen, so blood’s absorbed into the natural opacity. That, and we sort of expect blood in poo, no? Poo is like the rotten part of the body breaking off. Like the old parts of your insides have died. Dead tissue. Spotting.”

“Not that,” Fasano says.

“But when the endometrium—”

“No. No vagina. Leave that out.”

For no particular reason, Howell sits now. He sits and calmly says, “The human body’s sixty percent water. The brain’s seventy percent water. The lungs ninety percent. Blood’s more than fifty percent water, compared to urine as ninety-five percent water. So when men pee side-by-side at the urinals, how is that not like death—”

Mazza studies Howell, he says, “Huh?” Then he turns to study Fasano. “Boss?” he says. “Dirt to dirt, right?”

“Exactly,” Fasano says. “Ash to ash.”

“Ass to ass!” Mazza brays.

“That’s not what she said,” Howell says.

“Mr. Howell, I implore you not to force me,” Fasano says, “to have Mazza punch you in the mouth. But, you, Mazza, look, Howell is right. ‘Ass to Ass’ is not what I said. Though, I don’t think it’s a mistake that injures your argument. On the contrary, Mazza, you’re spot on: seeing someone else poo reminds us that we, ourselves, poo. We all agree on that. Yet projection doesn’t stop there. No, there’s another factor: the distinct relief. Relaxing our rectums, exposing our most vulnerable and private and alien orifice and giving it over to an act that confuses the fecal with the erotic, death with sex, business with pleasure—”

“Exit Only,” Mazza says. “Isn’t that right, Fasano? Exit Only?”

Fasano ignores him. “And such confusion, Howell, you’re compelled to silently agree, well it disrupts logic. By creating paradox. Water’s out of the question. Paradox is akin to death. See the circle? For paradox is the disruption of distinction. As the individual’s awareness vanishes with the brainwaves, so does the individual’s pride, its loftiness and any abstract notions of humanity as more than human. Gone. Vanished with a sloppy plunk.”

“Because that’s another point I wanted to make, the sound—”

“The key, Mazza.”

Mazza holds up both index fingers. “Sure, sure, but just really, really quickly. See, peeing is like a stream, not of water, but music, like rain showers, like clean, active, and purposeful—like that Judds’ song? What was that Judds’ song?”

“Turn It Loose?” Fasano says.

“Big Bang Boogie?” Howell says.

“No, no,” Mazza says. “Forget it. But seeing and smelling, and then having to hear Howell take a dump, well that’s overload. Because if his mouth sighs at the same time his―”

“My Strongest Weaknesses?” Fasano says. “The Judds sing that, yes?”

“Sure, sure,” Mazza says. “But it’s not the song I‘m—”

“I was where?” Fasano says.

“Vanish with a sloppy plunk,” Howell says.

“Very good. Notions of the individual vanish with a sloppy plunk and so one tries to get them back. One does so by wiping. It’s why wiping must be private. The white cloth to the death hole, the rectum now a stab wound and the martyr dead on the toilet, crucified, exhausted, trying to quickly recover, to force death onto a garment that symbolizes another body, a savior perhaps, a tainted Jesus that I can then flush, emerging from the stall as from the tomb, but now there’s no stone to roll away, see? See that? At least not for you, Howell, no stone. Because you’ve removed it, and that’s why we’re here. So have we said enough? I think it’s pretty simple, Gentlemen: when we’re trying to work, when deadlines press, we don’t need to be reminded of mortality—”

“Goddamnit, wait!” Mazza shouts, leaping to his feet.

“Excuse you,” Fasano says. “Are you addressing me?”

“Yes I’m addressing you!” Mazza says, pointing at Fasano.

“You’re yelling at me?”

“Yes, I’m yelling at you!” Mazza yells at Fasano.

“What,” Fasano says, “are you yelling at me for?”

“I’m yelling because you cannot,” Mazza says, “make me punch anybody!”

Fasano stands but says nothing. After a minute, Howell stands too. He steps over to the window sill. He slips on his reading glasses. Gently, he fingers the brittle tips of the spider plants.

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