Cleanup in Aisle Five



106 Court St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights

I wanted to buy a book the other night. I had read an old review of “The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break” and wanted to pick up a copy. So on my way home, I decided to stop at the Court Street Barnes & Noble.

Things were fine when I got off the subway. I was two blocks away from the bookstore when I started to feel what we in the business refer to as “southern rumblings.”

I needed a bathroom, and I needed it fast.

Knowing there was a café in the Barnes & Noble, I squeezed my cheeks and speed-walked down the street as fast as I could. I pushed open the front door, brushed past the new releases, jumped on the escalator and made my way to the second level: café, fiction, biography, sports, children’s books.

Seeing the café loom in front of me as the escalator approached the second floor only intensified my discomfort. It’s a cruel fact of life that the closer you get to a bathroom, the more likely your body is to betray you. But I kept my control and waddled up to the counter.

“Where’s your mens room?”


Had I not been in dire need, I might have throttled the slack-jawed moron behind the counter. But there was no time for violence.

“The mens room. Where is it?”

“Oh, the mens room. Yeah. The mens room is on this level, straight back, on your left.”

I turned without saying thank you and made my way towards the back. I looked at the sections as I walked. Fiction, biography, sports. Where is the bathroom, I thought, it’s got to be…No, it can’t.

It could. I passed into the last section on the floor: children’s books. There, on my left, as promised, was the door to the mens and womens bathrooms. And there, in a rocking chair, just to the right of the door, was a woman in a purple sweater reading a story to fifteen attentive kids sitting cross-legged on the floor. Unexpected, but not the type of thing that was about to throw me off my current mission. I had found the bathroom. That was all that mattered.

I made my way past the audience and through the outer door, propped open since the floor had just been mopped. I hung a quick left, through the open door of the mens room, also recently mopped. There, just ahead, lay salvation in a rusted, decaying stall, the only one in the room. As I settled in, I asked myself…

“Were both of those doors open?”

But before I could investigate the thought any further, out it came. Now, I like to consider myself something of a connoisseur of the flatutory arts, so I am not exaggerating when I say that seismographs must have gone crazy all over Brooklyn.

The sounds reverberated from wall to wall, the volume growing with each echo between the porcelain tiles. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t loud enough for the kids outside to hear. I tried to believe that the people who had designed this Barnes & Noble weren’t cruel, that they understood that sometimes when you have to go you have to go. I held my breath and listened.


Outside, a wave of laughter was slowly building. The author kept reading like nothing had happened, but I could hear it in her voice, that undertone of shock mixed with a healthy dose of anger and just a little bit of fear.

“And so the happy (ahem). The happy chicken… he… he… he…”

I had completely blown her concentration. Not that it mattered. The kids were too far gone. All they could do was laugh. To make matters worse, I wasn’t done. I briefly entertained the thought of closing the mens room door. But the logistics just wouldn’t come together. The possibility of exponentially worsening my already terrible embarrassment was all too real. I decided it would be best to let things finish out, then wait in the mens room until the store closed and climb out a window.

“What’s that Mr. Mortimer (ahem) Mr. Mortimer Pig? (sigh) said Ralphy Rabbit.”

There was nothing I could do for her. Each fart only worsened the situation. The giggling was now full-on shrieking laughter. The author attempted to calm the kids, telling them, “Put away those sillies!” but it fell on deaf ears. And she was alone. These kids had been dumped by their parents, who had wanted nothing more than a few minutes of quiet time complemented by an over-priced latte.

This author was in over her head. I could hear the rage rising in her voice. I knew my plan would never work. I had to get out of there, since she would no doubt wait for me in order to insert some sort of Sesame Street character into any number of my orifices.

So I had to leave. There was no other choice. I finished my business, got cleaned up, washed my hands, and walked to the men’s room doorway, building up my nerves.

Taking a deep breath, I bolted out the door with my head down and my hand up in front of my face. I could feel their eyes on me. I could feel their fingers pointing. But I didn’t look. I couldn’t.

“Yes, Mr. Moose, the sky… the sky sure is (ahem) dark … today…”

I swear I heard her whisper “bastard.”

I started to run. I ran all the way down to the first floor where, as luck would have it, “The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break” had its very own display. I picked up a copy, paid, and walked out.

The night hadn’t been a complete loss. I had my book, but I had lost a bookstore.

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