One summer during my college days I enrolled in a work exchange program with Oxford University to work as an intern in the broadcasting field. Everyone in the program was talking about the great things that the BBC was doing in documentary and we were all wishing to land the juicy projects there. I flew out a week after finals and upon arriving at the airport was told by my proctor that I had been assigned to some corporately-funded, medical project. After some heartfelt lies about being sorry I didn’t make the BBC my fellow exhangies and I parted and I took a cab through London to a narrow building on a narrow street just out of the way of anything cultural. The building was a three story, converted garage that looked, from the outside, like a three story abandoned garage. I shrugged and accepted my lot. I was here, in London. There were pubs to explore and gutters to fall asleep in.
The ground floor of this building didn’t seem to be part of the outside building. It was snug and warm and furnished very impressively with awards covering all walls and an antique desk replete with an antique receptionist over by one wall. This woman practically sneered at my jeans and sneakers and wool toggle coat, but a look of understanding came over her when she heard my Bronx, American accent. She showed me to a small room with a 16mm Steenbeck editing table. She told me to get comfortable and someone would be by shortly.
Shortly, a young man in a three piece, pin striped suit, stopped in and explained that I was assigned an assistant editing position on a film about aids research that was a pet project of “The Princess’s”. The Princess’s? I was startled; perhaps I hadn’t drawn the short straw after all. I would at least have a good story about meeting Princess Diana.
“You will not be meeting The Princess.” He nibbed my bud.
And then the grind began. I spent days cutting out slug, making select reels, and transferring ¼ inch audio tape to magnetic film, and syncing that up to reels of workprint. My nights were full of pints and darts and being called “yank” and trying to keep people focused on my being American and not on my being Irish.
I was through about a week of colon packing, starchy food and gallons of beer and ale when I was at the “garage” one morning and the unfortunate urge to move my bowels took me by force. I rushed to the third floor lew, a small, cramped box with highly polished fixtures and fancy sculpting on anything porcelain. I will try to be delicate here but there is no way to describe this moment with out some unpleasant description. I created within this toilet the largest hulk of a shit that, I think, anyone has ever seen. I embarrassed myself by the size and stench it made. It was literally the size of my thigh.
I hurriedly tried to clean up and get out of there so no one would see me leave the scene of this crime. I flushed.
Now, England is not known for it’s plumbing. In fact there is some information about water tables and elevation that make it clear that their bad plumbing is not their fault but just a matter of physics. Whatever. My physics lesson was staring me in face (and nostrils) right now and it was heart-stopping-ly apparent that, not only does my shit stink, it floats as well. My mind was racing and I just couldn’t figure a way out of this with any dignity at all. Many options crossed my mind, but I had very little in the way of cash to get a plane out of this country. I resolved to just go straight to Mr. Pin Stripe and get this over with. I stepped out of the bathroom and closed the door tightly. A cloud of ‘shmell’ wafted behind me. I tried to outrun it. Pin Stripe’s office was right next to the bathroom and I opened the door and walked purposefully in to finish this business. But Pin Stripe wasn’t there. Princess Diana was.
“Yes?” she elegantly inquired.
I didn’t know what to do. I knew there were rules concerning intercourse with Royalty, but I was never briefed because no one had the slightest intention of letting me get this close to anyone Royal. I stammered and did a little half bow, half curtsy move. It took that long for the first molecules of my fecal front to reach me here in Lady Diana’s office.
“I’m Gerard.” I deftly grunted.
“Hello.” She said with a look that was amused at how uncomfortable I was. It was here, at this point in time, that those hideous molecules released from embarrassment hell reached the Royal filaments of Diana’s ordained nostrils. She flinched as though avoiding a left hook from Jersey Joe Walcott. The next inhalation made her stand.
“My word, there must be something wrong with the-” she started to walk toward the bathroom.
“We need to call a plumber!” I said too loudly.
Lady Diana paused and walked around me to the bathroom door.
“I think we should really call a plumber.” I begged this time. But this was Princess Diana. She had held the hand of mothers with aids, held babies with aids in her arms and kissed them. She walked undaunted to the WC and opened the door and looked in. I closed my eyes. I clicked my heels together. I murmured, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” And then…
I play those words over and over in my head like the Zapruder film, wincing every time.
I don’t think it is possible to be more embarrassed. I reached the nadir of embarrassment in that moment. I could feel my head clunk against the ceiling of it’s extremity. Like Truman reaching the wall of his television world I had reached the end of the line. There was solace there. The thought that I could never ever again be that embarrassed was comforting; that any embarrassment I would ever feel would pale in comparison to this. I have Diana to thank for that.