Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Put that Shit in Writing...

The fall of 1986, that's when I first met James Geoffrey Coatney. It was during an art class at Eastern Kentucky University. I remember scribbling away at my board looking up and seeing Coats starring down at me. At that time he was average height, ursine build, with a slightly swarthy complexion. His hair was cut short; black as coal.

The clothes? Well, he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a pair of jeans. I would later discover that this was something of a uniform for him. Sometimes he'd mix it up a bit...There'd be days he'd sport a pair of cargo pants with his Hawaiian shirt, making him look as if he'd raided Hawkeye's footlocker over at the 4077th.
If there was one thing that really set him apart it would have been the 1950's style Rayban Sunglasses. In those first few years, I never saw him without them. I recall asking, "Why the hell do you wear those things all the time? Even at night?" Coats never missed a beat, placing a big paw on my shoulder he shook a finger in front of my face to emphasize his point, "Because Charles, when you're cool, the sun shines on you 24 hours a day."

Surreal is the word that best describes what it's like hanging out with Coatney. I remember a day in Florida when we'd gone to Cocoa Beach; we were on the pier watching the girls go by when I spotted an especially gorgeous beach bunny down by the breakers. I turned to Coats to give him the heads up and discovered that not only had he seen her, but he was looking at her through a small telescope he'd pulled from his coat. No shit. Honestly, who other than Harpo Marx can produce a telescope at a moments notice?

Try to imagine what it is to work with someone like this. Once, when he and I were employed at a Kinko's copy center, a lady stopped in to send a fax. This would have been in the early nineties and fax machines were still a bit of a novelty back then. Timidly, she held out the documents to be sent. It was obvious from what she was saying that she had no idea how a fax machine worked. She seemed to think the pages would be atomized by the machine, the particles pushed through the phone lines and then reassembled at the other end, like the transporter on Star Trek.

Coats faxed her pages then gave the woman back her originals. With a look of suspicion that said, "I'm on to you," she held them up to the light to confirm that they were indeed the pages she had just handed over. Then she said, "Well, I don't get it...were is the fax right now?" Coatney sighed and said, "It's at a layover in Atlanta, it's gonna have a few drinks, then be on it's way to Chicago." This line was delivered deadpan without a hint of sarcasm. I couldn't bring myself to feel sorry for her as I was too busy trying to keep from pissing my pants.

People who have this kind of chutzpah seldom lack eccentricities. Coats has scores. He won't wear a time piece and consequently he's always late. He has a legendary aversion to snakes that borders on mania and he's absolutely convinced he's lactose intolerant even though friends and family serve him dairy at every opportunity. But the best is his imagined gastrointestinal ailments. Like sunspots they can flare up at any moment causing all manner of havoc. It's this last bit that leads us to his greatest idiosyncrasy... James Geoffrey Coatney will shit nowhere but upon his own bowl.

Let me clarify. Coatney is one of those folks who is incapable of moving brown at any location other than his very own throne in his very own home. Out on the town? Gotta go? Tough. He has to hold it. Why? Well, that's a whole nest of neurosis that would strain the limits of this forum. Let's just say it's a big stew of germaphobia, fastidiousness and maybe even a dash self consciousness. For Coats maintains that he can raise a cloud capable of peeling paint. Whatever his reasons, the man is adamant about the sanctity of his own tidy toilette.

This curious habit once led to a disastrous afternoon for Coatney. While living in LA a number of us had made the acquaintance of a man (who for the purposes of this telling) we will refer to as Steve MacMiserable. Steve isn't one of those people who has charming idiosyncrasies. Steve's insane.

He was so nuts that most people in our circle of friends had written him off. The guy couldn't keep a job, was habitually penniless and all in all a colossal asshole. We avoided him like plague. But one of Geoff's great qualities is his sympathy and patience for lunatics. In time, he'd become the last person who'd hang out with Steve.

Feeling magnanimous, Coats rang up Steve on a Saturday and asked if he wanted to meet at the mall and knock around. Although Jeff was still willing to spend time with Steve, he, like the rest of us, had recently moved and wasn't really sure he wanted MacMiserable knowing where he lived. If there is anything that I could say that would indicate just how fucked up Steve was I suppose that would be it.

At any rate, they met at the mall, did the shops, then went for a ride looking for a place to eat. As they were driving...Disaster struck. Coats felt the tell tale signs that a major movement was on it's way. What to do? We've already established that Coatney can't shit anywhere but home base. That option however was off the table as going there would reveal his new address.

Swallowing hard, Coats made a command decision. He turned to Steve and explained his distress. He also told Steve that they were too far away from his place and... (Gulp!) Was there any way they could go by Steve's so he could "drop the kids off at the pool?" Steve said, "No problem." So they headed out for the tiny Burbank apartment that served as MacMiserable's roost.

The joint was like something out of the movie "Seven". Everywhere you looked there were Pizza boxes, candy wrappers and all the other flotsam and jetsam that accumulates when a person spends his days sitting in a dark room muttering. Coatney was horrified by the mess but with nature calling...What could he do?

Stumbling over the folding couch and overflowing garbage cans, Coats made his way to Steve's shitter. When he tried to open the door there was resistance from the other side, it felt as if something heavy were laying on the floor of the bathroom. Steve apologized and began to push hard on the door so it would open.

What in the world could be in there? A corpse? Body parts? Coatney felt that none of those things would have been out of place in that Hell Hole. Steve reached around the door and began pulling out dirty laundry. After a moment he had removed enough that a person could squeeze through the door and gain access.

Upon entering, Coatney found the bathroom filled with several weeks worth of dirty laundry. Knee high in places, the clothes reeked of mildew and God knows what else. It was enough to make a germophobe shriek in horror. Most of this was deduced by touch and smell as the room was pitch black inside. Apparently, in an effort to save money, Steve had not replaced any light bulbs in the apartment for quite some time.

So picture Coats, in the darkness, up to his knees in Steve's soiled underwear and dirty socks with bowels a rumblin'...desperate for relief. Many questions raced through his mind: Why is this happening to me? Did I really need to spend time with this crazy son of a bitch? What cruel Karma brought me here? And most important of all...Is that seat any cleaner than the rest of this sty?

His roaring colon now firmly in charge, Coatney soldiered on. There was no way to check the cleanliness of the seat and there was certainly no way to get to the safety of his home court... So Coats dropped trough and pressed pink ham to chilled porcelain.

Not just chilled, it turned out, but also wet.

Outside the door, Steve clearly heard wailing and gnashing of teeth, the kind of thing one imagines when reading Dante. It was the sound of a man who had, "Abandoned All Hope."

"Is everything OK in there?" Steve asked, through the door.

"Fine Steve, Oh God, things...things are fine...whimper, chortle, sob."

Resigned to his fate Coats evacuated his bowels, flushed, and made ready to clean up. Looking around he was shocked to discover that there was apparently no toilet paper to be had. Horror nearly overtook him but somehow he managed to get hold of himself and call for help.

Steve responded immediately, as if he were standing just outside the door the whole time.

"What's wrong Coats?"

"There's no paper in here, that's what's wrong."

"Oh...yeah, I forgot about that. Hold on, let me check the kitchen, I think I may have a paper towel or some napkins."

For the next few moments Coatney sat alone in the mildew reeking darkness while Steve crashed around in the kitchen. Then...a soft knock on the door...

"Uh, Coatney...Not much luck really, all I could find was these old Burger King napkins. Here ya go..."

Coats reached his hand through a crack in the door and Steve handed him two, tissue thin, ketchup stained napkins. Disbelief now turned to anger and he railed at Steve, "I can not use these! These will not do! Find me something substantive Goddamnit!"

Steve too was at the end of his rope, fearful of loosing the last friend he had in the world he said, "Ok, don't worry man... I'll run to the store and get you some toilet paper. Be right back."

Coats sat alone in the darkness again this time with his face in his hands. After several seconds passed it occurred to him that he hadn't heard the door slam or the sound of Steve walking away from the bathroom...Just an eerie silence.

"Steve? Are you still here?"

A floorboard creaked, then a whisper from the other side, "Yeah, I am...It's just... I'm sorry Coatney. I'm just really broke right now and I don't have any money for toilet paper. Could you loan me a few bucks?"

"Are you Fucking kidding me?"

"No I'm not. Just loan me a couple of bucks and I'll be right back."

Coats reached down and fished his wallet from his pants. Sadly, it was empty.

"I got no cash on me Steve!"

"Oh, it's Ok, just give me your ATM card and your PIN number and I'll be right back."

Coats mulled that over. Thoughts quickly meandered to an image of Hell freezing over.

"It ain't gonna happen Steve. Now stop fuckin' around and find me something to wipe my ass with."

When Coatney related this tale to me I was having difficulty breathing as I was laughing so hard. Few things tickle me like a little schadenfreude. That's my idiosyncrasy. Anyway, I was brought up short when I realized that this had been a real trauma for my friend.

Eyes swimming Coatney asked, "You think this is funny Lister?"

"No, of course not Coats...Please continue."

"The whole thing had gone on too long. I was at the end of my rope Charles...So when Steve handed me a soiled and crusty bath towel through the door and said I should use it...Well...I...I."

"You didn't."

"Oh God Charles...how could it have come to that. Swear you will never speak of this to anyone."

"Fear not Coatney, I won't say a word."

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