Once, when I was in high school, a boy smeared poop all over the walls of the men’s locker room. I learned of the incident when I entered the gymnasium, headed for basketball practice. Every janitor who manned some area of the campus and his rolling supply cart had been corralled and placed at the doorway to the locker room for a referendum with the coach over whether to quarantine or clean.
“Someone crapped in the locker room,” whispered Steve, a guard on the varsity team. “Smeared it all over the walls.”
I looked at him, unsure of how to respond, and then asked with a hopeful tone, “Do you think they’ll cancel practice over this?”
The coaches didn’t cancel practice so I spent the next two hours running drills and defensive plays wondering why a person would do that, and moreover, whether they wore gloves when they did. I couldn’t understand the psyche of the individual who looks at an empty wall and decides the appropriate statement color is feces. There are a plethora of human behaviors I find baffling, like watching “American Idol,” or owning gerbils, or making the bed every day, but when these things are reduced to their intrinsic value to a person, they’re benign, innocent peccadillos. Harmless consequences of the many hours that comprise a human life.
But smearing poop over walls is not that. It’s perverse in its motivation and destructive in its execution. And it seems to be happening all over the walls of the Internet these days. I don’t mean literally, since that would be very difficult, but rather I mean that people feel compelled to send the authors on the Internet — often myself as well as other writers at this paper — hateful messages loaded with threats and vitriol. Instead of clicking away or turning the page, some readers feel greatly entitled to sling rocks at the people who are building something substantial out of the rubble of the Internet. They feel justified in trashing those walls. Walls that were not theirs. Walls they have no part in building and no conflict of conscience in toppling. Just as my mind had been preoccupied with the question of “why?” in high school, it is once again in a state of rumbling idol, trying to understand the mindset of the misanthrope who toils over writing hate mail and posting it for the world to see. Bill Maher characterized it best when he wrote, “When the lady at Costco gives you a free sample of its new ham pudding and you don’t like it, you spit it into a napkin and keep shopping. You don’t declare a holy war on ham.”
To try to comprehend the genesis of movements like, “I’m going to put my own poop in my hand and smear it on the walls,” is a mind-numbing exercise for an outsider. There is never good reason to do that. When the outcome of your actions is that a bunch of men who suffer the slurs and barbs of teenagers for 11 bucks an hour have to disinfect the walls, there is no justification that the rest of us, who poop only into a toilet and on limited occasions in our own pants, can accept. The same goes for the authors who strain, often late into the night and at the expense of personal time and better money, to give others something to see.
Most likely the perpetrators of these kind of actions likely can’t explain it either. They think it’s no big deal to tarnish something. They don’t care about the ruinous effects they bring about. They don’t pause over the fact that our blogs and columns are the repository for our ideas which, without the patch of Internet we’ve laid claim to, lose their fizz the way a glass of soda does if left to linger on the counter. They don’t consider the catalysts, often deeply personal, that drive us to untether the words that lie grounded in our heads.
I started writing after my family lost a remarkable friend. She was a humor writer when most women in Hollywood were only allowed to act in shows or carry coffee to those who did. Cancer took firm grasp of her body, and she fought back valiantly and verbally by creating one last portal for her funny musings which poured forth despite the crippling fatigue and encroaching bleakness. It was she who made me realize that even if I never land a job writing scripts, I can still make the public laugh at things I write. Through the absurd and jaw-dropping title of her blog, I Slept With Robert DeNiro — because she did when they were classmates in film school — the bar was raised so that I, too, had to choose a name that would make a reader’s eyes widen and their mouths twist just a little bit.
Because her blog still stands proud and beckons me back to read posts I’ve read before, since even death couldn’t silence her, I decide to keep my own writing going. That’s the thing about these columns; They mean something big to somebody, even if you haven’t a clue who that person might be. Even if you’ve never slept with Robert DeNiro, or never dreamed the content of your writing may translate into material for something grander, or even if you’ve never shared your written words with anyone outside of your family, keep watch over it. Because it’s yours. And because someone waits to read it.
And if anyone smears poop on your walls, rally the janitors. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to scrub.
Practice is still on.