Checked Out: Cinderburg Part 22

The Poopetrator

“A patron says there’s a mess in the bathroom.”

These are the nine words you hope to never hear in any work environment, but especially in a public library.

This phrase has many different meanings, which could be any of the following:

Yes, I witnessed all of these. No, these are not exaggerations. I have had to don protective gloves and a mask in order to fish things out of toilet bowls or clean and disinfect walls after someone had an “accident” that somehow got everywhere.

It happens so much in libraries. Do people not care? Do they have nowhere else to be sick? And why do they always try to hide it, especially when it’s an accident.

Much like the child who tracked poop all over the children’s department at Bedford, many of the “accidents” at Cyprus were also not reported until the messes had a chance to congeal into carpeted surfaces. Embarrassment drove parents out and kept them from reporting bio-hazardous messes.

(Again, I’m begging you readers, please tell staff when these things happen!)

But the serial issue that started that fall had nothing to do with parents and their children. This had everything to do with a fully grown adult.

In case you don’t remember, there was a news story circulating in the summer of 2017 about someone dubbed “The Mad Pooper.” This woman was a runner who would consistently defecate on private property during her morning runs (ha, pun not intended, but it fits!). She often did so at the same house, though she also left her personal messes at a few other sites. The woman was never caught, though grainy images of her were recorded on camera and shared among many news outlets nationwide. Her reign of fecal terror lasted from July until about September.

Cyprus ended up getting our own fecal felon the following fall.

It started in September. I had just left the circulation desk, where I’d been chatting with Ajay and Zahra about story time and trying to ignore Barb, who was pointedly avoiding the circulation desk because I was up there.

I’d only been gone for a few seconds when Ajay came to find me.

He called my name, a whine and a warning mingled together.

“What?” I asked, narrowing my eyes and dreading what he was about to say.

“Someone says there’s a mess in the bathroom.”

I heaved a sigh. Of course.

I asked, “Which one?”

“The women’s.”

“Okay,” I sighed again, and went to investigate. Someone hadn’t flushed the toilet. I hit the button with my foot. Problem solved.

The next week, Ajay found me again.

“A patron says there’s a mess in the bathroom.”

“Which one?”

“Women’s again.”

“Ugh,” I replied, going to check.

This one was worse. It was contained to a stall, but it was messy. Someone very clearly had an illness affecting their bowels. I gloved up and cleaned what I could with wipes and cleaner. But just in case it wasn’t thorough enough, I put up an “Out of Order” sign.

Another week passed. Amy and I sat at the children’s desk, Amy sharing yet again about going to the doctor for a pain, only to be told it was gas and she just needed to poop, which was ironic, given that Ajay approached with his now customary greeting.

“Oh, not again!” I said, throwing up my hands, “Where is it this time?”

“The men’s room.”

“Well, at least it’s in a new location,” I grumbled.

As it was the men’s room, I knocked before entering.

Everything around the urinal looked fine, but the last stall was a mess with brown, liquid goop everywhere.

I grimaced and held my breath. It took everything in me to swallow down my revulsion.

This was not a mess I could clean. The whole stall needed an industrial hose. And I needed a hazmat suit.

I stumbled back out and found Will.

“There’s a mess,” I paused, gasping for air, “In the last stall. I can’t clean it. If you think you can, have at it. Otherwise, put up an out of order sign.”

Will ducked in and rushed back out as quickly as I had.

“Nope. Not touching that,” he wheezed, “We’re closing the bathroom down.”

Luckily we had a family restroom and the community center across the hall.

But it kept happening.

Every week for the next two months, as if it had been rehearsed, a patron approached Ajay to tell him about a poop mess, who then went straight to Will, as from that day onward, all the messes were in the men’s restroom.

Only a few of these times was the mess spread all over the place, requiring us to shut the bathroom down. Most of the time, though, the mess was contained. Which was probably the more frustrating of the two situations. Any staff member could be sympathetic and understand when someone was sick and simply couldn’t control their body. But after a while, these messes were a bit too controlled and odd to be explained away by someone being sick.

“Well,” Will said, after washing his hands and arms in copious amounts of warm water and soap, “They pooped on the floor this time.”

“Like, they pooped all over the floor?” I asked.

He shook his head, “No. I mean they pooped in one spot on the floor. Like they chose to poop in just that one spot.”

Zahra, Ajay, and I stared at him.

“…What?” I asked.

“Why?”Ajay asked at the same time.

“Do you think I know why anyone here does anything?” Will asked, “All I know is that it looks like someone dropped their pants right next to the trash can to poop. It wasn’t smeared everywhere. It looks like it was placed there.”

We were at a loss. None of us understood it, and we really wanted to. I mean, the toilets were just a few steps further. It didn’t seem like an “I just can’t make it,” scenario.

The next week it happened again. A little turd was left next to the trash can.

The week after, yet another one was left, this one in the urinal.

Each time it happened, staff gathered together.

“Did you hear about the poop?”

“Again? Are you kidding me?”

“Why can’t they just use a stall?”

“Is this payback for something? Have we ticked someone off?”

There was no way for us to ever confirm who did it. Will and Ajay started checking the bathroom regularly. So did the security team. We had them monitor the cameras during hours we guessed that the Poopetrator struck. But there were always blocks of about four hours between the time it was last checked by a staff member and a patron coming to report it.

The more it happened, the more our gossip grew. We were sick of not knowing who was behind the poops.

Will continued to glove up and clean the poop like a dog owner cleaning after his dog.

I’m still perplexed by the urinal. Was he pooping on something else and then placing the poop for us to find? Was he actually squatting somehow in the urinal to defecate? To what end?

We theorized about which of our patrons it might be. It happened with such routine that it had to be one of our regulars.

Eventually, Will noticed the same patron was in the library each time there was a Poopening. And then he realized this same patron was repeatedly getting in trouble a day or two before the Poopenings.

This patron, whom we’ll call Grigori, was a younger man experiencing homelessness. Like most homeless patrons, Grigori would often come to the library on the colder days, find a warm and secluded corner, and hunker down for a nap. What we didn’t realize until interacting with Grigori was that homeless people often spend their evenings during the colder months staying awake and moving around.

As humans, our need for sleep is great. If we have a home, our ability to actually sleep restfully is enormous, especially when you compare it with people experiencing homelessness. Most of us with homes have a safe and sheltered place for us to turn so that we can completely shut down at night and recharge. The homeless do not have this luxury. Sleep deprivation is a real problem for them, and it leads to a number of physical and mental health issues.

Many homeless people don’t sleep at night for many reasons. Some homeless people sleep in a group with one person keeping watch at different points during the night. If there’s no one to keep watch, a person could get robbed of the little they have. They could be assaulted. Women get raped. Some are killed. More often than not, they choose to stay awake and walk around during the night and sleep during the day when it is arguably safer for them to do so.

In an article for Rewire.News, Joseph Benson said, “They feel that if they’re sleeping out in the open when the rest of the community is out, they feel protected.”

Grigori often chose a chair that was out of sight of service desks, of which there were many. He would stow his numerous bags beneath or behind the chair, slouch down in the seat, and nod off.

The first few times we noticed, it was because a random security guard was walking past or staff had taken another patron to a nearby shelf.

Will was almost always the one told, though Mia had her fair share of interactions with him. Mia always woke them gently; I can’t say the same for Will, however. His brusque voice gave the impression of barely concealed wrath. My sister met Will once and after he left the room, she asked me what I’d done to make him hate me so much.

Will was convinced it was Grigori who left these messes. He theorized that Grigori was angry because we continued to wake him from his library naps and, as payback, was leaving his poop in places that we’d have to clean up. This was the most plausible theory any of us could develop, but we couldn’t confirm it. I didn’t want to believe anyone would handle their own crap on a weekly basis as a means for revenge. But I also didn’t want to believe someone was pooping there on purpose.

Short of putting a camera in the bathrooms (which we would never have done), or employing a bathroom attendant like the fanciest of restaurants (given the annual budget cuts, this was unlikely), we’d never be able to catch the Poopetrator. Their timing was just too good. They always struck when we least expected it. But let’s be honest, much like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects poop on the bathroom floor by the trash can.

Next time, things get a little dicey at the library.

Until then, I remain…

-C Quill

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