So. I have a confession. And a question. And a SUPER GREAT idea.
First, the confession: every single time I go into a “Ross Dress For Less” store, something odd happens. Within minutes of passing beneath the gray and blue marquee and through the front doors, I am overcome by an overpowering urge to poo. And I’m talking RIGHT THEN.
It’s been this way for years. But I’ve kept quiet about this particular physiological quirk until now because it is, well, rather embarrassing. However, I’ve lately become soooo curious as to whether I’m not the only one who suffers from it. I know, at least, that I’m not the only one in my family.
A sibling who shall remain anonymous (Hi, Ash-Bash!) and I have long joked about what we call “The Ross Syndrome.” As teenagers, we’d stop in to browse the racks of cheap, shitty clothing and would end up committing acts of synchronized shitting within minutes of our arrival at the store. Every. Single. Time.
Non-plussed, we asked my mom, the doctor, about the strange phenomenon. She insisted it must have something to do with the chemicals they put on their clothes. And it makes sense. All of those threadbare wares have travelled our way, no doubt, from sweatshops in sad corners of the world where no one is much concerned about tossing a few rogue compounds into the synthetic mix if it will garner a couple of extra polyester unitards or pleather peek-toe pumps per batch.
So, mom’s theory: it’s an allergen that’s making us poo. And, for good measure she’ll usually throw in something along the lines of: You really shouldn’t be going there anymore if it makes you feel that way.
But until recently, the whole thing was merely funny. Bizarre, uncanny, inconvenient, but also pretty disgustingly funny.
And then something terrible happened. Something a lot less comical and a whole lot more sinister: a few years ago, all of the Ross stores mysteriously decided to close their public restrooms.
It was a recipe for disaster, as I was to discover during a random stop into the Clackamas location – arguably one of the grossest – a few summers back.
I was pawing my way through a mess of kitchen gadgetry when that old familiar feeling swept over me. It hit me powerful, and, as always, without warning.
My stomach muscles tightened. Sweat beaded along the tracks of my spine. I dropped the garlic press I’d been holding and duck-walked in the direction of the bathrooms right quick. It was pretty much instinct by now. I’d even carved out a path to the toilets that allowed me to browse the lingerie and the electronic equipment on my way.
That day, though, there was no time for dilly-dallying. I hauled my quivering ass to the north end of the store. And was stopped short by the sight of a newly unadorned door. I could see the rectangle of brighter-blue paint where the “bathrooms” sign used to hang. Huh? Not to be deterred, I pushed open the unmarked door and headed down the hall. I passed by the break room, where a group of Ross associates sat trading sour grimaces. One was punching open a fun-sized bag of Fritos.
Can I help you? A voice called as I scurried past.
Only the way it said ‘Help’ made it sound a lot more like ‘Hurt’ or ‘Hate.’
I didn’t have much time left. I U-turned and popped my head in the door impatiently.
Just going to the bathroom, I nodded at the speaker, a trashy-looking guy with a pencil-thin moustache and a ring of acne scars around his mouth. He looked like he’d been eating Spaghetti-Os. Canfuls of them, for years and years.
We don’t have one, he said.
I wiped a trickle of sweat from my neck and pointed my finger down the hall. Yes, you do. It’s right over there.
No public bathrooms, he said. Sorry. Except he wasn’t. The Spaghetti-O mouth curled upward into an evil grin.
The perfect storm was brewing. The lower half of my body was staging a 21-gun revolt. Panic set in. I know you have one, I shouted, my voice pitching unusually high. It’s seriously right down there.
He merely shrugged his shoulders and leaned back in his plastic chair.
This is fucking ridiculous, I shrieked, grabbing my distended belly. I felt that sort of ill and poisony feeling you get from smoking way too many cigarettes, or holding in a massive quantity of human waste. Or, in the absolute worst of times, a combo of both.
I had no time to argue with these philistines. I really, really had to shit!
I raced back down the hallway, through the store, and out the front doors. I galloped across the parking lot at full canter, heading frantic in the direction of Michael’s Craft Store.
Suffice it to say, I barely made it. And I mean BARELY.
So that brings me to the “great idea” portion of my essay. But first, I gotta say. My main issue with the no-bathrooms policy is probably not a lot different than my main issue with the chain of “Ross” stores in general. And it’s this: the philosophy behind all of it is just so obviously, unapologetically built up around disdain. The active-aggressive kind. The kind that is so all-consuming that it trumps even reason.
Cause yeah, gross people shop there. Yeah, they let their bratty kids rip open packages in the toy aisle and smear mango-scented body butter all over the carpets and they sometimes steal things and, yeah, they probably abused their restroom privileges to the point where the Ross fat cats felt they had no other choice.
Case in point: as teenagers, my older sister and my best friend briefly worked as cashiers at the very store where this terrible incident unfolded. Before they were both unceremoniously fired (a week before Christmas) they’d regale me with stories of vomit-splattered dressing room stalls, of diarreah-splooged diapers tossed into bathroom sinks, and of a bald and hateful manager who would walk around the store muttering, The G-D Goodwill looks better than this place!
But the point is this: slathering your products with chemical compounds powerful enough to double as diuretics at a mere whiff and then cordoning off your bathrooms is more than just cruel. It’s idiotic! Any philosophy of propriety that sends shoppers literally running from the establishment seems like a losing strategy to me. But hey.
Onto my GREAT IDEA: If you think about it, the Ross Syndrome does kinda raise the question of unharnessed potentiality. Because, if I’m right and this mysterious phenomenon does, indeed, plague others, think of the possibilities! CONSIDER THEM!!
This mystery compound could be re-imagined as a miracle curative for a variety of intestinal disorders. Feeling stopped up, but too poor to buy a jar of Metamucil? Doing battle with an impacted bowel? Overindulge at dinner last night and need a gentle laxative to get things moving again?
Come and be healed!!
They could call it the ‘Ross Dress For Less Wonder Curative.’ Or something. It’s like a Slinky, or a microwave. Nobody really needs to know how it works, or why. They just need to know that IT WORKS. And, believe me: it does.
So what do you think? Should I send a letter off to corporate just yet?