The Ross Syndrome

Res Ipsa Loquitor, eh?

Res Ipsa Loquitor, eh?

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.

Not anymore.

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?


To All the Jordynns I’ve Loved Before

This week, as I proofed a story involving a whole bunch of elementary-aged kids, I began to notice something rather strange. A good 75% of the kids had been bestowed with names that were either completely bizarre or had been spelled “creatively.”

An inordinate number of these names had random consonants and double vowels plopped down at their middles or ends. It almost seemed haphazard, but bulk of the names were so obviously over-conceptualized that I knew something else had to be going on. To wit, and I swear I’ve not fabricated a single one of these:

“Y” made an especially impressive, if not often inexplicable showing, usually as a clever(?) substitute for an “O” or an “I”
• Jordynn
• Camryn
• Kaycee
• Jolyon
• Jaymes
• Abbigayle
• Kyrsten
• Gryffen
• Tayvin

Other names were obviously totally made up:
• Kasten
• Nately
• Jezarel
• Karis
• Fame
• Dasher

And, interestingly, two little girls by the names of “Kyzia” and “Kysa” had ended up in the same kindergarten class.

The whole thing struck me as slightly ridiculous, and rather postmodern. As for the made-up names, well, I’ll at least give the parents cred for trying something new. But please. Let’s think through the concept of “creative name spellings” a moment: The ear cannot discern between “Katii” and “Kaydee” and “Caidi” and, well, plain old “Katie.” It’s pronounced exactly the same. So what, I ask, has a creative name spelling ever really done for anyone? It won’t allow him or her to stand out amongst counterparts, except, I suppose, if you count the lifelong chore of fielding confused looks and butcher’s blade mispronunciations these little ones have been tasked with. It’s a way to stand out, yeah, but it’s the wrong way.

And another thing: it’s completely inefficient! In 15 years’ time, it will be virtually impossible to intuit the spelling of anyone’s name. How can a person even be expected to think straight with all those rogue consonants flying all over the place? Teachers will tear their graying hairs out at the root. Credit cards will arrive bearing botched imprints. Fugitive double vowels will jump out screaming around every turn. Humans will stop addressing each other by name, too embarrassed to ask whether that mysteriously placed “Z” or “Q” is, indeed, silent. Civilizations will collapse! I’m not kidding, people! This could well be our ruin.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m all about free license, creativity. But it’s like this: when I was three, my pregnant mom promised my older sister and me that we could pick the name of the sweet third baby girl on the way. I campaigned hard for “Elmo.” Ryann was gunning for “Chili.” In the end, we settled on “Ashley.” I was on a bummer for a day or two, but I sensed then, intuitively, that it was somehow right. That the world was as it should be.

On the other hand. You know what? Screw it. When I have a little boy I’m soooo naming him “Rghyzxst.” Pronounced “Larry.” The worst of both worlds? You’d better believe it.


I Saw You

Well, hello, there … Yes, you! I am, in fact talking to you. I know we’ve never met but I just had to stop you a moment to let you know that I did, in fact, see you do that. In case you were wondering.

I saw you talking on your cell phone while driving, which is illegal in the State of Oregon.

I saw you help yourself to a bite of food from your date’s plate when she wasn’t looking.

I saw you hit the car behind you while you were parallel parking at Powell’s and then walk away pretending you hadn’t noticed even though you had.

I saw you pick food out of your teeth and look at it.

I saw you check yourself out in that store window just to see what you look like when you are walking.

I saw you check out the ass of the woman in the pink sweatpants when her boyfriend wasn’t looking.

I saw you refill your coffee without paying fifty cents.

I saw you knock a melon off the stand at the grocery store and back slowly away.

I saw you looking guilty when you walked past the homeless guy and didn’t throw him any change.

I saw you eat both halves of your Subway sandwich in one sitting.

I saw you pick a half-smoked cigarette butt up off the ground and stick it in your pocket.

I saw you sample four flavors at the ice cream shop and then not buy anything.

I saw you litter a water bottle wrapper.

I saw you pick a plum from the neighbor’s yard and gobble it all up.

I saw you speed through the crosswalk on MLK even though a pedestrian and a biker were waiting.

I saw you switch lanes when a cop pulled into the road behind you.

I saw you blow a snot rocket.

I saw you steal the New York Times Review of Books from the coffee shop on a Sunday morning.

I saw you cutting in front of me for the bathroom like you didn’t know I was waiting even though you had to take a shit and probably knew it was going to be awhile.

I saw you trip over your shoelace.

I saw you trip over nothing.

I saw you waving to somebody who didn’t wave back, and I saw you get embarrassed.

I saw you eat lunch by yourself with some trepidation.

I saw you walking around the store with a long piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe and I didn’t tell you.

I saw you telling a story that everybody stopped listening to halfway through.

I saw you go for a high five and miss.

I saw you ride the Max without a validated ticket.

I saw you crying during the National Anthem.

I saw you reading People Magazine at the doctor’s office.


A Random Social Experiment in Four-Point-Five Parts

Part One.

So I got this e-mail awhile back…


My name is Wilson Brown.
And I am married to Lilian. We are from
Portugal, working and residing in Nigeria on contract for (SHELL).
My wife and Children are not really good when it comes to speaking English hence we require an ESL Teacher to come and spend One year with us. You
would teach my wife and my two kids how to speak English and
some writing too. This is very important to me hence I would be
offering to pay you $4500 every month.
You would have a Private Live-Out or Live-In Accomdation depending on
your preference with Private Bathroom, SittingRoom and Bedroom. Your room
would also be furnished with a TelevisionSet, an Internet Ready
Computer System and a Fixed Landline telephone. If you can drive,We can make arrengment for that too.
You would take them in English Classes every evening. You would also
have the weekends off .Weekends with us is very fun as we visit fun
spots, go sightseeing and amusement parks. Do not worry about your travel
arrangements as we would assist you in that regards when the time comes.
I have attached our family picture for you.
Please write me on my personal e mail address
I hope to hear from you in earnest.

We’ve all seen these circulating around. Sometimes the specs change and it’s a French family. Or the job is in Ethiopia. Or it is some convoluted nonsense about bank accounts and disgraced statesmen and large wads of foreign currencies waiting at the Western Union. I’d always kind of wondered about the people sending these out. I mean, it must work, or they’d stop doing it. But how do they go about convincing these poor suckers? I wanted to find out what the alleged Mr. Brown would do if I went along for awhile. So I wrote back.

Part Two.


Kind Sir–

I received your job offer and would like to express my keen interest in moving to Nigeria to teach English to your uneducated wife and illiterate children. It must be fate that you wrote me about a position in Nigeria, actually, because I’ve always dreamed of moving to Mexico. I just love the Mexican people, with their sombreros and their little mustaches… I can just picture myself now, teaching reading, writing and ‘rithmetic to your dear little ones as we sit outside the cabana, eating tamarindos and sunning ourselves… Do you happen to live near any tamale stands?

I do have several questions:

1. Am I allowed to bring my pet liger? He has separation anxiety something terrible and I couldn’t bear to leave him here with my mom. She hates animals and has threatened to send him to the glue factory. He is small and doesn’t smell too bad, and I promise that I’d keep him in the closet.

2. I only have one eye. Would this be a problem? It has not affected my teaching in the past and I can assure you that people with one eye can do everything that normal people can do. Maybe even more! I just wanted to warn you, because my glass eyeball falls out occasionally and this tends to frighten small children. I would be willing to tape my lid shut in to avoid any such mishaps during my stay with your family.

Well, that’s all I can think of for now. Let me reiterate my enthusiastic interest in the position you have available.

Please advise me of what I need to do next to secure this enticing position.

Most Very Sincerely,
Georgie G. Pompigiorgio
Part Three.

So he wrote me back in a day or so and offered me the “teaching position.” Yay!


Dear Erin Bernard,

Thanks for your mail with details
I and my wife have gone through your mail and we have concluded to consider giving you the chance of being our Esl teacher and i thing we can cope with your unfortunate inabilities, beliving you will do better while staying with us. we will like you to send us your Refferences, job or working experinces for our study so we can procceed with other arrengments.

Looking forward to hearing from you soonest
Wilson Brown

So I wrote him back again.

Part Four.


Dear Kind Sir,

When I received your letter, I leapt from my chair in a fit of uncontrollable celebration. My teeth chattered and my hands shook, and a small trickle of urine escaped from my bladder. Just imagine… of all the qualified applicants that must surely be clamoring to take you up on your fine, fine offer, it’s ME you want! Me! Mere words simply cannot convey the storm of emotions inside of me. I, too, am confident that a sojourn in Peru with you are your wee little derliects will prove an emollient salve for my many troubles. My unrestrained joy and enthusiasm are tempered, however, by a few further concerns that I have with regards to the fine position you are offering.

First off, I was recently diagnosed with a mild case of rage epilepsy, and I am worried about how a sudden onset of an episode of RE might affect your little children if it were to occur during one of my teaching lessons. Rage epilepsy is characterized by sudden bursts of violence including but not limited to fits of cursing and physical violence in the form of slapping, kicking, spitting and uncontrollable flailing of the limbs. Such an attack can come on without warning. I had an episode this morning, for example, in which I am told I bitch-slapped my poor, sweet Grannie Pompigiorgio and called her names too terrible to repeat in mixed company. Oh, the shame! If you wish to learn more about my condition, the malady of rage epilepsy was addressed with profound compassion and insight on the television show “Melrose Place” in episodes 54-59. See, this one lady hated her husband and wanted to divorce him in order to marry her new lover, but she wanted to get a lot of money from said husband first, so she and her boyfriend, Michael, who happened to be a doctor, decided to start slipping drugs into her husband Peter’s drinks. Then he’d black out and Michael would beat up the girlfriend and then they’d pretend that Peter had done it and when he woke up he’d feel really horrible and give her money and things. Anyways, that is my confession. Do you think my condition will get better if I come stay with your family?

I will gather the requested references. I am currently working at a prosthetic limb manufacturing plant and can provide the email of my foreman as a reference if you want.

I look forward to hearing back from you most soonly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Most Very Absolutely Positively Sincerely,
Georgie G. PompigiorgioAnd he wrote me back again.Part Five.
FROM MR. BROWN TO ME:Dear Erin BernardThanks for you mail with so muc stories, i guess you must be good in telling stories too, however i believe you will do better while staying with us, except if you find yourself incapable.Looking forward to recieve your refferences,
wilson Brown
AND THEN… That’s the end. Sorry. I got bored of the experiment.
Trial Run: Death By Pop Rocks and Coke?
First published in the Weekend Missourian
The Premise It’s an infamous urban myth: chase a bag of Pop Rocks candy with a can of Coca-Cola and you’ll explode. The purported science? Both products contain the element carbon: it gives Coke its trademark fizz, while Pop Rocks pop due to pressurized carbon dioxide. Ingest both at once, the carbon builds up, and, boom!
The History According to the official Pop Rocks website, this urban myth has been traced to Seattle-area playgrounds, circa 1979. Around that time, a rumor also surfaced that little Mikey of Life cereal commercials fame had died after ingesting the gassy combo. Parents panicked, the FDA set up a Pop Rocks helpline, and General Foods went on damage control, writing letters to 50,000 US principals, advertising in 45 major publications, and sending the candy’s inventor on a cross-country myth-debunking tour. But all for naught. Sales dropped precipitously, and the product was pulled in 1983.
The Trial Pop Rocks resurfaced in 1985, however, and they’ve been on shelves ever since. For my experiment, I picked up a pack of the Strawberry variety and a 20-oz Coke at a local convenience store. “That could kill you,” the cashier warned me, warily eyeing the twosome. I laughed dangerously, but my stomach fluttered. Could it really? Standing in my kitchen 2 hours later, heart quivering, I tore open the package and poured its fluorescent contents into my mouth, chasing it quickly with the Coke. A semi-pleasant crackling sensation began in my mouth and throat as the candy popped and the soda fizzed. I kept drinking. And drinking. I felt my belly expand as I gulped, and the crackling became markedly unpleasant as the carbon ballooned my belly to seismic proportions. In 2 minutes, I’d stomached the entire concoction and was burping copiously. Bloated, sticky and exhausted, I collapsed onto the couch to await my fate.
The Verdict Relegate this urban myth to the nonsense pile, along with the microwaved poodles and the headless KFC chickens. An hour after the fact, the potent brew is still fizzing in my stomach, but aside from some monster belches and a nasty sugar hangover, I am fully intact and feel just fine. Well… sort of.


Why Little House on the Prarie is the awesomest show of all times
So I’m watching Little House on The Prarie and it’s the one when Mary’s already gone blind from scarlet fever and she’s headed wherever with this pregnant lady in this crappy oldskool stagecoach and then for some reason the stagecoach crashes (I was in the bathroom for that part, sorry) and the stagecoach goes “BAM” and gets all messed up, which sends the random lady into premature labor and so even though she’s blind, Mary has to run off into the prarie to get help and then she’s trying to climb this rock wall but she eats shit cause its too high and she is knocked unconscious and then her superthick glasses fall off, which I’m not sure why she’s wearing cause she’s blind but anyways, the glasses are just laying there in the wheat field and the sun starts shining through them and then the scene flashes back to the pregnant lady, who’s all like, “ow, my ribs… boo hoo… dear lord save my baby…” and then the sun keeps shining through the superthick glasses and then it’s like, “SSSSSSSSSS” and the ground catches fire and Mary is still passed out and I’m like, “oh shit, what’s gonna happen” and then the fire gets all huge and burny and starts spreading and Mary wakes up and starts spazzing out and crying cause she can’t figure out where she is and it’s really hot and and smoky and then by some coincidence, Pa is riding by on a different stagecoach with some guy who looks like a legoman and Pa spots the fire and he leaps off the wagon and runs over to the fire and sees Mary freaking out and so he saves her from the thickglasses fire and then he saves the pregnant lady, too, and then Doc Wilson comes and the pregnant lady has her baby and everyone is all smily and I’m thinking to myself, “shitdamn, that was a close one!”
A Case Report From the Urban Jungles of Portland, OR: In Search of The Lost My Little Pony
The following report outlines a top secret sunset mission I took last sunday with a man I’ll just call Mike. We set out into the quasi-urban jungle of Northeast Portland in search of a recently spotted specimen of a certain breed of elusive, city-dwelling miniature horse, known in happier, more prosperous times by the moniker, “My Little Ponies”. This equine breed flourished in the early to mid-eighties, originating in the sunny hamlet of Ponyville, situated in The Republic of Hasboro Toys. In the late eighties, a flood of the miniature horses immigrated to Oregon, hoping for a better life, in a movement which is now known as the “Great Pony Migration” However, few found the riches and happiness they’d sought, and the following case serves as a sad reminder of the bitter disappointments so many horses encountered.One female horse had recently been spotted in the quadrant of Stark/Hawthorne and 31st/25th, respectively, tethered to a rusting horse tie with a metal cable, and we set out to investigate. We discovered the female horse still at her tether, and in visible distress, her hide patchy, and her neck twisted into a backwards position.
One look at the telltale white, pink and purple mane, and we were quickly able to identify her as one “Sweet Breeze”, missing since 1987, when the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of a coworker at The Sweet Shoppe compelled her to flee Ponyville. Ms. Breeze had been employed at the shoppe since 1982, and, according to witnesses, had nursed a longstanding hatred of said coworker, one Miss Princess Divine Shine. Miss Shine was discovered in the ice cream freezer, strangled by her own pink flowing mane, with a my little pony pretty pink comb forced into her anus. By the time authorities discovered the murder and reached The Crystal Rainbow Castle to question Ms. Breeze, the young pony was nowhere to be found. After several fruitless months of searching, the case was eventually closed. At the time, the sherriff of Ponyville, a Mr. Patch Stardancer, released the following official statement: “Due to a lack of evidence and no leads as to the whereabouts of our prime suspect, Ms. Breeze, we are closing the case of the murder of Miss Princess Divine Shine. We send our condolences to Miss Shine’s family and friends.”Here is what we have been able to ascertain as to Ms. Breeze’s whereabouts since her disappearance: after fleeing Ponyville, Ms. Breeze made her way to the seedier sides of the Portland-metro area, were she was quickly taken under the wing of a local horse Madame known as Rhapsody Ribbons. Between the years of 1988 and 1998, Ms. Breeze worked under the tutelage of Ms. Ribbons, servicing male horses in a local horse brothel, known euphemistically as the Sweet Petal Parlour. The brothel was shut down in November of 98 after an mysterious, violent accident left one elderly Clydesdale, Mr. Greenvalley Highstepper, dead. Again, Ms. Breeze was named as a prime suspect, and again, she fled. Her whereabouts remained a mystery until last week, when a local citizen spotted Ms. Breeze chained to the previously mentioned horse tether. She was described as appearing, “unkempt, visibly disgruntled, and probably high.”
When we came upon Ms. Breeze, she began to kick and whinny, shouting a string of obscenities and violently resisting our attempts to photograph the scene and brush out her flowing mane, now covered in burrs and dead leaves.Thankfully, her 3-inch stature prevented any real damage from being inflicted. She had apparently been subsisting on worms and cigarette butts and was unable to explain how she’d gotten there. At one point, Ms. Breeze flung herself over the edge of a nearby precipice in what was apparently an attempt at suicide.
After photographing Ms. Breeze and attempting to calm her down, we decided against freeing the miniature horse, on fear that if given the opportunity, she might kill again. So, Ms. Breeze will remain at said corner until such a time as the local Portland authorities are able to come to a consensus as to the proper manner of capture and incarceration. In the meantime, rumor has it that several other miniature horses have been spotted, chained to horse ties around the Portland area in a similar fashion. Several derelicts from a local gang of Clydesdale pimps are under suspicion. However, at the time of publication, no leads had yet panned out.Ms. Breeze should be considered a violent and dangerous animal, and passers by are warned to exercise extreme caution in approaching her. Ms. Breeze’s sister, Twirlerina, who still resides at Crystal Rainbow Castle, was quoted as saying, “Sweet Breeze was always a half-breed cheap flooze. Her birth father was part donkey, you know… I hope a cat eats her.” The rest of the family could not be reached for comment.



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