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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Brown Sound (Do Not Read If You Are Squeamish)

Every now and then you hear a story so outrageous you assume, you wish, you silently plead for it to be an urban legend....or you experience a combo of hilarity and horror and laugh till you choke, because you know immediately the story isn't true.

I had the latter reaction to the South Park episode in which the boys attend a national recorder (those stupid little flutes we were all forced to play in elementary school) convention and decide to try to discover the "brown sound" or "brown note," the mythical low musical frequency that 'causes involuntary bowel movements.

In turn, I nearly had the same reaction when I was driving Sunday morning and listening to NPR and heard an author talking about having explored the "myth" of random people defecating in clothing store dressing rooms. Seriously.

After a minute I recognized the voice to be that of David Sedaris, one of my favorite writers.

Sedaris, who was discussing a book tour, said that he had looked into this extensively and found to his amazement that when he brought it up to audiences, 97% or so of regular folk had never heard of this phenomenon. But the other 3% - who happened to work in retail or had in the past - confirmed his story.

According to Sedaris, he heard story after story of retail workers of going into dressing rooms to clean up after customers who had been trying on clothes, only to find fresh piles of you know what! What was crazy is he heard this story from very serious retail workers from all over the country.

My immediate reaction to this story was one of horror. Next, I thought the obvious: "Crapping in your dressing room is very, very bad Burnettiquette." Then I laughed, 'cause it was so outrageous it couldn't be anything else but funny. Finally, I got angry.


How sick in the head do you have to be to crap in a department store - not in a department store bathroom, just in the store? Is it a frat initiation prank? Are retail workers finding this only in men's dressing rooms, or is this an equal opportunity psychosis? Is it mentally ill people, or just really, really crass people who feel like they don't have to wait for a real bathroom break? Maybe it's sick people whose churning stomachs couldn't wait to reach a can.

It really does beg the question WHY, like the retired Columbia U. professor who reportedly paid several thousand dollars in the 1970s for Napoleon Bonaparte's penis preserved in a jar.


Some skeptics believe that the prof. doesn't really have Napoleon's little guy. So that begs the question of whose little guy is it? And again, WHY is it in a jar on a shelf in some old guy's house?

But I digress.

Crapping in a dressing room is so low down, I might be willing to get locked up to get a chance to punish an offender. And that says a lot, because I'm too pretty to go to jail.

But seriously, if I was a retail worker and walked into a dressing room that you just came out of and I found that, I think I might have to beat you like a rented mule, or as my Grandma Rosa would say, like you stole something.

Tsk, tsk. Very, very bad Burnettiquette.


  • Wow. Score one for you James. Prior to today, I have never heard of nor thought about people defecating in dressing rooms.

    Definitely Bad Burnettiquette.

    By Blogger QofD, at 9:00 PM  

  • Yeah, now I'm trying to figure out what made David Sedaris inquire about this phenom in the first place.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:34 PM  

  • I heard that piece on This American Life, and laughed my fool head off. The hour-long episode is available as a podcast or a downloadable MP3 (show #303), and the Sedaris bit closes the segment (at 50'42", to be precise).

    If my memory serves me, the question came up because his partner recently admitted having worked for a while at the Gap and experienced the aftermath of the phenomenon, and started asking people about it.

    It's a similar thing to the inexplicable use of department store bathrooms as gay pick-up spots. Is this some bizarre fetishization of American consumer culture, with the classic department store as temple of erotic worship?

    By Blogger mkh, at 10:35 PM  

  • whoa...that is bad. I'd never heard of it. That's sick. I used to work in a restaurant with some rather elderly clientele, and sometimes, they just couldn't help it..but it was usually at least within the stall...I felt bad for them because how embarassing is that! but to do it on purpose?? bad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:55 PM  

  • I am also a fan of David Sedaris. I recently went to see him speak and laughed myself silly. That man is hilarious.

    I am fortunate that during my short stint in retail I was never subjected to defecating customers. I imagine that would have caused me to quit on the spot as opposed to hanging around for 8 months being slowly driven to the brink of insanity.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 4:47 AM  

  • Well, James, speaking on behalf of the Mentally Unhealthy, it wasn't us. Probably!

    We have our standards as well.

    By Anonymous b, at 11:49 AM  

  • David Sedaris has a history of crap in his family - remember the mystery family member who wiped their ass with the bathroom towels (I think that story was in "Naked")?

    People will do the most disgusting things if they think they can get away with it. It's wrong on so many levels.

    And I remember the "brown sound" episode. Brilliant. But slightly less brilliant ran the crapping out of one's mouth episode. I just keep thinking about Martha Stewart sitting on that turkey.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:43 PM  

  • They'll probably find that the "brown sound" is somehow embedded in Muzak.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 7:45 PM  

  • Ok Y'all. I am here to tell you that it does happen. I am the poor sucker who has had to clean it up. Granted, they pee more often, but they do crap too. And it gets better. As I was washing pee off the floor, wall and mirror, I found the crap. Cleaned that up, cleaned the carpet with the carpet cleaner and disposed of all toxic materials. I went back to work to get clothing from the fitting room ready to put away. Found the rest when I turned a shirt right side out, and came out with a handful. The perpetrator used our merchandise to clean, or partially clean their child, turned it inside out and threw it in the basket of things to be put away. It is bad enought that retail workers are underpaid and in many cases treated as if we were total morons by people who can't read a sign, but to have to clean up after this type of incident is insulting. And you never know who did it. They are long gone when you find it. Why would I say that some of my customers were total morons? Because they actually wanted to stay in the fitting room (there are 5 stalls) while I cleaned the mess up. Now really, if you had half a brain would you want to try on clothes in a room with toxic waste that smells like an outhouse in July when they forgot to put the lime in?

    And there you are

    By Anonymous llh (Laura), at 8:44 AM  

  • People are capable of almost anything. One time, my Dad and his wife were out to dinner in NYC. She went to the ladies' room and found an enema bag hanging up in there. How desperate for an Upper Colonic do you have to be in order to give yourself an enema in a public rest room? Yeef.

    By Blogger Elisson, at 10:56 AM  

  • this is two years old now but nevertheless I have something to add...

    When I was working at a sports store in england, we had a break in, and one of the thieves had taken a crap in the store...

    According to the police this was quite common with thieves and shoplifters because the adrenalin starts pumping and they lose bowel control...

    Most likely the crappers were shoplifters...

    By Blogger Vaughan Wynne-Jones, at 5:24 PM  

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