I finished working at 11, so I put some cheese, an apple, and a day-old pistachio-blackberry croissant in the passenger seat and drove to Issaquah to hike to Poo Poo Point, a knoll on the side of Tiger Mountain.
The Washington Trails Association is adamant that Poo Poo Point is named for the train whistles one can hear in the distance rather than anything scatological.
It’s a nice hike. It begins with a steep climb up slick stone steps in a tall green forest. Ferns conceal the bases of the trees. Once, on this stretch, I found a path of muddy, day-old pink and red rose petals that ended in a ring of trampled flowers by a small waterfall. So something wonderful must have happened there.
I had cell service, and I texted people a little bit as I walked. But every time I looked up from my phone, I questioned what compulsion glued my eyes to a tiny white artificial screen when there was a vaulted drippy mossy squishy universe to see.
I got to Poo Poo Point. Up there was shabby green turf and a windsock. When the weather is right, people jump off Poo Poo Point and hang glide down to the field near the trailhead and parking lot.
There was another man there setting the timer on his camera, propping it against a rock, and running to the edge of the turf where the hang gliders jump off. He was posing with his arms akimbo and his face stern. But there was fog, so the picture would just have been him standing on a patch of fake grass against a dingy white drop cloth.
There was a toilet at the top in a single room, and I went in to use it. I was wearing my backpack, and the side pocket containing my keys was open.
As I lowered myself over the stinking pit toilet, the keys began to tumble out…
A hot flash of adreneline gripped my body and I clutched at my pocket in a panic, narrowly saving the keys. The nape of my neck got sweaty.
I started composing nightmares the way moms probably do when their kids come home safe but three hours late.
What would I have done? I thought. That could have been horrible. Oh, I can’t even imagine, I can’t help but imagine…
I must imagine.
I shined a light down the toilet, trying to see the bottom where my keys didn’t fall but could have. I couldn’t see the bottom. It was too deep. Oh, what would I have done?
I thought about this the whole way down the mountain and chuckled as I formulated the most probable scenario:
The side pocket of my backpack is unzipped. I squat over the toilet and my keys fall out. I try to catch them and I do, between my pinky and ring finger, but I don’t grip hard enough and they slide from my hand into the toilet, clanking once on the way down. I expect to hear them land immediately but it takes three or four seconds before I hear a squishy thump thirty feet down. It’s bad that it took that long.
I am shocked. I beg God for an undo button, just this once (“You always say ‘just this once,’” God replies).
I choose to stay calm. I zip the side pocket. I shine a light down the toilet and try to spot my keys. I can’t. I can barely see the bottom of the pit at all, and what I do see is white clumps of decomposing toilet paper.
I go outside to see if the man taking the pictures of himself is still there. He is. He’s getting his gear together to walk down. I must decide now if I’ll ask for his help.
I hesitate too long. I hide behind the bathroom building so he can’t see me staring at him, and when I have summoned the appropriate air of insouciance and sculpted my face into a self-deprecating grin, he is gone. This makes me feel relieved. I also know I’ve just made another big mistake. I should have sought his help.
“I don’t need help. I’m resourceful,” I say out loud, looking around the pine needle-strewn clearing. I gather long slender sticks from undergrowth and sit on a wet bench to pull the laces out of my shoes. I lash the sticks together and shuffle back to the bathroom hoisting the flaccid, makeshift spear. I have cleverly selected a forked stick for the end of the spear: with this contraption, I will hook my keys and pull them up from the hole.
I get my spear through the doorway with some manouvering, and look again into the pit toilet, so I can strategize. Seeing nothing, I lower the stick down, hoping to prod around until I feel my keys.
But the spear isn’t long enough, even though it’s a lot taller than me. I pull it up, hitting the ceiling, and take it outside to tie another stick to the end, this time with a hair tie and a tampon.
I plunge the spear in again and this time it pokes the bottom with a sickening squelch. I’m trying not to breathe too much because the toilet smells bad, but I also want to take deep breaths to stay calm and keep my diamond-sharp wits about me. I poke, poke, poke around until I hear a jingle!
Careful now, careful. I try to trap them with the tip of my spear against the wall, but of course, this is nearly impossible in a pit I can’t see down that’s the width of a butt. I tell myself not to give up, but I know it’s futile so I give up.
Then the bottom stick falls off and takes a shoelace with it anyway.
I think: who do I know here in Issaquah who could come help me? The Village Theatre is showing Newsies and someone I follow on Instagram posted a photo of rehearsals, so maybe… oh, I can’t bring myself to.
I call my brother David, hoping he has a spare car key by some chance. But he doesn’t pick up. Of course not, he’s busy at work.
I text him: “URGENT!! I DROPPED MY KEYS IN TOILET ON POO POO POINT. DO YOU HAVE A SPARE???!!!!! PLEASE CALL ME IF SO!”
He texts back right away: “Uhhh I don’t have a spare, and seriously?? Need me to come get you? I’m off in four hours.”
I call my dad in Puyallup. Mom’s out of town. I know there are spare keys at home.
“Hello, Chels,” he says.
“Hey! Do you have a second? I have an emergency a little bit.”
“What’s going on?”
“It’s like not an emergency per se, but it’s definitely an urgency. So I just decided to take a little hike out near Issaquah and I used a pit toilet and my car keys fell in and I can’t get them out.”
“You dropped your keys in a toilet?”
“Yeah, I can’t get them out. I tried with sticks.”
“Okay, let’s see.”
But then he just starts laughing and laughing and laughing and so I do too.
“Classic,” he gasps.
“Have you asked someone for help?” he asks.
“Uh, no, but there’s no one here. There was someone here but he walked away.”
“Is there a phone number you can call? Maybe a service that cleans the toilet?”
A quick glance around the bathroom confirms: “No.”
“Okay, so we have a spare key at home, but is David able to come pick you up for now?”
“He’s at work for like a long time.”
“Okay, so I will bring you the key.”
“If you have the time…”
“Well, you’re stranded, so we need to get you the key. I can be there in an hour.”
“Okay. I’m so, so sorry.”
“Well, no, it shouldn’t, but it’ll be fine.”
“Okay, we’ll meet at your car. Send me your location: you didn’t lose your phone down there too, did you?”
“No. I’m talking to you on it. Okay, I’ll hike down and uh, thank you so much!”
“No problem at all. It’ll be fun.”
I hike down and it doesn’t take long to get to the parking lot. It’s now rush hour, and there is an endless line of cars inching along. They probably wonder what I’m doing, just standing there, in the cold rain next to my car. Jumping up and down. Leaning against the trunk of my car in the nasty rain, drinking water from a cobalt blue kombucha growler like a hipster doofus.
The day after this didn’t happen, I lost my car keys for good because I t-boned a Subaru and totaled my car. That’s another story.