the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Mexico, part two

What I’m about to write probably falls under what is commonly referred to as Too Much Information, but shouldn’t that really be the nickname of this website? You’re probably like, you know what, today was a good day: That Woman didn’t talk about explosive diarrhea.

There’s this thing, this phenomenon that happens whenever Jon and I travel together. And I don’t know if it’s because hotels are trying to save money wherever they can and therefore scrimp on some essentials, like, you know, functioning toilets. But without fail, every time we travel one of us clogs the toilet. And we have to make that humiliating phone call to the front desk.

“Hi. It’s Heather Armstrong in room 1408. We’re going to need… do you have… I mean… my husband… you see… it’s his fault… if you’ll just bring me the plunger we can do it ourselves.”

But they never let us do it ourselves, and when the person who has been sent to fix the problem knocks on the door it’s like OH MY GOD SOME STRANGER IS GOING TO LOOK AT MY POOP.

Seriously, I think I’d rather just answer the door naked. It would be less humiliating, even though I have mom boobs.

Quick but related tangent: my friend Cami will want to kill me for sharing this, but she’ll get over that sensation really quickly and then read this to all of her friends. Because this is quintessential Cami, the Cami who almost set her hair on fire when turning on the stove.

Cami traveled with us to San Francisco once when Leta was three years old so that we’d have someone to watch Leta when we spoke at a conference. We were staying at an old but very quaint hotel in the upper Haight, and inevitably one of us, I don’t remember who, clogged the toilet right before we had to leave for the conference. I had Jon make the embarrassing phone call to the front desk, and then we left Cami to watch Leta, but not before I joked with Cami that she’d have to hang her butt out the window to go to the bathroom until The Plunger Dude arrived.

Several hours later we returned to the hotel only to have Cami accost us as soon as we walked in the door.


“Is Leta okay?” I asked, worried.

“Leta? Yeah, she’s fine. LETA is okay. But they still haven’t fixed the toilet.”

I headed straight for the phone to make an angry call, but Cami pulled me aside first and was like, get this: turns out she had to go the bathroom very badly, VERY VERY BADLY, and she was concentrating on images of the desert and anything that might spontaneously constipate her, like a swimming pool of bananas, when she panicked and called her mom. And she was all, LETA IS TAKING A NAP, I CAN’T LEAVE THE ROOM, WHAT AM I GOING TO DO, MOM? And her Mom suggested that she look around for some sort of receptacle, did she see any plastic bags lying around. And Cami was all I AM NOT GOING TO POOP IN A BAG, MOM.

Turns out you can totally poop in a bag. And leave it sitting next to the toilet.

Boy, did That Plunger Dude have a bad afternoon ahead of him.

Flash forward to the third day that Jon and I are in Mexico, and what do you know, he exits the bathroom and says, “We can finally call it a vacation!”

“You did not clog that toilet, Jon Armstrong. TELL ME YOU DID NOT CLOG THAT TOILET.”

“Not only did I clog that toilet,” he said proudly, “but let’s hope they have a jackhammer on location!”

Okay, breathe, I told myself. Except I covered my face with both hands SO THAT I DIDN’T DIE.

Like I’ve said before, I don’t speak much Spanish, and I certainly don’t know how to say, “Our toilet is clogged, is there anyone here with a stomach strong enough to fix it?”

And every time I talked to the front desk on the phone about anything I had to repeat myself three or four times to get my point across, especially when I attempted any Spanish. There was no way I was going to be able to communicate this to the person on the other end, except maybe by going AGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!

So I took one for the team, I did. I straightened my posture, brushed my shirt to smooth down the wrinkles, and headed downstairs. If I was going to talk about poop with a stranger I was going to look good doing so.

The man at the front desk saw me, said hello, and then I paused for a second to try and figure out what I was going to do. Finally I said, “Baño… umm…” And then I dragged my thumb across my throat with an accompanying, “KKKKKPPPHHT!

You know, the international sign for I’M GOING TO SLIT YOUR THROAT. Except I was sure he would know that I meant that we had killed the toilet.

His eyes got really big, and he looked at me like, holy god, we have rented a room to a psychopath. A look I am totally used to.

“No, no… esposo… my husband… baño….” I stumbled and then shook my head furiously, like I was very disappointed in the toilet.

The lightbulb exploded in his head, and he said someone would be up shortly. That’s when I made a mad dash for our room and hid behind the couch. Nuh uh, no way, I was not going to be seen in that room when the man with the plunger had to come and do the dirty work.

And he did arrive, he was very casual and cordial, fixed the problem, and then lingered. Like he was waiting for a tip. I was about out of my mind at this point, screaming/whispering from behind the couch to Jon, “Are we supposed to tip the guy who has seen your poop?”

And Jon just stood there and shrugged, told the guy thank you and see you later!

AGGGGHHHHHHHH!!! OMG, see you later?

What is the rule in this situation? I DON’T KNOW, and for the rest of the night I struggled with what had happened. Do you give money to The Plunger Dude? Wouldn’t that be weird? Wouldn’t that make him some sort of poop slave? And then the next time you see him around the hotel all you can think is, “I gave him money to see my poop.”

I suggest you figure out these logistics before you travel to a foreign country.

(The following are half of the rest of photos I took in Mexico, I’ll post the other half soon.)

  • CO

    2011/02/17 at 10:06 am

    Beautiful pictures, hilarious story. Brilliant! 🙂

  • luv and kiwi

    2011/02/17 at 10:09 am

    🙂 My best friend’s family has a consistant “always happens on vacation” thing happening…I think she’d feel reassured knowing it could be OH SO WORSE.

    Poop in a bag. That needs to be a rap song…

  • Alison R.

    2011/02/17 at 10:09 am

    Wait….so….you didn’t tip him?!?!?! Thats the most tippable of all tippable circumstances!

  • dad

    2011/02/17 at 10:13 am

    I thought at first the overshare was going to be a vacation sex story… I wish it was!

  • lcg

    2011/02/17 at 10:14 am

    I am happy (?) to inform you that your husband is not alone. I am notorious in my family for doing the exact same thing! you are stronger than I am. I usually make the call and leave the room. quickly. while avoiding eye contact with all hotel staff.

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/02/17 at 10:15 am

    Wow, you guys actually experienced Mexico. Very ambitious. When we went to Playa del Carmen last year, we never set foot off the resort. Something about the way they kept bringing to our lounge chairs one pina colada after another persuaded us to mostly stay put.

    But thanks for the glimpse of a more authentic Mexican experience. And for all the revealing poop info.

  • girlplease

    2011/02/17 at 10:22 am

    You can’t fool us. Those were not pictures of rocks in the ocean. It’s what clogged the toilet.

  • odonata9

    2011/02/17 at 10:24 am

    Why oh why can’t they just leave the plunger? Just went to Mexico last month as well (Zihuatanejo, highly recommended) and I clogged the toilet TWICE! Once I did leave my husband to deal with it, but the second time, I had to make that call – I just hung out on the balcony when he came to fix it. And I also wondered about the tipping, after the fact of course – it does seem like something worth tipping for! And luckily, all the staff at our hotel spoke English so at least I didn’t have to try and explain it with gestures.

  • tokenblogger

    2011/02/17 at 10:25 am

    Okay, two things:

    Plungers usually come apart so they don’t take up much room in your luggage;


    You can also use the ice bucket and/or trash can in the room; fill with hot water and keep pouring into the toilet (slowly). The hot water will either move through the “solids” and make the toilet begin to drain. Even if it only drains a bit, just keep filling that bowl up to the rim and water weight will drive through ‘ventally.

    …and no one has to know.

  • jon

    2011/02/17 at 10:27 am

    I tipped the dude as we left for home. A GREAT tip. That guy was in and out fast. Plus? Sweet plunger. I need to look into where they got that plunger. Massive.

    Also? Heather was in the toilet RIGHT BEFORE me. So it wasn’t just me, is all I’m saying.

  • mycouchhascrumbs

    2011/02/17 at 10:29 am

    My husband and I, we are toilet cloggers as well. Why oh why cant they just put a plunger under the sink in all bathrooms? That would save us that shameful situation. Your pictures are beautiful.

  • cpchrisman

    2011/02/17 at 10:30 am

    Can I please go there now? What beautiful photo’s. I love the combo of the red gate and the water or electric meters.


  • skykate

    2011/02/17 at 10:32 am

    I believe it is customary to tip service personnel when they go above and beyond the line of doody.

  • sarahdoow

    2011/02/17 at 10:32 am

    “Mexico, number two” may have been a more appropriate title 😉

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/02/17 at 10:33 am

    Ditto what “dad” said.

    Also, maybe try less TP?

    Gorgeous photos!

  • Funnelcloud Rachel

    2011/02/17 at 10:37 am

    Hilarious. Also, when you said you took one for the team and brushed off your shirt, I seriously thought you were going to say “And then I rolled up my sleeves and unclogged that sucker WITH MY BARE HANDS!”

  • aposiopetic

    2011/02/17 at 10:38 am

    I think that once you compensate him for his efforts, he’s really more of a poop *servant*.

  • jan001

    2011/02/17 at 10:40 am

    So glad to know it’s not only me. I don’t do it with the regularity (sorry) you two apparently do, but when I do, it’s noteworthy. Recently I was just leaving a lovely spa where I’d been pampered and cosseted within an inch of my life, and just before leaving, I decided to visit the “facility” and you know what happened next. So I had to go out there among the flattering lighting, the soothing music, the chi-chi appointments all around and ask for The Plunger. Oh no, we’ll get it, it does that all the time! was the answer I got. Still. You know.

    And this one time? In band camp? No, wait, not band camp. This was in the lovely and spacious and well-appointed home of a cousin I hadn’t seen since we were both kids. I was staying in a guest room that had its own bathroom and It Happened. God, I was mortified. He shrugged it off and went to work with the plunger, assuring me that it happens a lot from that bathroom, being the farthest one from the main line. Not sure I believe that, but I didn’t argue. But GROSS!!!

    Oh, and the bag thing? Necessity is a mother, isn’t that what they say? I had to resort to that once after a hurricane, and recently passed along that non-Heloise-like hint to someone who was living without flushing toilets after a flood. N-A-S-T-Y but it works.

  • healthtwisty

    2011/02/17 at 10:42 am

    @Dooce: Whenever anyone does anything special, e.g., bring room service, bring more towels, unclog your toilet, they deserve a tip. This is true in the US (do you tip your housekeepers when you check out of your hotel? It is standard to leave a couple of dollars for each day you were there in an envelope on the dresser) and especially true in countries where the standard of living is lower than that of the US. A few pesos is not much to most Americans, but it can be a lot to service workers in Mexico.

  • ThePeanut

    2011/02/17 at 10:44 am

    Haha! Awesome. Also? The way you explained the clogged toilet problem to the guy downstairs is hysterical. I totally thought that dude was going to think you killed your husband in the bano and needed someone to clean it up. Ya know, with the way you pretend slit your throat and all.

  • sandi

    2011/02/17 at 10:58 am

    Your post cracks me up! I feel SO BADLY for Cami! Bless her heart!

  • ScrappyWyf

    2011/02/17 at 11:10 am

    Holy Crap! I think I busted a gut laughing, this post was so damn funny. Thanks for the AM laugh, I SOOO needed a crap story that didn’t involve politics.

  • Jeca51601

    2011/02/17 at 11:15 am

    I started reading this just before my lunch.
    Now, that fabulously made chicken salad is in the hands of my husband.
    Come to think of it, I think Heather should patent her blog as a new diet: “just read it and you’ll never, ever eat anything else in your life! promise!”

    Love the photos…

  • dianemaggipintovoiceover

    2011/02/17 at 11:23 am

    great photos. happy you posted them to save this shitty entry (rimshot! and i guess i mean that in more ways than one).

  • susanfishy

    2011/02/17 at 11:24 am

    May I just say that I needed that tears-rolling-down-my-face laugh today. Thank you.

  • Meisen

    2011/02/17 at 11:26 am

    No, no, no…you don’t tip the guy “to see your poop” you tip him BECAUSE he saw your poop! And since we are talking tips, here’s one: when using an unfamiliar toilet poop and flush before wiping. Do not wait to flush until you have a toilet full of poop AND toilet paper because it will clog. And if you use lots of TP flush several times.

  • Rebecca from Texas

    2011/02/17 at 11:26 am

    How is it that you can make dilapidated Mexican buildings beautiful? 🙂 So jealous!

  • One Hungry Mutha

    2011/02/17 at 11:29 am

    Oh my god, laughed out loud! (I refuse to adapt to LOL, I mean, how hard is it to type, “laughed out loud?”)

  • celestefsmith

    2011/02/17 at 11:33 am

    my husband does this whereever we go and it doesn’t even have to be a hotel room. he’s done it at every house we’ve ever visited as well. his suggestion is the mid-poop flush. 🙂 anyhow, he waits to go until everyone is in bed – we’ve spent many an evening snooping through people’s houses trying to find a plunger. when we visit anywhere now i just ask where the plunger is kept right away.

    on another note, my nine year old seems to have inherited his father’s problem. he not only clogged the toilet, but he caused it to overflow on our last vacation.

    and yes you tip the plunger guy. poor guy.

  • Christina_MT

    2011/02/17 at 11:36 am

    I will never again complain about the chronic constipation that I suffer whenever I’m away from home.

    Love the pictures. That sculpture is amazing.

  • Greygirl

    2011/02/17 at 11:40 am

    I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess most hotels in Mexico are used to gringos clogging the toilets!

  • jilllovesbacon

    2011/02/17 at 11:41 am

    Good rule of thumb: if anyone gets you out of a poop bind (so to speak), tip them!

    Poop-related embarrassment: my college roommate told me a story of when she was a teen hanging at her boy crush’s house, she landed a big one in the toilet. The toilet plugged and it wouldn’t go down, just swirling and swirling. In a complete hormone-teen-panic, she scooped it out and buried it in the bathroom garbage can. And ran. I don’t think she ever got that makeout session she was hoping for.

  • LuckIsMyMiddleName

    2011/02/17 at 11:44 am

    You obviously need to start staying at a lower class of hotel. I used to work the front desk at a Holiday Inn Express, and we just handed the plunger to the guest from the doorway and cheerfully waved goodbye. Once, someone tried to insist that one of my coworkers plunge the toilet, and she was aghast. In fact, she declined.

    Your pictures, as always, are gorgeous.

  • Lauren3

    2011/02/17 at 11:51 am

    Thank jebus for your poop stories, woman. I friggin’ needed that right about now.

    Cami, if you read this comment, it’s OK, poop happens– and sometimes it’s gotta happen in a bag.

    …AAHH WAIT just as I was about to click to submit this comment, I remembered that episode of Hoarders! Anybody else remember the one where the woman’s bathroom broke so she just started pooping in bags and throwing them in the corner and by the time Hoarders got there there were YEARS OF POOP BAGS MAKING A MOUNTAIN!?

  • luv and kiwi

    2011/02/17 at 11:52 am

    ha ha! @skykate you said doody

  • malisams

    2011/02/17 at 12:33 pm

    I actually just spent 5 minutes Googling “travel plunger”…to no avail. Also, I’m ashamed to admit that it took me that entire 5 minutes to realize how utterly revolting it would actually be to then stow the used plunger in your luggage come time to go home, nestled there near your toothbrush and souvenirs for the kiddies.

    Anyway, my husband clogs the toilet DAILY and also says the mid-poop flush is key.

    The pictures are amazing – the shot of the two palm trees is my favorite.

  • ljnelson

    2011/02/17 at 12:36 pm

    Ahh, off a phone call with lawyers, and then this. Thanks; needed the laugh.

  • JasmineStar

    2011/02/17 at 12:55 pm

    Tears. TEARS!! I’m laughing so hard I have tears streaming down my face. All because of Jon Armstrong’s poop.
    Happy Thursday to me.

  • Coyote

    2011/02/17 at 1:12 pm

    I so dearly hope the next masthead quote is:

    “I gave him money to see my poop.”

    Gorgeous, gorgeous photos.
    And thanks for the fabulous laughing fits 🙂

  • gitana

    2011/02/17 at 1:26 pm

    interesting to note that ordinarily when foreigners visit mexico they ALWAYS plug the toilets…this is because they flush the toilet paper. Mexicans don’t flush the toilet paper… the sewage system isn’t built to handle that kind of bulk. People wipe and then deposit the paper waste in the garbage bin which gets cleaned out daily. Toilets clogging in hotels is happens so often your plunger dude probably wouldn’t be able to remember which poopy toilet was yours.

  • Ratatosk

    2011/02/17 at 1:27 pm

    A few years ago I was walking to the park with DS early one Sunday morning when he announced he had to poop. We were nowhere near a bathroom or portapotty; however, we were a couple blocks from my inlaws house. They were gone for the weekend, but I knew the code for the garage door. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working.

    So my 5 year old stood on their front steps and squatted into a Target bag. Soooo proud. Was tempted to leave the bag on the front step because I called my MIL to clarify the garage door code and my SIL was shrieking in the background that I was a moron and apparently didn’t know how to operate said door ‘cuz it worked yesterday. 🙂

    IMO, in the future I’d tip the plunger guy and look up phrases in spanish indicating that your husband has adobe poop, dropped a huge load, sewer pickle, whatever.. 🙂 Liza

  • TexasKatie

    2011/02/17 at 1:51 pm

    It isn’t like you were giving him some sort of blessing of seeing your crap. I mean, it wasn’t like you would be “paying him to see your poop” like it is some sort of exotic flower, which in that case, he should pay you. He had to manhandle your dung, for goodness sakes. Of course you should have tipped him then and there. That’s the way it goes in Mexico. And just about any other place, I would think.

    Glad you tipped him at the end of the trip, but from now on I would tip people as things happen. Like, when someone helps you to your door with the baggage, tip them. When someone delivers room service – tip them. When someone handles your poop – tip them. When you don’t tip them on the spot, they get annoyed and then don’t give you good service. Especially in Mexico.

  • luckydog

    2011/02/17 at 2:27 pm

    the guy in the pic titled hombre amable, when I first looked at it I’m thinking, “damn, I hope this isn’t the guy who they sent to unclog the toilet”. Cause it would be kind of creepy if everytime you ran into him after that, that this is the grin he flashed at you. I would certainly be throwing some cash his way…

  • jennisdrinking

    2011/02/17 at 2:43 pm

    If you’re going to tip ANYONE, tip the poor plunger guy!

  • tallnoe

    2011/02/17 at 2:52 pm

    That picture with the rocks, looking like the end of the island… I have a picture of me RIGHT there!!!
    How funny. Everything else has looked so different, but I KNOW that location. From when I was 6 years old and on Isla de Mujeres.

    Thanks for the pictures.

  • FunnyGirlTeri

    2011/02/17 at 3:23 pm

    GREAT Story! … whenever i need a sparkle in my day.. you hit the nail on the head Lady!! Great Camera!!.. and photographer! ~Teri

  • Mrs. Figby

    2011/02/17 at 4:22 pm

    This made me so happy, because I totally thought it was just me. Or rather, my husband. WHO DID THIS IN JAPAN. JAPAN! Also at the apartment of a seriously cool couple in Manhattan who we really wanted to be friends with and it was the first time they had invited us over.

    Oh God. The nightmares…

  • dixie

    2011/02/17 at 5:17 pm

    He was definitely waiting for a tip.

    In Mexico, nearly any time someone does something for you, they expect a tip [ESPECIALLY if you are not local].

    As well, Mexican toilets tend to have smaller pipes and thus are less likely to be able to handle the waste put in, let alone waste+paper. Hence why most places/homes put the paper in the trash can instead of flushing.

  • Alexa

    2011/02/17 at 5:21 pm

    I think the story is great. This Christmas, my ‘baby’ cousin (she’s 12 years younger than her sister and me) clogged up the toilet at my parents’ house. Her boyfriend came and whispered in my ear to tell me, it was so cute. I asked my father for the plunger, and by the time he plunged it, it was confirmed as a family story for life. My cousin who is my age was horrified that her sister let her uncle plunge her poop, her husband thought it was hysterical, and he is already planning plunger-themed gifts for next year (and the rest of us, except my mother and her mother, are simply entertained). Oh, and the kids refused to use the bathroom and had to go upstairs (which is against my mother’s holiday rules). This is my family, people.

  • Janice

    2011/02/17 at 5:38 pm

    Not sure this will help you on a vacation but once I had to call a plumber because of a clogged toilet at home. I was mortified and single didn’t think fast enough to blame a fake husband. The plumber diplomatically asked if anything had been put into the toilet that normally isn’t placed there. Uh, no. He told me to pour a gallon of bleach into the toilet (assuming it’s not overflowing) wait two hours and start pouring buckets of hot water into the toilet. Damned if it didn’t work.

    I believe others have mentioned toilet paper and he also suggested I switch to Scott because the fluffy stuff clogs up the system.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

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