“The Tiniest Sponge” by Mary Kathryn Burke, NYC

BLOG,Money August 12, 2011 06:00

topic: MONEY medium: TEXT

So it’s the summer before my senior year of college, and I’m sleeping in the third bottom shelf of a triplex bunk bed in a hostel in Newquay, England.

A smell keeps waking me up in my BARRACKS of a room.

Each room is surfer-themed. Mine has this Hawaiian-volcano mural.

And the smell is…DOG POO, I guess?

The place is run by this old woman who looks EXACTLY like Mrs. Doubtfire, with the nude stocking rolled down to her ankles.

I’m there for the summer because I’m writing for Let’s Go. It’s not quite a job—you are paid at cost. I am down to my last dollar. (I refuse to camp eating only cereal which is what the budget allows.)

I look at my sad ATM receipt, and I remember that I had thought it seemed so ROMANTIC to be a reviewer abroad. I thought I’d be like Frank Bruni at a New York restaurant. I wanted adventure. I wanted glamour. I wanted to feel alive.

My mother begged me, pleaded with me not to go. You’ll be a GIRL alone…

It didn’t help my case that we had to take a rape defense class before we left.

Ultimately, I do go and I’m all alone in Newquay, and the smell is not getting any better. It seems to be getting worse. It seems to be getting closer.

I go downstairs to give Doubtfire a piece of my mind because what kind of operation is she running here? Excuse me, I think someone upstairs…in the, uh, Aloha room stepped in something really vile.

We go upstairs. She throws on the lights. And we both realize together. It was NOT dog poo on the bottom of someone’s shoe.

My top-most bedfellow had completely lost control of his bowels. Cascading down the wall is this rivulet of human waste. It was like the volcano mural had exploded in the night.

Mrs. Doubtfire leaps to the top bunk, takes the guy’s head, and rubs his nose in it like he is a puppy. It was like she had dealt with this before.

And then she produces this bucket of soapy water and the U.K.’s tiniest sponge, and as the sun rises over the cliffs of Cornwall, she makes him scrub that mural: her home-turf justice.

I got the HELL out of there. I don’t mean the hostel. I got the hell out of Newquay. Seriously people, if you are traveling with the Let’s Go 2006 Guide, disregard the rest of it. I made it up.

Plenty of other adventures DID happen that summer, and some of them were glamorous and some even romantic. But for some reason, the thrill of that sliding-doors moment, the excitement of just narrowly escaping being shat upon in my sleep…

That was not glam. My mother was never told, but now I had this traveler’s war wound and THAT make me feel alive.

1 Comment

  • admin

    MONEY Week is nearly over! I thought I would close with this story. Mary Kathryn’s light-hearted and very relate-able story is a good one to wrap up our money week; first of all because I can’t resist a story with a sense of humour, and for its ability to make me physically uncomfortable. We have all, I think, had some kind of nightmare experience that did not go as expected and this one is as bad as any. “The Tiniest Sponge” brings us full circle in that money is, and is not at the heart of her experience. Her situation is framed, but not governed by, money. When was a time that made a decision for or despite the cost or profit it promised? How did that turn out?