When I was in eighth grade, I gave a kid a horrible nickname that people still remember today.
I called him The Dump Kid.
Let me explain why.
The small Catholic school I attended added a new wing just before I started junior high. So the seventh and eighth grade kids were mostly segregated from the rest of the school.
We had our own lockers. Our own classrooms. Our own bathrooms.
And that’s how I noticed him.
This little, awkward kid with high-water pants and an awful cowlick.
We would mill about in the morning out in the halls until the bell rang for homeroom to start. Every day.
And I don’t recall exactly when I noticed the pattern. But I did.
Every morning before class started, this out-of-place fifth grader would shuffle his way down to the bathroom outside the junior high classrooms. And no one takes THAT long to pee.
I had sufficient evidence to conclude that Joe—that’s his name, Joe—was pooping in the junior high bathroom every single day.
It was his poop schedule. I get it now. I’m an adult. Some people have poop schedules. Twenty years later, most people are mature enough not to call attention to it. It’s one of those things we just don’t talk about.
And believe me. I understand. If you’ve been reading for any length of time, you know how neurotic I am. In first and second grade, my school bathroom didn’t have doors on the stalls. I wouldn’t even go unless it was a Come-to-Jesus situation.
When I was a little older—maybe in fifth grade—I was at a friend’s house who had a little half bathroom located on a small landing that you passed when you walked down to the basement. Totally exposed. One time I was pooping in there when my friend’s gorgeous older sister walked in from the side door that came in from the outside.
I wanted to die. But I never had a chance with her anyway.
Even today, at age 34, I won’t exit a bathroom stall at work if others are in there. It’s too embarrassing.
Oh, look! There’s Matt coming out of the stall! He pooped! What a smelly, disgusting person he is!, they must all be thinking.
This is one of the few areas of life where I believe women have it better than men.
So, back to The Dump Kid.
His biological schedule dictated that he have a bowel movement every morning before school started. And he chose to do it in the junior high wing. Under the watchful and judgmental eye of one particular asshole: Me.
I started telling friends about it.
“Hey, check this out. There’s The Dump Kid,” I said.
“The Dump Kid?” they said.
“Yes. The Dump Kid. He comes down every single day and takes a dump. Just watch,” I said.
And we did.
He’d go in the bathroom. And come out after several minutes. We knew he pooped. We laughed and judged.
Word spread of The Dump Kid’s morning poop adventures.
It wasn’t long before dozens of kids were monitoring The Dump Kid’s excrement-dropping activities.
The Dump King
Some years later, in college, I bumped into someone I’d gone to school with who was a few years younger than me.
And for reasons beyond my understanding, he mentioned The Dump King.
“Who the hell is The Dump King?” I asked.
He said Joe’s full name.
“Holy shit. People are STILL calling him that?” I asked. “That was a hundred years ago!”
“What do you mean, still?” he said.
“One, I’m the guy who nicknamed him. And I’m not particularly proud of it. And two, let’s get something straight: He’s The Dump KID. Not the Dump KING,” I said.
He was blown away by my confession and of learning the genesis of Joe’s nickname.
He nonetheless shrugged off my trademarked nickname as dated and meaningless.
The Dump Kid® was now The Dump King™. Evolution, I guess.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this guy over the years. At least as much as one can think about a guy you’ve never talked to.
Do his parents know his nickname?
Does he know I coined it?
Does he think about it every time he has to poop?
Did it impair his ability to meet girls?
To have self-confidence?
To succeed in life?
I pray he never thinks about it. I pray he’s had an amazing adulthood. That he’s adored by women. Surrounded by incredible friends and family.
I stalked him on the Internet today. I wanted to read that he’d won the Pulitzer Prize, or was a young CEO at a Silicon Valley startup, or that he invented something important.
I only found one thing.
A little church newsletter from my hometown dated October 2012. He and another kid I remember from my youth organized a golf tournament fundraiser for a local soup kitchen.
They raised $4,300. To help feed hungry people.
And I smiled.
Because no matter what his life looks like now, in whatever ways you choose to evaluate success and failure, I learned something important about Joe.
He has a kind and giving heart. He puts energy into things that serve others. He cares about things greater than himself.
And that’s something that probably helps him sleep at night.
That’s something that probably makes his parents proud.
That’s something that probably helps him succeed in his human relationships.
And now I can sleep just a little bit better, too.
Because I didn’t ruin a kid by participating in what might be labeled a cruel joke through the prism of adulthood—through the prism of a parent whose son is about to go to grade school for the first time.
What if the other kids aren’t nice to him?
What if he’s not nice to other kids?
What if he develops a pooping complex?
What if he won’t exit the stall when others are in the room 30 years from now?
Because we all have to shit.
But we don’t have to shit on each other.