****Originally published 11/22/2014 (Edited and updated 11/10/2015)****
We start getting all sentimental this time of year, don’t we? Taking stock, counting blessings, giving thanks. Slowing down to recognize and appreciate friends, family, employment, good health, and society finally accepting that leggings are pants (because they are, dammit). I’m adding an unexpected but undeniably valuable item to my ‘thankful list’ this year.
Recently, I was presented with the unlikely opportunity to recognize a bodily reaction that many of us take for granted. It is readily available in times of fear, surprise, excitement, spicy foods, and yet we rarely speak of it.
I drove over to my best friend’s house to drop off something on her porch. They have this grey cat, Lola, who likes to hang out just behind the bushes in front of their porch. Oftentimes, as I walk down the pathway leading to Nikki’s home, Lola will saunter out of the shrubbery and escort me to the door.
On this occasion I heard the familiar rustling of leaves to the left of the walkway. I expected to see chill, slow moving Lola emerge from her hiding place and join me for the next 20 steps. I was not at all alarmed, but already leaning forward, preparing to squat down to pet the cat.
Instead, an ordinary grey squirrel shot out of the bushes like a furry bullet. He was traveling at approximately 2,500 mph and his trajectory was across the top of my my foot. Did you hear me? ACROSS my foot. Like, his clawed-ass feet met with the top of my boot. There was a quick scratching noise against the leather and then he was gone.
I reacted, in what I assume looked to the neighbor standing in her yard, like I was preforming my own version of River Dance with spastic wild abandon and while hopped up on meth. My knees met my chest over and over again as my feet stomped against the concrete in what sounded almost like a deliberate pattern. I pulled my arms in, bent and with fists clenched, close to my rib cage. A blood curdling “Motherfuckerrrrrr!” flew from my lips. Birds that had been resting in the trees above fled from the scene as if I’d just fired a shotgun into the air in a quiet meadow.
Squirrel was long up a tree by the time I realized I was still doing an awkward defense tap dance. After what seemed like a solid five minutes of involuntary jogging in place, I was calm enough to continue my walk to the porch.
The furtive attack left me shaking and unnerved but then, ultimately, relieved and aware of something I’ve always taken for granted: I am ever grateful for a fully functioning and swiftly reactive anal muscle clench. The ass sphincter deserves recognition and praise. No longer should it be spoken of in hushed tones. Let us discuss it freely around the family dinner table and in staff meetings. When we greet one another we should ask “How are you?” and then “All well with your clench?”. Weird Al should maybe write a song about it. “In the Still of the Tight” would be a fun title.
Had that muscle failed me, I’d have absolutely shit my pants. Actual dookie traveling down one or both pant legs. What then? The neighbor would’ve have seen me go from random public tap dance to walking all stiff-legged like Frankenstein’s monster toward the front door. I’d have had to ask Nikki if I could take a shower and borrow clothes and to please ignore the odor. I’d have been late to pick up the little kids from preschool. I’d have had to explain: “I’m so sorry I’m late- an asshole squirrel launched a blitzkrieg across the top of my foot. See, I thought it was my friend’s cat, Lola, but it wasn’t so then I shit myself. Obviously, I had to shower and change clothes and all. I would like to say that it won’t happen again but how the hell do I know? Who knew squirrels were such shifty-ass mofos? Not me. Not until today.”
It’s simple, really. As this holiday season approaches, while we’re all considering our lives; where we’ve been, where we’re going, what we value, maybe give a little thought to your anal muscle. Its rapid response to an unexpected adrenaline dump could save you from taking a different type of dump right in the middle of the mall food court. That muscle- quiet, unseen and modest- doesn’t ask for much (muscles can’t talk) yet, aside from the heart, could possibly be the most important bit of soft tissue in our bodies.
It is here that I’d like to publicly thank my own anal muscle:
Thank you, sphincter. Your clench is unwavering. You were there just when I needed you most. I vow to never, ever take you for granted again. You are important. You matter. You saved my pants.