What do you do when Nature calls?

It inevitably happens at some point once I sit down at a coffee shop to work. It might be five minutes after my first sip of coffee or two hours, but sooner or later, I’m going to have to poop. And thanks to the magic of the java, the need will be urgent.

“Why is this a problem?” you might ask. “Why don’t you just go and use the facilities?”

There are any number of answers to this question. Maybe the bathroom isn’t close. Maybe it’s dirty. Maybe I have to pay, or I’m in the middle of an important job, or it’s too close and I’ll be embarrassed by the holy hell I’m about to unleash.

But usually, it’s because I’ll have to pack up my stuff and give up my spot.

If that sounds dumb, then you haven’t had to confront this annoying conundrum before. Good for you. But sometimes finding a solid spot in a crowded coffee shop is not an easy accomplishment. These spots are treasured. And who’s going to trust some self-righteous Bohemian chump to watch their stuff?

Hence, the dilemma.

Fight or Flight

Do you fight your bowels and the covetous hearts of your fellow coffee drinkers, or do you pack up your stuff and flee to the restroom?

This isn’t just a thought experiment for me, as I’m writing this article facing just this decision.

I got to the coffee shop early. Had some breakfast. Two large coffees. And it was only within the last hour that the rumbles began. Like tectonic plates shifting immeasurable pressure and weight, moving into position until a fault line is hit and the rumbles become a quake.

But I have work to do. Things to write, like this article. And while there’s an old woman sitting to my right who, judging from the way she’s rocking in her seat, very badly wants to take my table (I grabbed one with an outlet), I’m not feeling very generous about giving it up.

A gentleman would. Probably. But is it still required if the person you’re being generous to is being obnoxious? It’s not in the rule book, but I feel like it should be. If a person is being rude enough, they shouldn’t earn politeness in return.

Unique Environment

Coffeeshops can be a strange place to work.

There are always other people there working too. Students. Coders. Writers. Graphic designers. Freelancers, probably. Or maybe not. No one knows each other, but we’re all doing similar things. And as a result, there is this urge to notice and be noticed.

People either talk louder or just sound louder in a coffee shop. It could be because it’s like a library with beverages, but I’ve noticed that there doesn’t seem to be as much of an urge for people to speak in hushed tones. The opposite, actually. Like they want you to hear them.

This makes for great people-watching, which is also a distraction from working. And, weirdly, a source of anxiety about needing to use the bathroom. Because like I said, the beverages naturally lead to rumbles and large quakes. And everyone’s gonna know who blew it up once you go.

I have gotten up and left a coffee shop within twenty minutes to go back home because the damage would be too much to inflict. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But it was necessary. These were just fellow freelancers looking to enjoy their day. They hadn’t signed up for that.

This is what makes working out of a coffee shop so hard. In an office, the bathroom is a release. An escape from the daily grind. At the coffee shop, it’s a surrender.

And it’s one you eventually have to make, because however stoic you are, however much you can keep the beast subdued, sooner or later it’s going to get free. I’ve gone for an hour before. Was it worth it? Probably not.

So in this case, I ended up writing the rest of this article after packing up my bag, collecting my things, and rushing to the bathroom. In this shop, it’s right off the main area, like right off of it.

What do I notice as I leave? The woman has taken my table. She even eyes me as I walk out, sweet victory in her eyes, a subtle smug smile on her lips. And I leave, knowing that I’ll face the conundrum again. Unless I go to work somewhere. And who would want to do that?

By Brady Nelson

Brady has been using bathroom breaks to escape work since junior high. All that time spent on the throne eventually led to a substantial amount of philosophical thought. He dove deep into thoughts like, “how can I hide the amount of time I’m on YouTube while at work?” Alas, Brady found Poopable, a place that disregards his time spent on social media and celebrates his light-hearted cynical take on everyday topics. You can also read more of his writing at The Timeless Cynic on substack.