The Eiffel Terror Part 3- Scared Sh*tless
The fear had followed me throughout Europe. It chased me from Paris to London, and then from London to Edinburgh. I would be someplace, the top floor of the British Museum, for example, or the fourth floor of the Musée National d'Art Moderne- anywhere that was higher than a couple stories up- when I would feel it. That odd sensation that first overcame me climbing up the stairs of the Eiffel Tower. Rubbery legs. A falling sensation. A feeling like I was in two places in time at once- one foot in the present, and one foot in the far future, when the building I was in eventually collapsed and fell under its own weight.
Now, I’ll tell you, as much as I hate heights, I hate fear even more. I hate the feeling of being afraid. I hate it when other people make decisions based on fear, and I hate it even more when I do the same. Fear, to me, is the ugliest quality a person can have. This is not to say that I am brave- I tell you, I am not. I feel fear all the time- the fear of dying; the fear of being rejected; the fear of traveling alone; the fear of being insignificant; the fear of being poor and stuck somewhere and having all my debt collectors come after me at once. The fear of being unloved. But every time I get afraid, I become so irrationally angry at it, that I just want to ball up my fists and punch it in its squishy, little nut sack. (That is, of course, assuming fear has testicles.)
So, when I was flying back to Paris from Edinburgh, I knew that if I didn’t want this fear nipping annoyingly at my heels forever, I was going to have to go back to the Eiffel Tower, but this time, I was going to the very top… eventually.
OK, I didn’t get right to it. There were a lot of gluten free bakeries I didn’t feel like I had spent enough time in the last time I was in town, and I also needed to make a stop at the Paris Lomography Gallery and buy out their entire supply of Lomochrome Turquoise (which I would later use in my project The Turquoise Desert), and then there was all the French wine I missed. Just so many things I had to take care of, you know?
But after a few days in town, I was sitting at a cafe feeling nicely buzzed from my third glass of wine and staring at the Eiffel Tower on the other side of the Seine standing tranquil and calm on this beautiful, sunny, blue sky'd day, when my buzz became suddenly hostile. “F*k the Eiffel Tower!” I said to no one in particular. Then I stood up, downed the rest of my glass, and began angrily power-walking towards it.
It wasn’t entirely close by either. I probably had 2 miles to walk before I would even be at the security gate, but I turned on the soundtrack to the Triplets of Belleville, inserted my earbuds, and let the overwhelming wave of drunken weirdness surge through me and towards the Tower. In that state, no fear could touch me. In that state, I was like some kind of viscous goo, pulsing and popping to the beat of the weird French jazz flowing through my ear holes.
After the security desk, I threw myself into the task of climbing up the stairs, striding up them with gallant, cartoonish steps. I maintained a good clip too, making a careful effort not to look down lest the gravity of my situation kick in. When I made it to the first level, I stopped by the store and bought two small bottles of wine and an ice cream bar. The ice cream was a bit of an odd choice as I am lactose intolerant, but I hadn’t had much to eat that day (as had become my custom while traveling) and I thought there should be SOMETHING in my stomach besides wine. I ate the ice cream and drank one of the small bottles of wine, then slipped the other small bottle in my jacket pocket, promising to drink it when I got to the second level.
About 3/4ths way to the second level, I started slowing down. The rush of weirdness had worn off and I was starting to feel sick. Sick from fear. Sick from the lactose in the ice cream. Sick from drinking that much on an empty stomach. But I was on a mission and I was going to persist. My grip around the handrail was tight and sweaty, but I kept a steady pace towards the second level.
Getting to the second level was a bit like deja vu. I was overcome by the same sickening feeling of falling, the tower collapsing, the deaths. And really, is that such an impossibility? I watched the skyline of New York change live on TV in 2001. I spotted the second plane off in the distance and exclaimed to the military personnel watching around me, “That other plane is going to hit the second tower!” like I was predicting a double-cross in a professional wrestling match. People told me I was being paranoid and then a minute later, the plane did exactly that. That’s not to say that I’m a mind reader, just that I always think the worst thing is going to happen, and sometimes it does. Also, that I was watching a lot of professional wrestling at the time.
I got in line for the elevator that went from the second level to the top of the tower feeling very much like I had more reasons than I’ve ever needed to crap my pants. I pulled the second little bottle of wine out from my pocket as the other tourists looked on wondering if I was allowed to do the thing I was doing. I didn’t really know myself, so I drank the bottle in one go. If I wasn’t allowed to have it, I wasn’t giving anyone the chance to take it away from me. I had EARNED it!
Standing in line, I wrote in my journal, imagining its pages floating gently down from the Tower as it fell. I imagined them being the only thing that survives in the event of a total Tower collapse, so I wanted to write something memorable to console my grieving family back home with my final thoughts. This is what I wrote: “At least if I die, I die drunk and crapping my pants!” Like, it would be some consolation for my family to know emergency personnel had found my body with a huge mushy turd in my pants.
I was shuffled into the elevator. I was happy to not have any more stairs to climb, but, I had so many questions: How old was this elevator? And how many people could it hold? Why were we stuffed into this thing like a Tetris game that had got out of hand? Was someone playing a trick on us? And seriously, how old was this elevator???
I didn’t have much faith in the elevator’s ability to defy gravity with this many people in it, but it was the only way to the top. If I was going to die, then so be it. Also, I had to go to the bathroom so badly, it kind of overrode any sense of self-preservation I had. I probably should not have had that ice cream bar, but I was happy to have something to think about other than dying. I would head up there, take a quick look around, and then head back down to the second level bathrooms.
The elevator lurched upwards and the already ant-like people on the ground far below us faded into faint wisps of fleas. The elevator reached the top of the tower and everyone piled innocently out, unaware of either the mortal dread they should be feeling or how much they should probably feel like pooping themselves.
When I walked out of the elevator, I rounded the corner and, rather than the amazing views of the city catching my eye, the first thing I noticed was the most improbable restroom I’ve ever seen. Now, I know that there are a lot of amazing architectural facts about the Eiffel Tower that I am completely unaware of- like, maybe, that it’s not made of steel but rather cardboard that’s just made to look like steel. Or possibly that there’s a species of rare turtle found on the Tower that exists in no other place in the universe. And there’s a slight chance that the body of Marcel Proust is perfectly preserved in the freezer in the first level gift shop, right next to the ice cream bars. But even if all those things were true, the most amazing thing about the Eiffel Tower would still be this bathroom.
First of all, it’s about the most plain bathroom you’ve ever seen in all your life. It’s lined with small, piss colored tiles, and the toilet looks like something you’d find in an elementary school bathroom. If I told you to imagine what the bathroom at the top of the Eiffel Tower looked like, I guarantee you, you would never in a million years guess that it looks as remarkably boring as it does. It is brilliant.
I ducked into the door of the restroom, and took the most glorious dump roughly 900 feet above the beautiful city streets of Paris. And, oh! That bowel movement. I won’t bore or disgust you with the details, but it was as if all the fear and anxiety I had inside of me had manifested in physical form and came to rest inside that glistening porcelain bowl. The sense of relief was transcendental, as though I had turned a corner in my fear of heights with one swift, magical movement.
I washed my hands and then walked back over to the bowl. With my foot, I pushed down the little flushing lever. The water started flowing into the bowl, raising the water level and the contents inside. I waited for the contents inside to go down, but it was as though the toilet had given up the will to live under the terrible burden of all that fear and worry I had expelled into it.
The mixture of poop and water was too high now and I realized with a similar mixture of pride and horror that it was going to reach critical mass. This unholy concoction had no intent of going down the way it was supposed to but instead was hell bent on breaking the the rule of law that prevents civilization from descending into madness and was making a break for the rim of the toilet and eventually onto the bathroom floor.
And how far would this chaos spread? How far over the bathroom floor? Would it get out onto the platform? Cascade down the copper colored, riveted iron beams of the tower itself? I wasn’t going to stick around and see. I exited the bathroom as inconspicuously as possible, embarrassed and nervously giddy as I closed the door behind me. Luckily, there was no one waiting to use the bathroom behind me to witness the atrocity I had left inside.
I walked away and to the other side of the platform where there was a man selling champagne. I bought two and he handed me them in cheap plastic “V” shaped glasses. And as I walked away from the counter double-fisting my glasses of bubbly, I, like the bubbles in my drinks, was overcome with a lightness and joy. And my fear of the Tower was gone.