Starbucks, Seventh Avenue and West 38th Street

On butts.

Illustration: Forsyth Harmon

Afterwards, I’ll think about the many different ways a man might react upon a door being thrust open behind him as he does something at a Starbucks sink that involves his pants being around his ankles, bottom bared to the door. The barista who’d keyed in the toilet code for me wheeled away laughing in such an easy way that I suspected maybe wasn’t the first time this had happened. Maybe, even, the barista had sort of been cheerfully open to this happening. I blurted a sorry, as all English people must. Whatever word or sound you made at being interrupted was lost in all this, but you snapped your head over your shoulder to say it.

Bottoms have that strange capacity for retinal retention. To put it another way, I could not unsee your ass. For a moment, I just stood there and then I realized it was imperative to find a seat as far from the toilet as possible, and to become urgently engaged with my phone so that you wouldn’t have to make eye contact with the person who’d just caught you in some kind of flagrante.

I thought about the time I’d learned the American phrase “showed his ass” and how I’d delighted in it: everyone has an ass, but not everyone shows it. It seemed so much more robust and casual than the British equivalent, “making a tit of himself.” I thought too, about why it was that after the age of about twenty-five, all male bare bottoms take on a tragicomic aspect, something both cheerful and deflated, buttocks like the two mawkish masks of amateur dramatics institutions across the land.

I heard the door open and kept my eyes on my phone, waiting confidently for you to be out the door and gone. But what the hell was this: you were slowing down, not walking past. You were slowing down, and leaning in to say into my ear, “you can go in now.” And was this incredibly creepy—aggressive even!—or actually quite kind? As in, were you delivering some kind of taunt or was this in fact a thoughtful, almost courageous attempt to absolve me of my embarrassment, never mind your own?

I don’t know, but I did know that you were the one caught wanking in a Starbucks loo and here I was, wincing as you sauntered on out into the world while I thought the exact words, I know nothing about people and never will.