Any shrink worth his or her salt will tell you that it is a mistake to think of your colleagues as family. But what is a family if not a group of people who care about you and irritate you and show up for cake on your birthday and look at pictures of your kid even when they don't feel like it and think it wouldn't kill you to put on a little makeup and a pair of heels once in a while? I've been earning a paycheck for 30 years. Whether rinsing conditioner off a Lhasa apso during my stint as shampoo girl at Mr. Whiskers Pet Boutique or breathing on the chicken breast I was about to serve a rude diner during my waitressing days, I've always found that the people I work with matter to me. Their moods, their opinions, their style influence my life. They've appreciated me, humiliated me, surprised me, and antagonized me. I've gotten flowers and I've gotten fired (and I'm pretty sure I didn't do anything to deserve either), but I've never experienced anything like The Tinkler.

"Dammit!" I say upon encountering her latest Jackson Pollock imitation. Pat, Suzan, and Valerie each come out of their stalls to see what's wrong. I point in horror. Pat groans, Suzan moans, Val throws up her hands in disgust, and we fall into silence. Then I rally, "At least we know it's not one of us." But everybody else is a suspect. "It can't be Sudie," Suzan volunteers. My eyes narrow. "What are you basing this on?" I ask. "I've seen her," she answers, "she always heads straight for the paper seat protector." "And," Valerie adds, "we can cross Mamie off the list—it happened twice while she was in Sweden." Sixty seconds ago the four of us were editors; now we are FBI profilers. "She probably likes to burrow into small spaces," Pat conjectures. "This never happens in the big, wheelchair-accessible stall…." "It's very primitive, as if she's marking her territory. This is clearly a hostile gesture," Suzan declares with authority. We're finally getting somewhere. "So, really," I say, "we just need to be on the lookout for an aggressively mean-spirited, mole-like cavewoman who is not confined to a wheelchair…is that right?" Val is the first to realize that we're losing our minds. "I'm out of here," she says, and exits the ladies' room.

Later, I complain to J.J., poor, naive little J.J…. She tells me that it can't be any of us, that the toilet is somehow to blame. I leave J.J. in her special world—a place where troubles melt like lemon drops and Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone—and resume writing my column. Gina drops by and reads over my shoulder. Suddenly she has an epiphany: "It's you!" she announces, pointing at me like she's Javert accusing Jean Valjean of stealing silver candlesticks. "Think about it," she says. "What better way to cover your tracks than writing an outraged piece on the subject?" I kind of like that Gina believes I am an evil genius, and don't have the heart to tell her that I once refused to sit my daughter on the lap of a department store Santa Claus because I had no idea who else had been sitting there.


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