It was a warm night late this past summer, the kind of night that leaves you panting between yawns like a horny-dull lover. A familiar craving drove an unsuspecting Seattle man from his condo: He needed a cigarette. He stepped outside. A few clouds hung in the breezeless sky, partially obscuring the waxed gleam of a fat gibbous moon, but not enough to dispel its brightness.
The 35-year-old man rolled a cigarette, alone. He'd lived in the small, L-shaped condominium building long enough to know the rules—if you wanted a smoke, you had to take it outside, either in the condo's gated parking lot or on the sidewalk. He was a computer programmer, not a rule breaker.
Laughter and muted conversation spilled out from a nearby bar. More horny-dull people struggling to make a connection in this crazy, horny-dull world. But that wasn't what captured his attention as he took a drag off his cigarette. It was the empty, nice car he says he saw parked illegally, partially blocking his condo's driveway. As he walked toward the rear of the car, he says, he saw an elegant woman shitting right where the driveway and the street meet.
"I definitely saw her bare ass," he tells me over the phone.
I lean back in my office chair, pressing him for details. "And you're sure it was a turd you saw?" I know better than most what a hot summer night can do to a lonely man's imagination. I'm a reporter at The Stranger. It's my business to know that kind of thing.
But he insists the combination of night air and nicotine had sharpened his senses, not dulled them. His voice is firm. "I saw her squatting, with her skirt hitched up, and a substance leaking out of her," he says.
He stood on the sidewalk, cigarette in his mouth, as the well-dressed woman finished her business and stood from her crouch, he says. From her appearance, he took her to be well-to-do, someone more accustomed to reclining in the lap of luxury than squatting in the street. As he watched, he says, the woman walked to the front of the illegally parked car and slid into the driver's seat.
That's when he saw it. "Poo—stools," he says. "She actually pooped right there in the driveway, when there's a bar and a little market with a bathroom across the street."
The man took a wild look around. The street was empty. No one else had witnessed the woman's curbside drop-off. Just then, a man in a suit exited the neighborhood market and headed for the car with two tubs of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.
"I said to him, 'Hey, tell your wife not to fucking shit on my driveway,'" the man recalls. "He didn't even look at me, just kept walking. He maybe thought I was a crazy person. I said, 'TELL YOUR WIFE TO NOT SHIT ON MY DRIVEWAY. COME CLEAN IT UP.'"
The man in the suit did not offer to clean anything up. Instead, he slid into the passenger seat and locked the door. The outraged witness continued to curse—curse the turd, curse the couple, curse the circumstances that led to him being there, alone on a hot night with an unashed cigarette, the only witness to a nighttime deposit he is sure was committed by an entitled dame with no shame or conscience.
As a final sign of frustration, the man flicked his cigarette at the departing car. The only response was a fleeting "Fuck you!" shouted from the man in the suit as the car peeled into the night.
"What happened then?" I ask. "To the turd, I mean."
"I did what they should've done," the man says. "I cleaned up their mess."
The man returned to his house, grabbed a plastic bag normally reserved for his red heeler's daily deposits, and picked up the turd himself. It was robust, he recalls. The man then called the Seattle Police Department's nonemergency hotline to report the crime. Police records show two officers were dispatched to the scene at 9:53 p.m. on August 19. As soon as he was off the phone, the man walked across the street to the market where the man in the suit had bought his ice cream and casually inquired if the suit had paid for his ice cream with a credit card, because he wanted to know the man's name.
Turns out, the suit had.
When police arrived minutes later, there were no suspects to question and there wasn't much of a crime scene to investigate. There was just an angry man holding a turd in a bag. He gave officers the man in the suit's name, lifted off his credit card receipt. But since the couple had already left the scene, and there were no other witnesses, there was very little officers could do. Their write-up of the incident (in which "complainant" is abbreviated to "compl") is brief and perfunctory: "See compl about witnessing wife of susp defecating on side walk/driveway. Susp became confrontational when compl reported it to him. Susps left area in unk direction."
That's the entirety of SPD's report.
The officers declined to take the turd in as evidence.
"What became of the turd?" I ask, leaning forward in my chair, intrigued.
"I threw it in the trash."
"Can you retrieve it?"
"I suppose so," the man says. "Why?"
"I'll be right over."
The day after the wife's alleged bowel movement, August 20, I get the man in the suit on the phone. "It's absolutely not true," he says. "We have an outstanding reputation in town, businesswise and personal-wise. We give to charity." He says, "In fact, I'm considering taking legal action for defamation of character." Because they have not been charged with any crime, and because each party alleges a very different set of facts, The Stranger is not naming anyone involved in this story.
"My wife is a very dignified lady," the man in the suit continues. "She's 62 years old. She's going to take her dress off and go to the bathroom in someone's driveway in the middle [of the street]? Does that make any sense at all?"
The man in the suit acknowledges that he and his wife, who've been married for 40 years, were illegally parked in the driveway. They are wealthy entrepreneurs and live in a $1.3 million condo less than half a mile away. As the man in the suit tells it, he and his wife had been out enjoying dinner with friends on the Monday night in question, and since it was so hot out, they stopped by the neighborhood market on their way home to pick up two pints of Ben & Jerry's—a chocolate of some kind for him, caramel for her. When the man in the suit exited the store, he says, he saw an "idiot kid" shouting at his car. But the "idiot kid" wasn't screaming about his wife, the man in the suit claims.
"I came across the street... There was this guy... he got obnoxious, and said, vulgarly, that the dog had gone to the bathroom in his driveway," the man in the suit says. He and his wife have a 13-pound poodle.
When I start to ask why he and his wife would bring their poodle along with them to a dinner date—and presumably leave the poodle in the car on a warm night (it was 69 degrees at 10 p.m. that night), unless they were eating somewhere dog-friendly—he cuts me off and starts talking about defamation. As he brushes my questions aside, he staunchly defends his wife's character, and his dog's. They "never left the vehicle," he repeats several times. "I couldn't have been in the grocery store more than two minutes—I would've seen them."
The man in the suit also claims that the condo owner, aka the "idiot kid," never accused his wife of shitting in the driveway, just his dog, and speculates that he "either had to be drinking or on drugs." (The 35-year-old man claims he only consumed one glass of red wine that night. He also says he never saw a dog anywhere, either in the car or on his driveway, "just that woman's bare ass in the exact spot that turd was found.")
"I can't even tell you how disturbed I am that someone would make this accusation against us," the man in the suit says. He threatens legal action against the "idiot kid" and The Stranger for pursuing this story, and says, "We should do some kind of a test on whatever he thinks was in the driveway," before hanging up.
Roughly three weeks later, I'm sitting in a bar with a scientist who has electric-blue hair. She picks up the triple-bagged specimen I've been harboring in my freezer ever since and says, "This looks like human poop."
"Yeah?" I say.
"I've seen a fair amount of poop in my day, and yeah, this appears human, not dog."
Finding her—finding anyone willing to run some free tests to determine this sample's origins—was harder than a three-week-old frozen turd. I met her on the internet. She used to test diseased human stool for a living, she tells me, and still has access to a lab. We discuss its heft as I polish off my Scotch. As dog owners, both of us, we agree that it seems larger than something a 13-pound poodle could produce. If my 15-pound terrier tried to pass something that size, he'd need an epidural first and a few stitches afterward.
That said, without a DNA sample to check it against, my blue-haired scientist tells me that identifying the origins of a turd—at least distinguishing between human and dog, which are visually similar in shape—is surprisingly complicated. Turns out, turds contain very little genetic material for scientists to examine. As the scientist explains it, human turds are about 75 percent water; the rest is made up of dead and live bacteria, indigestible foodstuffs like seeds and plant cellulose, fats, bile, dead red blood cells (which give turds their hue), and intestinal mucus. This mucus is made up of epithelium cells, which contain DNA, which is what scientists can test for (that said, the healthier the host, the easier it deposits its turds without the aid of intestinal mucus). And while scientists are adept at identifying the components of a turd, they're less often asked to take an unidentified sample and name the species that secreted it.
Unfortunately, the man in the suit did not respond to my request for a DNA cheek swab from his wife, so my scientist friend had no way to compare the genetic makeup of the stool to that of its accused depositor.
Later, on her own time, the scientist cut the thawed stool into quarter-sized pieces in a pathogen lab with biosafety gear. There, she made a discovery that further bolstered her gut suspicion that the sample was human: It contained red chili flakes and sunflower seeds. The sample also tested positive for traces of cow DNA and negative for wheat, which could indicate a healthy human diet—the sort of protein-heavy, gluten-free diet one might expect from someone who's well-to-do. But were the sunflower seeds and chili flakes the equivalent of a turd-embedded red herring? Maybe so. My scientist friend cautioned that her findings didn't rule out the possibility of a well-fed dog living off of grain-free, generously spiced pet food.
From there, she cultivated control DNA samples by swabbing her dog's cheek and her own cheek, then ran a battery of tests in which she amplified a piece of DNA cultivated from the turd and compared it to the DNA of her two controls. The results?
"Both controls reacted positively to the sample, but none could be proven definitively as dog or human," says the scientist. "I'm confident that whatever animal it came from, it was relatively healthy. There was no mucus, no blood. The host had a fiber-rich diet. It didn't look like it came from a dog, but it could've just been a dog with a diet completely unlike my dog's."
Days pass. I sit at my desk, engaged in a staring contest with a slice of now-dehydrated turd, wishing it had a mouth with which to surrender its secrets.
Then I pick up the phone and dial a number I know by heart. A familiar voice answers, a voice I haven't heard in months—not since I called him a fool for silly reasons and he returned the compliment.
"I owe you an apology," I say, breaking the silence. "And I need a favor."
My friend is a vet tech. He couldn't test the sample against human DNA, but he had enough dog samples lying around to potentially strike a match.
A few days later, he calls me with the results.
"I didn't find a strong match for canine DNA, which I would expect to see," my vet tech friend reports.
"You're telling me that you can neither confirm nor rule out that turd came from a dog?" I ask.
"That's right," he says. "Based on how much dog shit I see every day, I suspect it didn't come from a dog. I couldn't find evidence of dog hair or parasites, and if this is a dog, it's eating better than me."
That said, he stressed that his tests were inconclusive. It seems that only two people, give or take a dog's asshole, will ever know the truth of what happened while the man in the suit was in the market. This news was more bitter than sweet for the victim of the alleged shit-and-run.
"If it were some poor unfortunate bum doing it, I would've been grossed out and laughed," the 35-year-old man who instigated this whole story says. "But since it was a well-off woman doing it, right there when there was a bar across the street and a market nearby with a bathroom, that's awful. I wouldn't drop trou right there in the street and expect someone else to clean it up," he says. "She basically used my doorstep as a bathroom and then walked away like it was nothing. She should be ashamed of herself."