I was very excited when I saw that the Lexus GS450 hybrid was making an appearance on my weekly press-car schedule. While my fellow toilers on Automotive Grub Street fap themselves senseless over the Dodge Charger Challenger Hellspawn, I have different priorities. I love luxury, ease, fuel economy, and reliability.
By those standards, the GS450 is the ultimate sweetness. What a lovely car, so smooth and elegant. The inside is all blond wood and soft leather, with padded room to wander, like the fanciest dentist's office in Westwood. While the exterior is nothing special— it looks like a nicer Camry, basically—it drives so well, in so many different modes, with an on-the-dime turning radius that whips you into any Costco parking spot without a hassle. It gets 34 MPG highway and costs more than $70,000, fully loaded. If The Dukes Of Hazzard were successful late-middle-aged Japanese businessmen, this would be their car. To me, it is a precious artifact, rarely seen in the wild.
So the GS450h showed up, and I knew I was in for an exceedingly pleasant week. But that car also always trails a dark cloud for me, as though a Marvel villain were about to erupt lightning-style through it from an alternate universe. The last time I had one, nearly two years ago, something horrible happened.
It was January 2013, and I was driving the last model GS450h. Of all the cars I'd received, it was my favorite, or close to it, because I am coddled and boring and try to avoid gas stations. I loved that car and I didn't want them to take it away. Like all my favorites, I wanted to show it off to as many people as possible.
One Sunday evening, I went to pick up Ben for a late-night showing of Django Unchained. Of my friends who don't care about cars, Ben cares least of all. He walks or bikes to work, owns one car, a Prius V, and has his wife drive it as often as possible. But even he was deeply impressed by the luxuriousness of the GS450h.
"Ooooh," he said, pressing his hands into the malleable dashboard. "Soft."
"Heated seats, too," I said, activating the button.
We steamed on those creamy white-leather seats like a couple of fat dim-sum buns. It was a smooth, warm drive over to the Alamo Drafthouse.
The movie was long and needlessly gory at the end, a grimly ironic foreshadowing of what was to come in my own life that night. I dropped Ben off at home long after midnight and started the drive back. My house was about 14 miles away, most of it on open highway. I turned on the seat heaters, along with Sirius XM Radio. The station, I believe, was "Willie's Roadhouse."
Something unpleasant hitched in my gut.
Huh, I thought. That's weird.
Then it hitched again. There was a gurgle, and a churn. Suddenly, I felt a strong pressing on my abdomen. It was very strange. I had eaten a light dinner that night. At the movies, Ben and I had shared a bowl of popcorn, and I'd had a beer, but it had been a long movie, and I wasn't full.
But there it was.
My stomach gave an audible groan. I felt a full-on descent in my colon.
I began to sweat. My exit wasn't for several miles. The station began to play Your Cheatin' Heart, by Hank Williams.
Your cheatin' heart
Will make you weep
You'll cry and cry
And try to sleep…
I tried to focus on the road, but it was hard. My forehead began to melt. My stomach churned like the fetid waters beneath an urban pier. Whatever had invaded my gut insistently pressed downward. It had to come out.
Please God, I thought. No.
I began to heave from my mouth, desperately and audibly. My stomach felt like it was going to burst open. I turned onto a street that I drove down every day to take my son to school, a street where I walked my dog with my wife, where I said hello to my neighbors, the pleasant tree-lined boulevard of my existence.
It was there that I realized I was going to shit my pants in a Lexus.
Your cheatin' heart, Hank Williams sang, will tell on you.
The dam burst. A torrent of creamy dung erupted from my ass. My jeans filled. I was a drowning man. I wept openly and audibly.
Oh no, I moaned. Oh God.
Why this? Why now? I didn't even want to take a shit in the cars I hated, not even in a Dodge Durango or a Chevy Malibu or a V6 Honda Accord. So why was this happening in the Lexus that I loved more than any other? How was I going to explain it to the fleet manager? Or to the Toyota Corporation in general?
I'm sorry that I had diarrhea in your car?
It wasn't going to fly.
And the shit didn't stop. It just kept pouring out. The GS450h didn't have a toilet built into the seat, like in Idiocracy. That would have solved all my problems. Even so, though I realized I couldn't save myself, as far as I could tell, all the poo was still contained within my pants. Maybe I could save this amazing car from the incinerator. Like a veteran track driver, I had to act quickly and decisively, because my impromptu bowel movement was nearing its monstrous apex.
I ripped to the side of the road and slammed the Lexus into park. Lurching out of the front seat, shit still pouring from my butt like soft-serve, I ran over to the curb, pulled down my pants, and unloaded into my neighbor's sidewalk gutter. I was two minutes away from home, but I could hold it in no more. I howled as quietly as possible, since it was nearly 2 AM. Shit poured onto curb, toxic effluvia from a foul ass-rain.
A minute passed, but amazingly, no other cars did. No porch lights came on. Somehow, I had defecated all over my neighborhood unseen and unheard by anyone but the possums.
Finally, the pressure from my bowels eased a bit. I had to pull my disgusting jeans back on. My legs were covered in wet and stink, but I didn't want to risk getting one particle of shit on that beautiful creamy white leather.
My home was maybe a quarter mile away. I ripped into the driveway, staggered out of the car, and took off my shoes, socks, underwear, and jeans, leaving them in a pile. There I stood on my front porch, covered in shit, wide-eyed, panting like a crazy person.
It was a low point.
Lurching into the house, trying desperately not to splatter anywhere, I made my way into the shower. I wept for my lost innocence and for the beautiful Lexus that had been the site of my most humiliating moment as an adult human. It wasn't fair. The universe hated me. Sweet water, I prayed. Wash me clean.
Five minutes later, I was scrubbed of the nightmare. I splashed the showed with bleach. Then I walked into the bedroom where my wife was sleeping. I nudged her.
"Honey," I said. "Dear."
She looked up.
"What?" she said.
"Something horrible happened in the car."
Then she bolted up.
"Did you get in an accident?"
"No," I said, shamefully.
"Also, why are you naked?"
"Because I shit my pants."
"Oh my God, Neal," she said.
She addressed the real problem:
"Did you get any shit on the Lexus?"
"Maybe," I moaned. "I don't know. I haven't checked."
I was so visibly distressed, shaking with genuine terror and grief, that my wife, bless her, actually got up and made me a cup of tea. While that was going on, I put on sweatpants and a bathrobe and went outside to double-bag my feces-destroyed clothing and threw it in the trash. Then came the telltale moment.
I went to the car and checked out the driver's seat; it smelled fresh and clean and soft. Not a single fleck or smear of poop appeared anywhere, not on the leather, not on the floor mat. Miraculously, my old blue jeans, now forever dead and crap-encrusted at the bottom of some Texas landfill, had held the line.
A couple of days later, they came to get the car. I bid it farewell and waited for the call: "Why did you shit in our Lexus? Now you will never get another." Such a call would be worst nightmare of a professional car reviewer, even a semi-professional one like me. We're the wretched vassals of a soul-sucking, world-destroying industry, but the free cars we get every week are the one thing in most of our lives that give us even a scintilla of status, the remotest patina of cool, a flimsy, tenuous, pathetic connection to a life of wealth and luxury that we'd never be able to experience otherwise. Every week is like a Christmas commercial where the car is waiting outside with a bow on top. Take away that privilege, that ludicrous perk, all that free gasoline, and we're just half-naked animals shitting in the gutter.
But the call never came. No one knew about that night except for my wife and I. Until now. Now it can be told.
Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and it hasn't happened to me since. It was just one night, when I was coming home from a Tarantino movie in a $70,000 car that wasn't mine. So you can understand why I was a little nervous when the newest, even better Lexus GS450h showed up at my doorstep last week. I'm proud to say that I didn't shit in it, and didn't even come close. However, I did go to the Alamo Drafthouse again, to see Nightcrawler. I wasn't going to risk a fresh disaster.
Just in case, I drove the Sentra.
Illustration by Tara Jacoby