As a woman with a freakishly small bladder, life can sometimes be a challenge if I am far from home when nature calls me. Fortunately, I’m not a princess about where I relieve myself. I’ve peed behind LA dumpsters, and in the bushes at Dolores Park on New Years eve while fireworks exploded over my head. I’ve peed behind mausoleums in the cemetery, braved a zillion reeking port-a-johns, and once, I even peed in a mountain dew bottle, on a long stretch of Arizona highway that had zero gas stations or hospitable looking cacti to duck behind.
However, since having a small bladder is a fact of life for me, I can choose to either see it as a curse, or an adventure, and after peeing in some really strange and disgusting bathrooms in New York, I have now decided to see it as an adventure. After all, it’s exciting to find a bathroom where you have to literally climb over a garbage can to get to the toilet! It’s a marvel when you gaze into a new toilet and see something that looks like a half digested shrimp floating in the bowl. And my last night in New York, I had the privilege of experiencing some of the more special toilets in my life.
After meditating on what I wanted my last 24 hours in NYC to look like, I decided that what I most wanted to do was have some cocktails in Manhattan, and people watch. The museums I’ve seen are great and all, and all the food I’ve had was outstanding, but what I most loved doing during my trip was sitting and watching these strange underwater creatures flutter back and forth. Some of them fancy. Some ragged. Some may have been superheroes or mutants. And of course, many of them were big, swarthy, and deliciously hairy.
I also wanted to walk back across a bridge, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and say a slow sunset goodbye to the pulsing, electrical NYC ganglion that has both delighted and befuddled me over the last week. How is it that a city that is loud, graffitti-fucked , and smells like rotten hot-dogs can retain such an aura of romance? Damned if I know, but I was bewitched by its siren song.
Our first stop on my last night in NYC was a Russian bar in the Lower East Side, called Pravda. It’s in an underground cave-like place–perhaps not the best place for people watching, but a good place to get out of the sweltering heat and enjoy a cold drink. After about 16 seconds, I had to get up and pee. Generally, my strategy is to wander around the establishment opening up random doors with hopes of finding a toilet which often leads to waitstaff either showing me the way or scolding me for opening the broom closet. After wandering around, I found what looked to be the restroom (hey, it had a toilet AND a sink!), and I dropped my pants and TCB.
As I peed, I delighted in the fact that Pravda took extra care in designing the bathroom to look like an old soviet era torture chamber. There was a strange burnt-metal storage bin jutting into the room. And some doors on the other side of the room, which likely led to either a gulag or an icy room containing a single magical bottle of vodka. I also noticed a dusty office phone from the 80’s, taped to the wall. Who would be calling a bathroom? “Hello, Rita? I’d like to report a 4 on the Bristol Stool Scale. Fluffy, but dense. Please hold my calls until after 3 until my Immodium AD kicks in. Thank you.”
Later on, my friend Messy got up to use the bathroom. When she returned she said “Okay-I’m not entirely positive that was an actual bathroom. Did you notice the toilet had a baby seat toilet cover, and a weird dangerous looking pole dangling down from the ceiling?”
After a few more minutes, I got up to pee again. Before I entered, I noticed something distressing: The top half of the door was locked, but the lower half was open. (Yes, the door was in two separate parts). As I began to duck under the locked half of the door, I heard a loud voice: “Do you need help with something?” It was the bartender.
“Yeah, I’m just trying to get into the bathroom,” I said.
“That’s not the bathroom,” he said.
“Oh. But I peed in there before,” I laughed.
“I know. Bathroom’s upstairs.”
And so I made my way up some windy stairs to a small, red-lit bathroom. It was much more hospitable, but not nearly as fun as the gulag bathroom.
Our next stop was Arlene’s Grocery. A few years back, and old office client asked me if I’d ever been to Arlene’s Grocery in NYC.
I sighed. “Is it a grocery store run by an 80 year old woman named Arlene?” I asked, picturing a charming lady with a dowagers hump tottering over to show someone where to find tomato paste, while dispensing homespun wisdom from the 40’s.
“No,” said my old client. “Arlene’s Grocery is this really cool rock and roll club!”
“Wait. Something cool and hip is named after me?” I asked, shocked. After all, the only things bearing my name are usually 80 year old women, or 8 year old Chinese girls in San Francisco.
Well, we went there. And it really was cool and hip!
I sat down for a pint of Arlene’s Ale, which was almost as delicious as drinking my own urine, filtered through a sieve of wildflowers and funfetti birthday cake. After a few minutes, I made the face which indicates I need to find a restroom.
I then made my way to a bathroom WITH MY ACTUAL NAME ON IT! For someone with a bladder the size of a guinea pigs, this is like receiving a hallelujah chorus from a universe of angels.
Speaking of hallelujah choruses…. While I was peeing in my bathroom, there were two chicks standing at the sink discussing what sounded like a night of karaoke.
“okay, because I’ve got a cold, I wanna keep Wonderwall on the mellow side,” said one chick. “Okay, how you wanna do it?” asked the other chick. And then, they started rehearsing the song. In harmony!
“Maybeeeeeee…..you’re gonna be the one that saves meeeeee.” How awesome!
When I returned from the bathroom beaming, Messy asked, flippantly: “How was Arlene’s bathroom. Did you get a live concert accompaniment to your peeing?”
“Actually, yes!” I said. “Bitches were singing in harmony while I peed. Truly the best bathroom experience ever.”
After we finished our beer, we made our way to the Wiliamsburg bridge, where I had my dreamy slow-fade sunset goodbye to Manhattan.
So pretty! So gross. So glittering. So full of garbage and sirens and graffiti. And such a good time.
And now, I’m back to sleepy old Oakland-jetlagged, 3 pounds heavier, and chock-ful of good memories.
I’m also considering launching a career as a bathroom correspondent. Thoughts?