Toilet

There’s a scene in the musical Caroline, or Change where the title character, a maid in 1963 Louisiana, is explaining to 8-year-old Noah, the son of her employer, that God made everything—“the whole world, you and me and this wash machine.”

“Did God make the dryer?” Noah asks.

“No, the devil made the dryer,” Caroline says. “Everything else God made.”

That’s how I feel about my toilet.

Not only does it malfunction. It malfunctions in a diabolical way designed to break my spirit.

The problems are legion—much like the collective name for the demons possessing a man in the Gospel story in which Jesus redirects the evil forces into a bunch of pigs that then run into the sea and drown. Frankly, I don’t see why innocent swine had to suffer, but the Lord works in mysterious ways. He sees fit, for instance, to let my toilet torment me, and what purpose could that possibly serve?

The nature of the particular monster in my bathroom is similar to that of the many-headed Hydra—you fix the broken chain in the tank but then the little cap that makes the water refill goes whomperjawed, and no sooner have you replaced the cap than the tiny fountain that refills the tank starts spitting water every which way, which requires the attention of the super, who has piercing gray eyes, sure, but he’s slow to respond to your work order, and when he finally does fix the plumbing issue, it of course functions as intended for precisely 27 minutes, after which the flushing mechanism stops working entirely, and I guarantee that this last catastrophe will occur right after you’ve taken an enormous dump.

MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?

I have a friend who’s a gifted photographer, and for a while during college she specialized in black-and-white images of toilets. I think the idea was to highlight the smooth surfaces and sensuous curves of the porcelain, recalling classic cars or even classic nudes. I admired how the project found beauty in a fixture associated with our grossest bodily functions.

Of course, this was before I learned that a toilet can also be a locus of evil. But either way, I guess the lesson is that there’s more complexity than you’d think in the shitter.

Setting aside truck stops and Porta Potties, the most unpleasant toilet I recall seeing in my entire life was in the boys’ bathroom at an elementary school in Denver. One of my sisters was a kindergarten teacher there, and during a visit to her classroom I had to heed the call of nature. Evidently, the male student body still had quite a ways to go when it came to the whole aiming-for-the-bowl-when-you’re-peeing-standing-up thing. And the custodial staff had failed to master the whole removing-decades-of-dried-prepubescent-urine-from-every-damn-surface-in-the-bathroom thing.

At the other end of the spectrum are those high-tech Japanese toilets with heated seats that rise on their own and an array of water jets that take liberties with your backside after you’ve done your business. I sat on one of those at a hotel once—though not in Japan.

I am all for things taking liberties with my backside, but the experience felt overcomplicated. Call me old-fashioned, but I feel you shouldn’t have to study hydro-engineering in order to take a poo.

I’d rather take my chances with my own toilet, even with all its satanic tendencies. The devil you know beats the devil you don’t.

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