This piece is a part of a series called “Walking Tours of Your Home.”The physical component of this section is an accordion pamphlet advertising a series of tours (read the image description of the pamphlet here).
Press play to listen to the audio as you read along.
[Water droplets echo.] Despite the acoustics, you’ve never been much impressed by this place. You wish you didn’t have to spend so much time here. I mean look at it. It is the smallest room in the apartment. Maybe thirty square feet, maybe a little smaller. You don’t know because you’ve never been great at math, but you know it’s small. Three-people-if-one-person-is-in-the-tub small. It would at least look bigger if it were painted white, but when you stand in the middle of the room and look in any direction, the walls are all an abysmal Bismol tile. Walk your eyes south like journeying down a brick road to find the pink porcelain has chipped on the floorboards, the grout filthy from years of you-don’t-want-to-know. Look in the mirror. You still recognize yourself despite the fact that your reflection wears splotches of blur-like birth marks. Ignore the rusted edges of the medicine cabinet it doubles as, and avert your attention to a sound. Do you hear that? [The water droplets grow louder.]ripping. It is coming from the sink just beneath the mirror. Reach for the faucet levers [a rusty faucet creaks ], pushing away from you, though they can’t go any further. The water still wells at the mouth of the spigot, though, doesn’t it? Dropping into the bowl like a childish taunt. And you have no idea where the stopper has gone.
[A toilet begins to whirl.] Then, there’s the toilet. It has a white base, a black seat, and a white lid that when closed looks dumb because a white seat would look better, but you know that you don’t need another thing to show dirt and age. You keep a few books stacked on top of the tank, an old copy of The Fire Next Time and a collection of Neruda love poems. Dust has mixed with the moisture from the shower and has browned the pages and curled them into beckoning fingers you continue to ignore. You never read them. Well, you have but not in here. [A switch flips and a fan turns on.]
Sit on the commode. It’s cold, but relax if you can, which you probably can’t. Don’t mind the wobble of the seat. Something has come loose, but for now, focus your attention to the right of you. There’s the tub, and it is the sole reminder of why you haven’t replaced the black seat with the white one because, god forbid it go the way of the bathtub, which is the way of untended teeth—yellow. A kind of people-plaque. Its color is a result of what so many have left behind. Take a look at the tub’s faucet. It looks like a metal turtle head sticking out from its pink shell and looking down at the stained tub, doesn’t it? Feels judgmental, but what’s worse is what lives a few feet away: the shower head. It’s old and door-knob shaped [shower turns on] and is the kind that would shoot a narrow spray perfect for a good massage if only the water pressure would allow,t doesn’t [shower turns off]. So your showers are longer than they need to be and also hotter, which is why if you look up you’ll notice how the steam has left freckles on the ceiling [droplets of water echo over an anxious pitter-patter song that begins to play]. Sometimes when you stay in too long, the freckles animate and become a rusty rain freckling the tub as well. Every now and then, though it turns your stomach, you wonder if it would all make more sense to just take baths, but you have no idea where the stopper has gone [the music fades out]. Besides, you’re too big for this tub. Actually, you’re too big for this room. You wish it were bigger;lso wish you didn’t have to hear your friends refer to theirs the way they always do as some kind of [Disney sound of a magic wand being waved] throne room or sanctuary, but that’s because they have children and their moments of peace are only available during moments of putridity. To be honest, their bathrooms are far nicer than yours. They’re usually the smell of cinnamon and suburb and untouchable towels hanging from a rack. There’s always grapefruit-scented liquid soap and a spot-free vanity mirror, but yours isn’t a throne room or a sanctuary. Yours is some kind of pre-war grave [unidentifiable bathroom water dribbles]. Yours is a fourth-floor walk-up shit-and-spit closet, a library of discomfort. Uncleanable, because it is impossible to scrub away decades, to re-white the calk. It is impossible to thoroughly wipe down a wall, to completely clean a mirror that has reflected hundreds. How does one brighten what has become so brittle? [The dripping water stops.] Last night at the potluck at Aaron’s new house [laughter and chatter grow in the background], you are reminded of this truth after Jess, a woman you have been seeing, emerged from the half bath, which Aaron’s wife Yvonne calls a powder room [high heels walk across the floor]. Jess had been in there for quite some time, not that you were clocking her. As a matter of a fact, you were busy devouring some sort of duck dish when she returned, refreshed and singing the praises of the toilet.
“The seat is heated!” She leaned into you. “ And there’s a bidet.”
“A bidet. It washes you,” she said.
“Is that what you were doing in there?” you asked, half curious and half hoping that’s what she’d been doing in there.
“Well, not just that,” she said.
“What you two over here whispering about?” Yvonne asks. She had been floating around collecting empty plates [plates and metal utensils clink in the background].
“Oh, Jess was just going on about your bathroom,” you said, handing over a confit-streaked dish.
“Ah, a sanctuary, right?” Yvonne set the stack of dishware aside on a side table. Then she grabbed Jess by the hand. “Wait till you see the one upstairs!” She whisked Jess through the crowd of familiars and unfamiliars and everyone taking pictures and tasting everyone else’s food and doing their best to avoid the children’s table. You’ve never been a fan of potlucks, even though this one was fancy enough to have a coat check, because there’s always some asshole who brings soda or a few bags of tortilla chips. And let’s not forget the person always bold enough to make greens. You brought potato salad, which makes you just as bad, maybe worse, but Jess insisted. You’re also not the most extroverted person. Actually, to be frank, you’re just shy. Not like stare-at-your-feet shy but like mingling-is-the-hardest-thing-in-the-world shy. So when Jess goes on a bathroom tour of the house, you figured it was time for you to see for yourself what the big deal was with the powder room. [A door is opened and closed, muffling the noise of the party. The Disney magic wand is waved again] It was pink, a better pink than yours, fitting, and it smelled like cinnamon, fitting [he breathes in loudly]. Liquid hand soap, so fitting. Towels hanging, not to be used because if they were to be used there wouldn’t be paper towels as well. You touch the toilet, and it didn’t seem any different from any other toilet you’ve ever touched, but on the side of it were buttons and LED lights [futuristic chimes and whirrs]. Who knew suburban toilets were spaceships, you thought. This must be what she was talking about. This you said, not knowing that you’d never fully shut the door. There was a knock, then a slow open. It was Aaron [the din of the party returns].
“You good bro?” He was holding a flute of champagne and was coming into the bathroom—also… fitting.
“Yeah, yeah, man, I’m— I’m good,” you said. “Nice bathroom.”
“Oh, man, thank you. That toilet—"
“It’s like a time machine.”
Aaron puffed his chest out. “Nah-uh. It’s a fucking throne.”
[A car drives by, and industrial city sounds enter.] After the party, you and Jess went back to the city, back to your building. You kept trying to tell her that it was a bad idea to bring potato salad, and the evidence of that was you carrying the whole vat of it back home, but you couldn’t because she rambled drunkenly about the master bathroom. [Heaven opens, and angels sing .] About how it had a shower and a tub on opposite sides. About how there were two sinks and grapefruit-sized bulbs framing the mirror. About how the floor was some kind of marble. And, once the two of you made it to the fourth floor and into your apartment, she whispered in your ear once more about the bidet, this time nibbling your lobe. You slept together for the first time. You want to call it “making love” but you won’t, you can’t.
Early this morning around 5:30 or so, you were shaken out of your sleep by the mangled duck in your stomach. You jumped out of bed, not noticing that Jess wasn’t there, and ran the, let’s say, four steps to the bathroom only to find a note written on the coat check ticket. A small scribble that didn’t need to be any bigger for you to know what it said [water begins to drop]. A breakup is the first thing you’ve ever read in here. You set it on top of Baldwin and took a seat on the toilet, still cold. You’ve been sitting here since then [traffic noises fade in], numb and the complete opposite of it. Listen to the honking of horns and the screeching of bus brakes. The world is waking up. Your legs are asleep. The sink is still dripping. Don’t bother with the levers. The shower is dripping, too. Your stomach is burning, and you lean over to rest your elbow on the wooden staff of the plunger you keep tucked between the toilet and sink. You know it’s weird and a bit disgusting, but in this moment, you don’t care. Behind the door, there’s a small spider that has spun an elaborate web from the bottom door hinge to the corner, and in front of you is your bath towel. It’s brown and a web of its own, trapping only the smell of wet. [Traffic noises continue.] There is light coming from somewhere, and you’ve been in this broke-down box for hours, scrolling on your phone, scrolling, and scrolling, and scrolling—who knows where the stopper has gone?—through the social media profiles of your friends, some from last night, smiling like they know something you don’t (look: there’s Jess, making duck-lips in the bathroom), when an advertisement for a new and improved bidet comes across your feed...
[Water drips loudly in the silence.]
Jason Reynolds is the award-winning, number one New York Times best-selling author of over ten books. But now that he’s finally written about his obsession with bathrooms, he can retire to his home in Washington, DC, where all the bidets are.
Eliza Smith and Jacob Winik are the cofounders of Cosmic Standard, a podcast production and audio design company. Jacob has recorded and produced hundreds of albums, engineered and recorded live events, and managed recording studios. He has gone on to engineer and mix content for TV, film, news radio, and podcasts, working on projects for CBS, Disney, Discovery Channel, KQED, and WNYC. Eliza Smith has been working in public radio for over a decade. She has been a reporter, a DJ, a radio playwright, and a producer. Her work with Snap Judgment spans seven years. In 2016, she launched the show’s first spin-off podcast, Spooked, which regularly tops the charts and has more than one million listeners. Jacob and Eliza live together in Oakland with their dog, ZZ, and their cat, Blue.