There is a new monstrosity in the middle of Times Square right next to the Virgin Megastore. I had strolled by there on my way to the Actors Equity office a couple of times and wondered what the hell it was … but frankly, it terrified me too much to investigate. The entrance is enormous. Blinding white tiles confront you from within, and 2 escalators going up. Into nothingness. That is all one sees. However, happy-crappy sing-song Barney-shit music emanates onto the sidewalk, and compels one to see what the hell is going on in there. Standing on the sidewalk, are 3 or 4 guys – all dressed alike – in blazing blue tops, baggy white pants, and a hip-hop je ne sais quoi about their demeanor. The pants are slung low, and they are dancing to the happy-crappy Barney shit music, and somehow they manage to do it with a bit of street-cred. Even though (forgot to mention this) they are also all wearing big huge furry brown bear claws on their hands. Hiphop boys dancing around, cooler than thou, somehow acting like Lorelei to the scary white tile innards of this new structure. What is it?
Maybe on my 2nd trip past … I realized that it was a BATHROOM version of the Virgin Megastore. Now tourists do not have to struggle to find a place to pee and poop in their meanderings through Times Square. They do not have to queue up in line in the two Starbucks in that area. Now there is an entire STOREFRONT devoted to bathrooms. This is a good idea. I get that. But what’s with the happy-crappy music (literally) and the baggy pants brigade with the bear claws? And … where do the escalators go? What is up there??
I decided to investigate. This was on impulse. I was on my way to Equity a couple days ago, and I felt the tell-tale urge. (The title of this post, by the way, is a direct quote from Urinetown) My urge was semi-urgent and although I could have waited until I got to Equity – the bathroom in the Membership Department is, uhm, just not condusive to serious business. It’s one room – right off the main office floor – which is always packed with people … and it’s just an uncomfortable situation all around. Not when you have to pee, clearly, but if something ELSE needs to happen, it can be a nightmare. I have experienced performance anxiety in that bathroom before, so I decided – okay. Whatever. I will enter the tiled monstrosity and see where my urge takes me.
Guys, seriously. This is an experience like no other.
I have many thoughts about this new bathroom structure – some of it barely rational – but much of it has to do with my dismay at the G-rated suffocation of … well, New York certainly – but the entire adult world as well. I, as a strictly R-rated type girl, will fight this suffocation at every turn! Leave SOME spots strictly rated R, thank you very much.
But when you gotta go, you gotta go.
Up the escalator I went. This is a massive gleaming escalator – it takes you up two stories, just to give you an idea. You are encased in a long gleaming white-tile tube – and plastered on the walls are pictures of furry brown bears – and also repetitive (like cult-brainwashing repetitive) advertisements for Charmin, the company that obviously foot the bill for this G-rated poop magnet in Times Square. (Maybe parents with little kids think pooping is cute, and maybe they feel the need to make going to the bathroom akin to a trip to Disneyworld … but I’m an adult and I was strictly creeped out by the potty-training YAY FOR YOUR BODILY FUNCTIONS ambience of this entire place.) However, there was something highly amusing about it as well The escalator was packed with people. We all were being carried, passively, to the 2nd floor – where the toilets were, I guess. And I regressed. I became an 8 year old emotionally, giggling at everybody around me, because I was thinking, “hee hee, you have to poop! hee hee you have to pee!” It was my own version of Everybody Poops. I found it hilarious. I resented the brainwashing influence but I still found it hilarious.
I got to the top of the escalator. The second floor is all blue carpeting. Blinding blue. Right there at the top, is a small desk – manned by a couple people, all smiles, wearing blue and white, and little baseball caps. They looked like they were working a movie concession stand. And, indeed, there is a bowl of complementary candy canes and mints on the desk. You know, because it’s important to have a breath mint after you take a massive dump. People had stopped at the desk to chat, to ask questions? What? It was truly bizarre. I don’t want to DWELL on the fact that I’ve got bodily urges, I just want to get them taken care of, and move on with my day. But oh, this is not possible in Charmin Central. You must submit to the infantilizing displays. You MUST.
There’s a small blue-carpeted corridor (and everything is very controlled – there are barriers to keep the crowds in line) and then you emerge into a space that defies description. It is part playroom, part disco club, part bed and breakfast, part TV studio at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and part FREAKFEST. There is an enormous open space over to the left that you cannot get to unless you want to leave the line. (And why would you want to leave the line? Don’t you just want to poop, pee, and get the hell out?) But no, many people had left the line. Perhaps they were waiting for their slower-defecating friends. Who knows. Everywhere you look is blue carpet. And also Charmin signs. Big plushy white couches line the walls. There is a fake fireplace (I am not kidding). There are also TV screens everywhere, and huge video monitors and … I honestly wondered if I dreamed this part of it … but I did not. Playing over and over and over again is a video – with happy smiling dancers, a multicultural mecca of talent, against a blinding white screen – and music blares from speakers – as the “dancers” do their thing, lip synching to a song about toilet paper. I’m not kidding. At one point, all of the dancers line up like the family Von Trapp in “So Long Farewell” … and they sing, full on, face front, “We’re singing in two-ply harmony!”
Watching that (or, rather, being unwillingly subjected to that) I suddenly despised the entire human race.
I also suddenly felt like: Uhm … maybe I can do my business in the Equity bathroom. Didn’t seem so bad after all. And the URGE I had felt 5 minutes ago suddenly had subsided. Because of the terror and rage.
The video is playing over and over and over, it never stops. And people WORK in that environment all day long. I think we can expect some of them to go postal one of these days. It was like a terrible karaoke video … with this piped-in jolly song about wiping your ass.
There is a small stage over to one side (it keeps getting worse) – and standing on the stage is a guy in blue and white (what a surprise), wearing huge furry brown bear claws … and he is dancing. Not even with all that much heart or conviction. He’s just up there. Dancing. Trying to maintain SOME of his dignity. He has props up there, in case anyone wants to join him. And yes, people wanted to join him.
I hated the human race even more.
He had blue and white pom poms, and there were people dancing around as they waited in line to drop trou.
Over to my right was the REAL terror. A huge tiled open space – with 3 walls – lined with bright white doors. These were the bathrooms. No lines of stalls like in Port Authority – no. We each will get our own room. Now – this is actually smart – because a public bathroom in that locale would get trashed within 5 minutes of regular use. Just because 500 people peeing and pooping in the same area is gonna get nuts without some serious monitoring. So here is how the Charmin Wackos handle it. They have a staff – who all stand in the middle of this tiled space. They are all wearing latex gloves, and they are all incredibly cheery. Like Mickey Mouse Club cheery. And the line slowly moves forward – and people come out of the bathrooms – and people go in … but here’s the worst part. Whenever anyone emerges from the bathroom – all of the staff goes nuts. Cheering, shouting, a cacophony of voices, “WHOOOOO!” So you, who have just pooped, have to stroll through that congratulatory mayhem, just trying to move on to make your matinee. I gotta give it to that staff. They were completely enthusiastic. But there was something so unbelievably fucked up about the entire thing. Oh – and each bathroom is “cleaned” after each patron. One person comes out of the bathroom and is greeted with cheers of congratulations from the Charmins staff. (And some of the people in line got into it and cheered as well. There was a group dynamic going on that was SO not what my bathroom-self needed. I go to the bathroom and it’s a private affair. I don’t need you to CHEER when I am successful in this particular venture. I’m fine, I know what I’m doing, I’ve got it down, thanks. Thanks. No, really, thanks. But there was no way out of the line. You could not escape.) So – then after one of the rooms is vacated, one of the staff goes in, shuts the door – does their little clean-up job (cleaning up the sprinkling, I would imagine – and flushing if the first flush was not complete) and then comes out, cheering and whooping that yet another bathroom is ready. I gotta hand it to those people. I would so have a hard time staring at shit streaks all day, and then be CHEERFUL about it.) So people would walk towards the vacant bathroom, surrounded by the staff whooping like wild Indians, embarrassed smiles on their faces. And when you emerge from the bathroom – it’s like you have walked out onto a stage. There is no privacy. You walk out of one of those doors – and the entire line is right there facing you – and 5 people are all jumping up and down, cheering your amazing accomplishment.
It is the most fucked up place on the planet.
But I will say this, having suffered through the nightmare that is the public bathroom in Port Authority: the joint is immaculate. It smells overwhelmingly like Lemon Pledge – it must be piped through the speakers with the happy-crappy Barney two-ply harmony. The tile gleams. You feel almost EMBARRASSED at what you are about to do in that clean little bathroom.
Once I was in the bathroom, my amazement continued. The cult-brainwashing was on overload there. Charmin Charmin Charmin everywhere. The walls are bright blue, with painted rolls of toilet paper, and huge bears (some of them are holding their paws between their legs – to show how badly they have to go. Ew.) Another good thing, though: there are EIGHT ROLLS OF TOILET PAPER (uhm, Charmin) in every bathroom. And it’s Charmin. So it’s soft and fluffy and nice. Not the freakin’ sandpaper that Port Authority uses. Also, you ladies will know what I’m talking about when I say that the toilet seat was dry and immaculate. I still hovered above it – because I was freakin’ freaked out by the whole thing … but it wasn’t a disaster area. It was SCARILY clean.
Then I emerged and stalked grumpily through the gauntlet of war-whooping Charmin employees, jumping up and down in utter glee because I had just pulled down my big-girl pants and done a big-girl bowel movement. I’m glad they didn’t make me acknowledge what it was I had just done. I half expected one of them to rush up to me with a mike and say, “So … tell us … number one or number two?”
I took pictures the entire time I was there.
It is an experience not to be missed. If just for the sheer freak value of the entire enterprise.
Coming in … to my left is the fake fireplace. You can see all of the video monitors and televisions blazing with the Charmin two-ply video.
Standing in line. I took a picture of my foot. See the blue? Doesn’t it just make you want to poop your pants immediately?
And this one I took accidentally when I was trying to get a shot of the revolving disco ball (which wouldn’t come out.) As I fiddled with my camera, I took the following photo and decided to keep it because I thought it looked cool.
And over to your right is the bathroom area itself. Which looks like a television set from a PBS kids show. Big tile middle – lined with white doors. You can see the staff there … all in the middle of whooping and hollering for an ADULT who just performed a TOTALLY NATURAL bodily function. Isn’t it freaky?
And here are the photos I took from within my own personal bathroom. Yes, while sitting on the can. Here is what is on the wall BEHIND the toilet.
I find that so scary.
And here is what you see on the back of the door, when you are sitting on the can.
Just in case you were in ANY danger of forgetting. CHARMIN SPONSORED THIS.
Welcome, readers from Feministe! Hope you vicariously enjoy my experience.