It was getting close to Thanksgiving so I asked my friend if he wanted to meet at Bob Evans. He likes Bob Evans and they’d been advertising a slow-roasted turkey dinner with stuffing and extras and since there was a chance I wasn’t going to get a real Thanksgiving meal, it seemed like a decent idea. Plus, I wanted to see how my friend was doing since he was going through some trouble.
I arrived at Bob Evans 30 minutes early so I walked over to Home Depot. I needed a new toilet seat because I’m lazy and I don’t lift the lid and all too often piss all over it, without wiping it off, which causes it to stain. That’s what a lazy and gross piece of shit I can be.
As I was walking over to Home Depot, I got to thinking about the toilet seats with the gap in the front which are for commercial or public toilets. You never see the ones with the cut out piece in the front for sale at Home Depot. I heard somewhere they’re not sold for domestic use. I thought that was a shame as it would mostly solve my pissing all over the seat problem. Then I got to thinking how you could probably steal one from somewhere like the public restroom in Home Depot.
I walked into Home Depot, fantasizing about the theft. Would the public toilet seat have special screws that would make it especially difficult to remove? I pictured myself as a cat burglar but instead of picking a safe, I was picking the Home Depot’s public toilet seat with some special tool for the job.
I was walking around looking for the plumbing section – still fantasizing:. If I could unseat their toilet, I’d have to sneak it outside under my coat or something. And that would be gross. But, you could slather a wad of paper towels with the washroom’s hand sanitizer and then wipe that all over the extracted seat. That’d kill all the germs, I reasoned. Then slide it under my jacket and walk on out. It wasn’t like stealing Munch’s The Scream, but still, it would be daring and thrilling, I decided.
Already jacked on caffeine, I was only playing with this idea of stealing Home Depot’s toilet seat. It was an indulgence in the absurd. I wasn’t serious, so I went down the aisle where they sold domestic toilet seats. I had a good idea of the one I wanted – the one I always and far too frequently bought – the cheapest – the $6 toilet seat. But the selection of seats was vast and bewildering and the pattern of their order was neither immediate nor intuitive. They weren’t arranged by color or price or even shape (round or oblong). So it took a while to find the one I wanted. It was during that search that I encountered the $40 toilet seat.
I didn’t spend that much time contemplating the $40 seat since my ass is working-class, far below the aristocracy of the luxury seat. I just wanted to find my cheapo seat and get the hell out. But I did notice in many of the descriptions on the tags – in bold print – NO SLAM which seemed to be an uncommon denominator between the econo and premium seats. I found my cheap seat and went to the self-checkout where some skinny and scraggly-beared kid was attending things. He gave me the scripted greeting and I gave him the scripted reply. But there was a part of me that itched to put myself over – with him or anybody else – by letting them know how I’m a toilet seat purist, not a faddist. How my $6 seat is all about utility – lacking all the frills of cushioning, NO SLAM or whatever other bells and whistles come with the luxury models. But somehow it didn’t seem right to engage a stranger with that – even though he might offer some commentary or expertise from his work life at Home Depot. But I just rang out the seat instead, walked out, dropped it in my vehicle and walked on over to Bob Evans instead.
I was still a little early and my friend still hadn’t arrived so I got our booth and had a few cups of coffee while I waited.
He finally arrived and I ordered the turkey dinner while he got the roast pork.
We talked awkwardly, at first, about a few things, mostly his troubles, which I took genuine interest in but, at the same time, it’s awkward cause there’s no playbook for what to do or say for a person who’s struggling. But the awkward also held a tension about more than him, for I had something on my mind too. Troubles of my own. Something I needed to get off my chest. But I needed to find the right opening. Given the subject matter, after the meal seemed best. After we’d cleared the talk about his troubles.
So when it looked like he’d finished, saying his roast pork was really good but leaving some of the carrots and his plate – just moving them around with his knife – I decided the time was right. My turkey was okay. I’d eaten all the green beans and mashed potatoes but left a little bit of the turkey and stuffing.
I was nervous and anxious. “It got this thing I wanted to ask you about,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said.
“You know how I run in the gym at my work almost every day?”
“Uh huh,” he said, looking up from the carrots that I’d wondered how tender they were but neglected to ask. A part of me still wanted to ask but I was then committed to this other thing.
I went on to explain how, after exercising, I always take a shower in the locker room. I explained how a few days ago I’d finished up my shower and these three maintenance guys came in and were looking around. My friend smiled at this, maybe imagining that I was standing there naked with these three maintenance men hanging around but I said, “No. It wasn’t them. Here’s what it is.”
I explained how somebody had stuck a piece of plastic to the frame of the toilet stall to cover the gap between the door and the frame. And how it only covered the gap that was straight across from the toilet. The gap on the other side of the door was still wide open. I’d never seen that before and though it was odd.
And it isn’t like it’s a wide gap. It’s a normal gap – just a fraction of an inch wide,” I explained.
I looked at my friend who looked back at me blankly.
So then I explained how I was drying off with those maintenance guys in there when I heard the one say something about that strip of plastic that was covering up the gap.
“See what they’ve done there?” he asked. “Covered up the crack.”
My interest was immediately piqued.
“Before that, they stuffed toilet paper in the gap.”
That was true. Damned true. I’d seen that technique of obfuscation too.
I ‘d been standing there partially dressed in front of those three stranger. I didn’t need anymore attention, for sure, but with that last point, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” I asked. “Who’s that paranoid about somebody watching them shit?”
They all turned away from the stall to look me. One of them said, “Yeah, a locker room isn’t much of a place for shame.”
I was glad to know I wasn’t the only person to find the gap paranoia weird. I’d spent some time trying to understand the psychology of the guy responsible for sealing off the gap. Like, if somebody was gonna peep on him taking a shit – peep on him through the gap – they’d have to be standing, literally, inches away from it. It’s not like it would even be possible be a stealthy peeper under those conditions.
And I’d try to imagine – what would be the peeper’s reason for peeping? Does he have a fetish for watching guys shit? I’m sort of a fan of people’s fetishes but I’ve never heard that one. I’d imagined the would-be skulking poop-peeper with his face inches away from the gap – one eye shut, breathing heard, pants down to his ankles as he beats off to the groans and stench of the insider’s bowel movement. I imagined it with delight but, thankfully, with no sense of titillation.
It all seemed absurd to me, no matter how one might explain it. But I wanted an explanation and my friend is a smart and witty guy. So I told him all about it while were still at Bob Evans. Then I asked, “So what do you think’s up with the paranoid guy inside the stall who’s sealed off the gap?”
Emotionless, he said, “I mean, aside from trying to hide the obvious?”
“The obvious what? Taking a shit?”
“No,” he said. “The other.”
It took me a while. And then, when it dawned on me, I only said it timidly.
“You mean….beating off?”
“Of course,” he said.
I sat there, awkwardly silent.
“You’ve never done it?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m pretty conservative when it comes to that stuff.”
I felt embarrassed. I felt shamefully naive. Even those maintenance guys probably thought I was a ninny for thinking it was all and only about shitting. So I tried saving face but all the caffeine, acting as a conduit for all the things I wouldn’t otherwise say, betrayed me.
“I mean, I’ve had sex in a vehicle. And once, almost, in a bookstore.”
“What about a cargo van?” my friend asked.
“No. A regular vehicle,” I said.
“Was it awkward?” he asked.
Fucking caffeine. I’m really very shy talking about that kind of stuff so I replied elusively instead of saying nothing.
“It wasn’t typical sex, I guess you could say.”
“Oral sex?” he asked.
“Well, close enough,” I said.
Sitting in our booth at Bob Evans, I didn’t want to tell my friend how me and my girlfriend used to masturbate each other in my Jeep. It seemed way too personal and something that ought to be kept private so – fueled by all that goddamned caffeine – I clumsily changed the subject.
“Since I got here early I walked over to Home Depot and bought a new toilet seat,” I said.
“There’s a strange theme to this whole conversation,” my friend said.
“Well, I bought the cheap one – the 6 dollar one,” I said. “But they’ve got one toilet seat for 40 bucks. They’ve got fancy ones but I’m not sure what all they do.”
He sat there silent but wasn’t rolling the carrots around on his plate anymore.
“I bought the cheap one cause I’m a pleb with a plebeian’s ass. The forty dollar one is for the aristocracy,” I said.
“Is this more of you hipster bullshit?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I bought the 6 dollar toilet seat. It’s in my car. I can show you if you don’t believe me.”
I fumbled in my pocket.
“I might even have the receipt.” But I couldn’t find it.
“Who are you kidding?” he asked. “You can afford a 40 dollar toilet seat.”
I’d worn my working man’s Car-hart jacket. I was wearing my Bengals cap too. Still, he forced me to defend my Everyman status. It was again awkward and uncomfortable but I knew that so long as I was defending my social status, he’d fail to ask exactly why I needed a new toilet seat.
“Yeah. I guess I could afford it. But I don’t need it. I don’t need that kind of thing to show off.”
Truth is, not much of anybody but me shits in my house. I could buy it, use it and enjoy it without much of anybody knowing the secret within.
“See, it’s always you against them. You, the humble, versus them, the proud. Always setting ourselves against others.”
This, I knew, was his Buddhism talking.
“I just thought you might have some insight to justify a $40 toilet seat,” I said. “Like how much time we sit there, maybe it’s worth the extra cost for the comfort. Like, I thought maybe you’d equate it to owning an expensive mattress versus a cheap one. There’s justification for the expensive if it give you a more comfortable, restful night sleep, right?”
“You really want that expensive toilet seat, don’t you?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I just want to understand it. And I know I can’t see it objectively for what it is. We’re all sorta myopic when it comes to seeing things.”
“You want me to justify it for you. Because you want it. But you feel guilty. But frame it for yourself differently.”
I couldn’t tell if all that mumbo jumbo was him or his Buddhism.
Then the waitress stepped up, asking, “Guys, can I get you anything else?”
We both declined desert and more coffee and sweet tea. We paid and went our separate ways. He never asked the reason for needing a new toilet seat. so I left with a feeling of satisfaction at the artful dodge. Both satisfied with our Bob Evans meals, we parted. I went into the city to see a movie and then hit bar for a few beers afterward while my friend went home.
3 hours, including the movie, passed. I’d had way too much coffee at Bob Evans so, even after the movie, after driving to and while sitting at the bar – I was still thinking about toilet seats. Weird, since the movie had nothing to do with toilet seats. It seemed to have more to do with spirituality and madness, which are far more interesting subjects and it was a truly intense film. Nonetheless, my mind remained gripped by the seat.
I sat at the bar thinking, Maybe it’s a psychological thing. Like some sorta luxury item you don’t really need but it just feels good to know you’re successful enough to be able to have it. Sorta like Hugh Hefner at 90 having all those young girlfriends.
Again, it was close to Thanksgiving with Christmas right around the corner so I got to wondering if a $40 toilet seat would make a good Christmas gift. I sat there with my beer imagining my mother unwrapping it.
With genuine surprise, I imagined her saying, “Wow. A toilet seat.”
“Not just any toilet seat,” I wanted to add. “A luxury seat. Last year it was that bottle of fancy wine. I thought I’d mix it up.”
Maybe she’d remember the bottles of exotic and expensive hot sauces I’d gotten for her husband too.
See, I wanted her to know that I wanted her to feel – just a little bit – how it felt to live like a blue blood. That’s what I wanted her to know.
I wanted her to immediately think about the lavish, new experience she was about to embark on. And be thankful for it. But I also imagined confusion superseding her awe.
It dawned on me that maybe she wouldn’t understand that the gift would be less about utility than the luxury of it – that the real gift was in giving her more than she needed. But, of course, I couldn’t tell her how much it cost. That would be tacky. And, knowing me, she’d probably assume I got it from the flea market or some kind of clearance warehouse or bargain bin.
“Imagine a whole new lavatory experience on a luxury seat,” I wanted to say. “It’ll be like floating on air.”
“Shitting on air” would be a better, response, I thought. But my mother’s not that kind of lady.
Then I thought how hovering was even more like floating on air, even though I’m not much of a hoverer. I’m a squatter. Like I said, I’ve got a pleb’s ass and a Car-hart jacket. Like a farmer or mechanic who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, neither am I of squatting on the pot, whether public or not.
Then I got to thinking, What if it warmed or vibrated? Or maybe what we really need is a toilet seat the a USB port so you can plug it in and it will play all your favorite music while charging your phone at the same time. And it would play music until it sensed you were finished. Shoot, the music might even muffle the sound of the plops and farts. This is a stroke of genius, I thought.
And the seat would need a headphone jack and could have flash memory for storing music or podcasts or audiobooks.
The idea was really growing legs.
I imagined Steve Perry’s velvety voice singing Don’t Stop Believing as I pinched one off. It made me smile. I looked up at the barmaid to see if she saw me smiling but she wasn’t paying any attention.
Though alone at that bar, I felt satisfied. It seemed to me I’d really fallen into something good. But I knew too it was still the coffee that the empty 16 oz Old Style hadn’t worn enough of the edge off – it was that goddamned caffeine that was giving me all those ideas.
So I squeezed the can, signaling done. The barmaid came over and asked if I needed another one.
“I could use another one,” I replied.
Between grabbing the crinkled can and bringing me a new one, I wondered if she’d think a lavish toilet seat would make a good gift. I decided against asking.
She slid me the beer and I slid her the money. Cash only at Junker’s. Thanksgiving and Christmas were right around the corner but there was nothing in that bar to suggest it. Just black drop ceiling panels that replaced the white ones that used to be cracked and busted and stained.
She said, “Thanks,” for the tip.
I said, “Thank you too,” for the beer.