Sitting Atop the Toilet: A Moment When No Other Moments Matter
ADAM MICHAEL LUEBKE
The second floor restroom of the college (that I shall not name) smelled like human waste mixed with the juice of crushed wild berries. A white rectangular plastic box hooked into the wall, where the wall met the ceiling, audibly puffed a burst of scent into the bathroom.
I stood at the urinal. My urine smelled faintly of the strong black coffee I’d had early that morning on the drive over. I stared hard at the white-painted cinder block wall. I tried to see through it. Deep down I know the physical world is only the dense accumulation of an untold number of realms that are less and less dense the further inward you go. If you stare hard enough at a solid surface, and if your heart is in the proper place, you can see it shimmer for just a second.
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That’s when I became aware of a clicking sound. The clicking sound was joined by multiple clicking sounds. There were five clicks a second, every second. I zipped up and turned to the stalls. Six of them, every door closed. Bland gray cells with hardly any privacy. The clicking was the infamous sound of people pressing buttons on their smartphones. Young men, college students, locked behind the stalls, sitting above their own wafting stink, breathing in the mingling scents of the others, all the while working away at their iPhones and Androids.
I decided to speak aloud and see who would listen.
Men used to sit on the toilet and relax, I said. It used to be a time for reflection and meditation. A time to be one with the body, and the always-strange act (no matter how many times you do it), of depositing your waste.
The clicking stopped. One tinny voice said, “Dude?”
What I said is true. Similar to an orgasm, defecation is a moment when no other moments matter. The mind is fixed at the point of exit. Unless you frequently meditate, sitting on the toilet and doing your business might be the only time you really cut through the constant mind-chattering and just be. Just exist, until you know everything has come out safely and you can resume your normal life again.
This is not funny. It’s not meant in jest. When do you take a few minutes to sit, without the distraction of eating food, watching TV, listening to music, or talking to friends. To sit and feel your blood push through your veins. To experience your organs working. To feel your lungs fill with and release air.
You people are thousands of miles away, I said, and constantly barraging yourself with pictures and sounds and bursts of superficial information. Don’t you want to be present for one of the most important acts of your daily routine?
“I don’t do this every day, dude,” said one voice.
That’s a different issue, I said. You need to talk to an expert about your fiber intake. If you’re drinking too much soda and eating processed foods all day, you might have a gummy mess in your guts. You need fruit and beans and seeds to scrape it out.
Somebody coughed. I heard a click. I pounded my fist once on the two stall doors to my left. Silence. Get in tune! I said. I’m not leaving until you realize how important this is. One of the young men began using his phone. The series of clicks irritated me. A bold threat. A casual dismissal of my wisdom. Soon, they were all clicking away again.
I stepped back from the stalls and pulled my iPhone from my pocket. I remembered one of my favorite passages from Joyce’s Ulysses, and read it as loudly as I could. You boys are in good company, I said first. Leopold Bloom stalks to the outhouse:
He kicked open the crazy door of the jakes. Better be careful not to get his trousers dirty for the funeral…. Before sitting down he peered through a chink up at the next door window. The king was in his counting house.
Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper turning its pages over on his bared knees…. Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second…he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read, reading still patiently, that slight constipation of yesterday quite gone…. He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell.
He glanced back through what he had read and, while feeling his water flow quietly…. (Vintage edition, 69).
This man is not wholly concentrating on the act of excretion, but you fellows pale in the face of Leopold Bloom’s bodily awareness. Yes, he reads the paper while he shits, but he also takes notice of his bowels easing, just as Bloom experiences “his water flow”.
As if you people are not plugged into the virtual world every waking minute anyway! I said. At least give your mind and body reprieve.
The phone users went on tapping at their devices, despite my pleas for sanity. I left, feeling the click and virtual clatter whizzing by my ears like digital age bullets running me out of Dodge.