Illustration by Sarah Cliff
Jan 21, 2021
Confessions of a man without a pot to piss in
Good luck finding a public place to pee in the middle of a pandemic
The weekend has become a sacred time for me. I have been unemployed since March and my girlfriend has been working from home. She’s always worked from home but the thing that has changed for her is that I’m there now; an aspect of the pandemic that has been challenging for us (and I’m certain any other couple muscling through this experience together).
In short, this amount of togetherness is not natural. I am used to having a rigorous schedule. Up until mid March last year, I was rehearsing the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company. I am a stranger to free time and have taken up such interesting hobbies as checking my bird feeder, binging Netflix until my eyes go square and otherwise davening nervously in my apartment. I exist in the world these days as a walking raw nerve and a bottomless pit of need. But the weekends are great because that means my girlfriend and I can spend some quality time together uninterrupted by my arch-nemesis, her laptop.
On this particular Saturday, we decide that we are going to take a walk from our apartment in Fort Greene up to Greenpoint. We will meander and make our way up to the mecca that is Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop. We may walk through the Navy Yard and up the East River all the way to Greenpoint stopping along the way for a beer somewhere or maybe to pop into some of our favorite shops. The purpose of this walk is to spend time together and get a little exercise. Also, pizza.
The first spontaneous stop we make is at the Naval Cemetery Landscape. We work our way around the loop and find a bench with a hidden compartment under it. It contains a journal and pen. In the journal are a multitude of sketches of the park and personal entries of visitors. We are struck by some entries about spending Christmas alone this year and another about what it means to sit on the bench masked and at a distance with an old friend. We are moved. We get misty. We sit on the bench and I feel close to her. She makes an entry and we continue on our journey. I definitely don’t have to pee. Yet.
Act II: The tension mounts
We stop for a beer at Other Half in Domino Park. It’s delicious. It’s a weekend activity that feels normal and comforting. It smacks of something that would take place without thought or worry from the great “before time”—innocent and pure; pre-virus, pre-insurrection. I’m worried I might have to pee soon.
Once we arrive in Greenpoint, we agree it’s not quite time for pizza yet and decide to stop at one of our favorite shops, Feng Sway. Its inventory is eclectic. It’s filled with plants, antiques, vintage clothes and witchy knick-knacks (in short, this aging hipster’s idea of heaven). I consider buying a papier-mâché luchador but decide to save my money for pizza. She gets a CBD bath bomb. As we leave the store I mention I have to pee. So does she.
“I can hold it though,” she says, “I don’t have to pee like you have to pee.”
To be clear, I kind of always have to pee. I have a small bladder or a nervous bladder, or both. One of the (maybe only) great things about staying home all the time these days is that I’m never too far from my toilet. As a New Yorker though, I pride myself on having a finely-tuned Rolodex of places to pee in any given neighborhood. Need to pee in the Flatiron? The Ace Hotel has a great bathroom downstairs from the lobby. The lobby also has a photo booth for after. The West Elm on 17th Street has a bathroom. Just pretend to look at some furniture for a few minutes and then knock yourself out. Doing the pee-pee dance in the West Village? A lesser-known bathroom that they don’t want you to know about is upstairs at LifeThyme Natural Market.
So, we’re in Greenpoint. Perfect. Upstate Stock has a toilet. It’s a great coffee shop that also sells keychains and Brooklyn pennants. We’ll go there. Their bathroom is closed. But they recommend using the bathrooms in McCarren Park. Bathrooms at McCarren Park! I’ve never been but I bet they’re great and I’m thrilled to add a new location to my Rolodex. We power walk/jog over to the public restrooms at McCarren Park. Well, here’s the thing. The bathrooms are under construction. Silver-lining! There are port-a-potties. TWIST! The port-a-potties are padlocked for the day. I begin to panic.
Okay, okay, this is fine. There’s a Starbucks down the street. She says that if we use the bathroom at the Starbucks then we’ll have to buy something.
“No, we don’t,” I snap. ‘If you use the bathroom at Anthropologie at Rockefeller Center, do you feel pressure to buy a candle on your way out?”
She’s silent. As far as I’m concerned, Starbucks knows the deal. They are a public restroom first and a coffee shop second. You can call it a “Starbucks Reserves” but I’m still gonna take the elevator down one level and use the restroom there when I’m in the Meatpacking District and I gotta go. I can see through the window that there’s a sign on the bathroom at Starbucks and a barricade of tables in front of the bathroom door. No dice.
I’m beginning to panic.
Act III: Sweet resolution
We do have pals that live in the neighborhood. I consider testing our friendship to see if I could come up to pee. I then remember that they, no joke, are recovering from the virus. Like a maniac, I try to hatch a way that I could safely use their toilet. She talks some reason into me and we both agree this is not at all an option.
“Fine!” I say, my eyes bloodshot and the pressure mounting, “I’m just going to go into this restaurant and ask if I can briefly use their toilet.”
I walk inside, and ask. The maître d’ informs me that they are not letting any non-customers use their toilet as a safety precaution. I understand. I’m furious and afraid I may piss myself but I understand. I have exhausted all of my options.
We sheepishly return to Upstate Stock and I inform the guy working the shop that the park bathrooms are locked and that we just circled the block with no luck. I know I’m pushing it but I ask again anyway, “There’s no way at all I could use your restroom?” I know he can see the despair in my eyes. He says no. I’m crestfallen but again I understand. I’m terrified.
Walking around the neighborhood like a maniac is beginning to test the limits of my relationship. I tell her to look around the shop if she’d like. I’m gonna go outside. I look left and right. The area is somewhat deserted. In a pinch, I could find a spot. Look, I know it’s not ideal but there’s a little scaffolding over there. In fact it’s kind of a cubicle. It’s basically a urinal. I’m not proud, but I sprint over and do what I have to do.
I spray my hands with the Dr. Bronner’s lavender hand sanitizer that I have been carrying on my person for every goddamn day for over 10 months. I went back inside Upstate Stock and smiled at her. “Better?” she asked. “Because I still have to pee.”
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