The pissing contest in Washington has left me with a particularly pointed case of penis envy. Now, I’ve never actually wanted a penis, per se. Women learn early on that those appendages are readily available for loan should one ever be needed.
What I envy about the penis is its peeing power – the ability to take a brazen stand and relieve oneself of pent-up frustration or this morning’s coffee. It is, I suppose, the essence of proud potent masculinity: Here I am, me! Lifting my leg at every fire hydrant I pass to piss, me! Marking my territory, me! Spouting off at length, me! Proclaiming my presence, me! Here I am, and how much don’t you like it?
Women cannot make these sorts of bold physical statements (although giving birth might arguably qualify). When, barefoot, I step into puddles by the toilet, I rage at the three males I live with. I pee in pantomime to demonstrate that I am not the one to blame: I squat down and waddle about, pretending to lift my skirt, clearly illustrating the difficulty I’d have in actively trying to water the floor.
They roll their eyes at these histrionics. They shrug their shoulders and deny all responsibility. The implication is that no male anywhere ever dribbled on any bathroom floor, and that I am coarse and vulgar and insensitive to even suggest such a thing. Since they never noticed these puddles, they deny their existence. They hint that perhaps Girlfriend of Son #1 is to blame.
So. You see the cabin to the right, right at the bottom of this icy hill? When next you find yourself in northern Colorado heading toward the Wyoming border, I want you to look for this cabin and stop to pee on its porch. This includes you women. Have lots of coffee or beer first, in order to make a real political statement. I plan to go back there myself and do so, at least once, but have decided it might be more fun without six inches of fresh snow. Perhaps we might make a mountain festival out of this.
You’ll have heard a lot about Colorado’s close-knit mountain communities in the wake of last month’s flooding – how those people were all there for each other and took care of each other and went to extraordinary lengths to be kind and to accommodate strangers. Such stories renew my hope in humanity. Such stories offset the ones about Syrian snipers deciding that Tuesday is “shoot pregnant women” day — this, per a surgeon who volunteers his services in war zones. This doctor says that the first injury carted into his hospital every morning indicates what the Wound of the Day will be – groins? left chests? gravid bellies? He says the snipers get bored, and so up the ante of their daily game with very specific target practice.
I had a dinner party debate just lately with someone who claims that humanity has improved since it first managed to lift its knuckles off the ground. He maintains that intellect and grace and civilized manners and education are prevailing, and that we as a species are evolving into higher-minded creatures. The others at the table nod sagely – they’re all affiliated with the local university in one way or another, and are people who deal and dwell with ideas and ideals. They do not deal and dwell with prosaic puddles of pee on the floor by the toilet. Things beneath their feet are beneath their contempt.
Me? I snort my soup. I can’t keep my mouth shut (this will shock you).
Every day, I wake up filled with innate optimism and hope. And I keep that white plume handy – it’s only slightly singed by the fact that the world is a smoldering hellish mess, burning with hate and atrocity and cruelty and ignorance. Dante really didn’t have to look too far for his model of the Inferno – he lived in it, as we all do. His was no grand and glorious feat of the intellectual imagination. He just reported the facts, m’am.
I don’t quite dare tell all the English professor types at the table that I think Dante is an over-rated gossip. And I don’t quite dare reveal my naked self (even in candlelight) as a cynical skeptic (although I prefer “clear-eyed realist”). The snorted soup made its own statement; I have no need to elaborate. We head into dessert replete with satisfaction at the thought of humanity’s progressive climb through hell, beyond purgatory, and into the Paradisio.
Sometimes, paradise as I imagine it looks like a bathroom. It certainly did last Friday, when the company I work for decided to hold a Departmental Team Building Retreat at a remote mountain cabin. This retreat coincided with the first snow of the season. This snow meant that a winding trip of an hour and a half wound up taking four hours for the five of us traveling together. This snow meant repeatedly digging our vehicle out of ditches and pushing it up switchbacks covered in ice. This snow meant long delays by narrow mountain roadsides, waiting for other vehicles to get towed into or out of the road so that we could have our own shot at the culvert.
Here we are, early in the trip during one such delay, trying our best to maintain cheerful dispositions and a degree of contagious enthusiasm. This is hard to do, since we are freezing our asses off with no certainty of ever being able to move anywhere. This is hard to do, since the folks who organized the retreat are already safely ensconced at the cozy cabin, relaxing by the fire and sipping hot chocolate (they let this slip during a moment of sporadic cell phone access). This is hard to do, since in addition to being hopelessly stuck we are also hopelessly lost.
Here we are, early in the trip, unable to back up the ice-glazed hill and unwilling to go any farther down it, since beyond the corner and up the next hill a bunch of vehicles are stuck off the road. We wait. And wait. And wait. All the coffee we drank early on to gird our loins for this whole madcap adventure becomes a pressing problem. The men excuse themselves from felicity and find trees upon which to relieve themselves. My colleague Rita Johnson and I decide to head down the hill and throw ourselves at the mercy of whoever owns the cabin there. We decide to risk falling on the ice — risk, in other words, immediate, total and public loss of bladder control. We bond over the prospect of peeing – either happily, in that cabin on the horizon, or unhappily, horizontal in the wet snow. This is team building at its best.
We engage our pelvic floor muscles and manfully make our way down the road, arriving with a great deal of relief at a friendly-looking porch. A warm WELCOME! sign hangs there, beside an old-fashioned dinner bell. We knock politely, not wanting to spoil the serenity of the scene by clanging the bell. No-one answers the knock. We clang the bell; we are not serene. No-one answers the bell. We walk around the corner of the house, looking for another entrance or perhaps a private tree. There is nothing. Turning back, we find a woman standing on the porch, arms crossed, scowling.
Undeterred and desperate, we explain our plight and ask if we might use her bathroom. We do not look like terrorists. We do not look like vacuum cleaner salesmen. Our fellow female rolls her eyes and snorts and throws her head back. We stand there. She uncrosses her arms, raises them in disbelief and says, “I have a Day Sleeper in here.” She rolls her eyes again, and sighs heavily. As one — we are a team! — Rita and I turn on our heels and stride purposefully away, if women with overfull bladders can ever be said to stride.
The witch on the porch then starts screaming at us. “Where are you going? I don’t BELIEVE this! I SAID you could come in. What are you doing? Get BACK here! I don’t believe this! I TOLD you you could come in.”
She did like hell. She screams at us all the way down the driveway. She’s probably still screaming. And what of her Day Sleeper?
I don’t ask for much – just for the occasional offhand kindness. I know it’s unrealistic to expect Syrian snipers to abandon their guns and take up social work. The Taliban is not going to abandon its guns and start teaching girls to read. The Klu Klux Klan is not going to abandon its guns (or its Obama toilet paper) and rally to celebrate diversity. The Tea Party is not going to abandon its guns, either, even after shooting itself in the foot.
I don’t expect miracles. But surely it’s not beyond our Neanderthal nature to wave our white plumes, to care for each other in seemingly small ways, and to practice the Golden Rule instead of just preaching it.
You see this porch, though, you pee on it. That’s my other Golden Rule.