Thursday, July 06, 2006

Urine Trouble!

When you live in New York City, there will come a time when you go down into the subway despite a mild urge to pee. Maybe I should have gone back at the restaurant, you’ll think, but you’re in a hurry. You’re a New Yorker, even your bladder thrives on tight schedules. Besides, it’s only fifteen stops to your closet-sized, badly-heated walk-up apartment and you’d prefer to use that toilet. You’ve got your magazines in there. You’re halfway though a fascinating story in Harper’s, about beekeepers, and you’ll never finish it unless you use your home bathroom every once in awhile.

Truth be told, that tingling in your what-have-you barely registers as you wait on the platform. It’s there, but it’s nothing to fret about. You’re an adult, after all, you’re a tough-as-nails urbanite and your bodily demands have to get in line if they want a piece of your precious attention. The train comes, as it always comes, and you take your place among the teeming mass of commuters. This is all routine. Also routine—and very much not in your favor—is the subway’s habit of shooting off into the darkness and stalling between stations.

The first time this happens, you roll your eyes and exhale out your annoyance like all the other harried straphangers. It’s a bother, but it’s everyone’s bother and so it doesn’t seem so bad. The train hisses, the rails bang underneath you, and you start to slide forward once more. The relief is palpable, but you’ve barely gone ten yards before you lunge to another premature halt. The people in your car who are prone to seething start to seethe and the ones who are close to sleep fall asleep, but not you, not at all, because somewhere in that short jerk through the darkness, your slight urge to pee has blossomed into a pressing urge to pee.

Of course, this means that the subway will now find itself stuck for interminable lengths of time between each and every station. It also means that you will suffer extended hold-ups at the platforms when the frail and infirm totter on and off, not to mention the delays caused by express passengers asking the conductor where he got the gold fronts for his teeth installed. You try and distract yourself with thoughts of Stan Brakhage and George Balanchine, but this is harder than it seems. I must pee, I must pee, I must pee..., is the only thought you can hold onto and it seems that this only makes the ache grow.

Soon, you’ve putting your encyclopedic knowledge of Manhattan to work by coming up with fantasies of fleeing to nearby lavatories. As you pull into the Rockefeller Center station, you remember the reasonably-clean facilities you once used in the Barnes and Nobel up there. At 34th Street, you’re thinking that Penn Station certainly isn’t the ideal place to urinate, but it’ll do in a pinch. By the time you get down to West 4th Street, however, you’ve been reduced to guessing at the fines you’d have to pay if the cops caught you whizzing behind those basketball courts where all the showboaters play. No one will notice, you think. People do it all the time, you think. But you stay where you are, rocking back and forth, breathing like you’re about to have an orgasm and like having an orgasm has become a very, very bad thing indeed.

You’d worry about the significance of someone so readily connecting orgasms with urinary discomfort if only you weren’t so worried about peeing your pants. Because it’s beginning to seem like that’s a possibility, a real possibility, not just some silly hyperbolic statement people sometimes make. God, you wish you hadn’t worn your good slacks today. God, you’re going to be in therapy for the rest of your life, slowly and precariously working out the trauma and humiliation of wetting yourself in a crowded subway car. You’ll have good days and bad days, you’ll suffer setbacks and enjoy incremental, almost imperceptible progress, but one thing’s for certain—you’ll never be the same, never be as carefree as you were before this subway ride, this endless, torturous subway ride.

You aren’t even in Brooklyn yet and it feels like there’s a million teeth gnawing at your groin. You’re filled so far up that the slightest prick would burst you like a water balloon, flooding the whole car with your overwhelming amber juices. The bumps in the track cause you to slosh like a small, self-contained ocean; they threaten to upset the weak hold your valiant sphincter has on the gallons and gallons and gallons of reconstituted Diet Coke festering inside you. People are choosing to stand well away from you. You are quite the sight, with your dancing feet, twitching brow, and braying nostrils—you have become one of the hundred thousand freaks that make subway riding so interesting. Maybe some of the riders even laugh at you. It strikes you as profoundly insensitive. You doubt they’d still be laughing when you open your mouth and set free the irresistible, awesome yellow tide.

The train starts to click up the trestle, rising out over Chinatown and onto the high deck of the grimy steel bridge. The sunlight soothes you not at all, nor does the city’s skyline stretched out beneath you—the stuff of a million postcards. No, the only thing that can salve the misery within—if only somewhat—is the sight of Brooklyn, sweet Brooklyn, your home and, what’s more, the home of your toilet. Your beautiful toilet, the most beautiful toilet in all five boroughs, in all America. You will be reunited with it soon, if only you can just...hold...out!

But then the train shakes to yet another unscheduled stop. And you hang there, suspended, the blue heavens above you and, below, nothing but water, water, and more water. It’s a horror. The East River and the harbor are mocking you with their magnitude, their implacability, their wetness. You can’t bear to watch the tide slap the piers: just seeing that sluggish motion seems enough to upset the crucial balance that prevents you from soaking yourself. By now, your need to pee has ceased to be a physical sensation and become an existential condition. A terrible existential condition. You cannot imagine a time when your crotch was not aflame, when life did not revolve around clenching a certain set of muscles. Deep in your core, you’re begging the train to start moving again, you’re begging god to please move the train, you’re begging your bladder to find a little more room, just a little more room.

The conductor comes on the intercom them and issues an apology made incoherent by static and his gold fronts. You hear a shriek of machinery and the train rolls on, only slowly, so very slowly. The earth rises to swallow you up once more and you hardly notice. Do you want to know why you hardly notice? Because you’re curled up in a ball, that’s why. You’re there, in the subway car, curled up in a BALL! A ball of blubbering, whimpering, shuddering has-to-pee, that’s you. The world crashes around you in wave after wave of cruelty and pain and humiliation and all you can do is squeeze your thighs together tighter. You’re in sorry shape. You should have gone back at the restaurant.

From the far side of the fog you’ve descended into, you notice your station being called, you hear the subway doors rattle open. You leap up, your eyes filled with frenzy and piss, and you charge out of the car. You don’t care how crazed you look, you run as fast as you can up the stairs and through the station mezzanine, crashing through the turnstiles and bounding up to the street above. There you tear ass down the sidewalk, shoving aside whatever might happen to block your path. You are a bullet fired from a gun called gotta-go. You are a championship sprinter in the wee-wee Olympics.

Oh, what a challenge your front lock has become. In some kind of sadistic Sisyphean ordeal, you drop your keys no less than four times before finally jamming them in and twisting the door open. Perhaps you even leave them in the lock as you stampede up the stairwell, oblivious to such academic matters in a moment like this. There will be a bruise on your shoulder from shoving open your apartment door and there will be apologies owed your roommate, who you will stampede over as he tries to tell you about how he just saw Gwyneth Paltrow at the Mailboxes, Etc. on Christopher Street. You leave him on the floor with a footprint on his forehead. You are already fighting with your zipper. You can see the porcelain underneath you and, on the cusp of blessed relief, you tear your pants into dishrags trying to free your burning pee-organ.

Then, with the bathroom door wide open, you proceed to issue forth a stream of urine strong enough to strip paint. It comes and comes and comes. For fifteen straight minutes it comes, and the whole time you’re saying “GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” at the top of your lungs. The toilet fills up to the brim and the splashback spatters your face and you endure it all, not stoically but joyfully. This is what you’ve lived for, this moment, this glorious, glorious moment.

After several eternities, you finish. You flush the toilet. Daintily, you wash your hands. Then you start peeing again, as sort of a victory lap type thing. Once that’s over, you squirt out the last sixteen drops and retire to your bed where you’ll lie staring up at the ceiling, half ecstatic and half mortified.

It happens to everyone who’s lived in New York. Or maybe it only happens to me. I’m not entirely sure.