I was up and out early today to get a copy of the Daily News, which I both hoped and feared would have a picture of me in it. Yesterday on the way to work I saw a small crowd outside one of the new public toilets and remembered reading in AM New York that Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader was giving away free copies of its twentieth-anniversary edition, as well as sponsoring free uses of the toilet, which ordinarily costs a quarter. Apparently, June is National Bathroom Reading Month. The toilets are like those ones they have in Paris, which completely self-clean after you step out. The trick is to get out of there before they go into self-cleaning mode.
I felt no urgent need, except for the free book. The crowd was really very small: two women handing out rain checks for a “Free Flush,” two men guarding the free books, and a photographer from the Daily News. I was the only one not working the event. Before they would give me a book, they asked if I would mind being photographed outside the public toilet. I didn’t mind. I’m thrilled that New York has these cosmopolitan amenities. There was a row of golden plungers lined up outside the toilet. “How do you get a golden plunger?” I asked. I was hoping to score one for my friend the master plumber, in Rockaway.
“Buy a can of spray paint,” one of the women answered.
Despite this rebuff (I should have phrased my question differently), I posed outside the toilet with my complimentary copy of “Uncle John’s Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader” and a golden plunger, which I held like a sceptre. One of the men seemed inclined to let me keep the plunger, but their day was just beginning, and he decided against giving away the props. He did, however, enter my name and number into his cell phone and say he’d call to get my address and send me one. He never called—same old story. Anyway, I consoled myself with the knowledge that the true symbol of the plumber is not the plunger but the wrench.
Later, I took a closer look at the rain check. It is good for one free flush on June 26th from 12 P.M. to 2 P.M. Was anyone ever so desperate to save a quarter that she'd plan so far ahead?
My picture was not in the paper, by the way, and it’s just as well. I’m not sure I want to be Miss New York Public Toilet.