I’m standing in a New York apartment staring at a face that’s horribly misshapen. The man’s right eye droops lower than his left, and the rest of his face looks like it was torn into a thousand geometric shapes. This has left me in a most uncomfortable position, forcing me to mentally piece together his face like a game of Tetris. I’m trying to do this discreetly when behind this man pops out a woman (well, girl, really, because she’s aged anywhere between 19 to 22). She’s rather theatrical with her introduction, and when she bestows her hand for a handshake, it’s warm and moist. I wonder where that hand has been.
“Would you like some sparkling water?” she asks politely. Before I have time to decline, she interrupts. “Just say ‘yes’! It’s really cold!”
In the height of summer in New York, this is one of the most generous things you can offer a guest. I nod in acceptance.
My hosts are musically gifted (one’s a composer) and they have a habit of staying up late and smoking cigarettes in the kitchen. I don’t mind that much except their cigarette smoke streams out the kitchen window and wafts into the living room where I’m sleeping. (A least that explains the couch’s smell.) I roll over onto my stomach and pull a pillow over my head.
At 2:30am, the neighbors upstairs come home. They must be obese because how else can you explain the impossibly loud footsteps on the floorboards? I try to sleep through the ruckus and delude myself into thinking I’ll get eight hours of sleep. Once I’ve resigned to the truth (it’ll be more like four hours, sweetheart), I swallow a Benadryl and put in my earphones.
6:30am greets me with the screech of brakes from a nearby bus. I wake up hungry and desperately needing to pee. I quietly tiptoe to the kitchen and open the refrigerator to take a peek inside. The refrigerator is filled with staple food like eggs and milk, but there’s also miscellaneous items like sliced cantaloupe, crusted at the edges from too much refrigeration; takeout boxes stacked on top of each other–the smallest boxes at the bottom, carrying the weight of boxes triple their size above; detectable odors emanating from mysterious origins.
I decide against eating and instead address my biological need to urinate.
I walk over to the bathroom and turn on the light. Looking down at my feet, a shabby brown rug adorns old, mid-century tiles. The porcelain on the toilet lid is cracked but my hosts have cleverly covered it up with an old edition of Vice Magazine.
I knew it was in my best interest to stop inspecting, but I just couldn’t help myself–I lifted the toilet seat. Beneath the seat, the rim was covered with urine, pubic hairs, and what appeared to be purple wine stains (how?!).
Stop trying to explain it, Julia, and just go pee, I said to myself.
So I put the seat back down, pulled down my pants, and sat my buttocks right on top of that dirty New York porcelain.