I picked up a cartridge for the Clorox Foamy Wand, or whatever it’s called – it’s a toilet brush that spews bowl cleaner at the touch of a button. I bought the item under the impression that the brush revolved. It did not. My disappointment was keen. Sharper than a daughter’s tooth, it was. But a few months ago I made my peace with the device and restocked the foamy tubes. Today I saw the unit on “CLEARANCE,” which is distinct from “SALE.” If it’s on CLEARANCE it’s on the way out. Do I stock up on foamy tubes and hold out, or just buy one and deal with the product’s end when the day comes?
TBogg's commenters had had plenty of fun psychoanalyzing Lileks need for a battery-operated foamy wand, so we don't have to go there. At least not directly. Instead I recalled the first time I'd seen that thing advertised, and how I immediately wondered what sort of maroon would get conned into buying an electric toothbrush for his toilet.
Now I've got my answer.
I'm not claiming any prescience about that gizmo; I gave up imagining I could point to the moment when the cultural/commercial auger struck the bedrock of stupidity many moons ago. Had it become the One Item on Everyone's Christmas List I wouldn't have been surprised. But what exactly was going on behind that fivehead of Jimmy's that caused him to shell out money to be a beta tester for the thing?
I think Camus said somewhere that America was the only culture which tries to prove that Life is not ultimately a tragedy. To which should to be added that we're the only one that routinely tries to cover the existential stench of death that hovers over every moment with a Glade Plug-In County Potpourri air freshener.
This is not just something that suddenly dawned on me. I remember back in 10th grade the audible gasp of my classmates when a Psych 1 & 2 student giving a report noted that prior to 1950 most Americans had no idea what deodorant was. I think they had visions of people dropping down dead on the sidewalks from B.O. I'm pretty sure I was the only one in class whose immediate reaction was "Cool!" I attend to the daily requirements of American hygiene standards. I do. That has never included aftershave or cologne. I buy my wife expensive perfume because she knows a drop is better than a half-cup. I have no idea what goes on in the heads of people so drenched in smelly stuff you can't breathe within five yards of 'em. Sexual asphyxia? Gangrene?
And the toilet thing. Toilet mints on a little wire hanger, which I think must have gone the way of rotary phones, okay. You have to clean a toilet, like anything else. Blue water never disturbed me, though I never found the Tidy-Bol man quite the font of hilarity they did on the Carson show. It was with the sudden nation-wide concern over Getting Under the Rim when I began to feel the national psyche had taken an unfortunate and possibly dangerous turn for something already so fragile. A few years ago, at the urging of commercial hucksters the, well, odd psycho-sexual obsession with excretory functions and their aftermath suddenly, um, exploded in a frenzy of ergonomically correct, uh, rim fixation. Suddenly every container of toilet bowl cleanser was shaped like a novelty Chianti bottle, and any new toilet brush came with a greenstick neck fracture. Get Under There! The Rim! You never noticed the Rim before? Your Family is at risk because of You! What exactly was lurking under there that was so important? That couldn't be eradicated with conventional weapons? How were you coming into contact with it, exactly? It reminded me of a bit by the late, lamented Dennis Wolfberg, that weird and wonderful hybrid of Robert Klein and Gilbert Gottfried (whose voice and inflections so matched Gottfried's that the first time I heard him, before I realized how funny he was, I thought he was a bad impressionist). Speaking of teaching sixth grade sex ed in the Bronx, he said he was told to answer all student questions truthfully and in detail. One of them was, "Is it true you can catch VD from kissing a toilet seat?" "Kissing a toilet seat? Young man, if you go around kissing toilet seats, getting VD is the last thing you should be worried about."
Rest in Peace, Dennis.
I don't know how to put this delicately. I shit there. It's how I was taught. All this time I've assumed everybody else did too. As such I expect the thing to be a toilet. If I was that concerned about it I'd put a cut flower arrangement in the bowl and build an outhouse.
This really came to a head (sorry) in the aftermath of 9/11. Remember in the months that followed all the Norman Rockwell advertisements, four generations in lambent light sitting down to some tomato soup? Soviet-heroic pans of cops and firemen doing nice, normal things, followed by Old Glory and a wholesome message like "Velveeta. We're Proud To Be Part of the American Grilled Cheese Experience."? The culture gurus and advertising swamis who told us that this was the face of the new, post WTC, irony-free environment? (They were, if I'm not mistaken, the same people who insisted that Silverado would usher in a rebirth of the Western, or Chicago presaged the return of the Big Movie Musical.) My personal favorite was the T.G.I. Friday's clone chain O'Charley's, which added the tag line, "The American Grill with the Irish Name," like they were afraid of losing business in some 9/12 IRA backlash.
Well, sometime after the Iraqi cakewalk got left out in the rain, I noticed a new trend in bathroom advertising: Daddy had made a big stinky mess. Call for mom, bring out the air freshener or the scented toilet paper or whatever. There were at least three of them. I wasn't quite convinced there was a semiotic message at work, at least not a conscious one, and I didn't want to make too much of it. But then these were the very people who eighteen months earlier had shown pictures of Dad breathing freedom air on a small but friendly and regular Maple Street. Who could say for sure?
As I thought back on it I became convinced of one thing: over the past couple decades it's become clear that America's collective subconscious is now more trustworthy than the things it blurts out in public conversation.
Back to that toilet brush thing: if Lileks had just said he bought the damn thing, maybe with an appropriate What Was I Thinking?, I'd have just chuckled at him. Winguts like Lileks are now stuck defending the second coming of the Robber Barons and the Panglossification of American commercial culture as if they can't see it any other way, as if they're not allowed to recognize that the one thing we're really good at these days is finding attractive, up-to-date packaging for the Same Old Useless Shit. That's doubly inexplicable in Lileks, with his flair for comically anachronistic advertisements. But it's that "I thought it rotated!" that really floored me. For what reason, exactly? So you wouldn't have to apply any arm strength? Or even look Down There? Just release the Hounds of Hygiene? From a man who's made a few shekles ridiculing the poshlost tastes of days gone by, how strongly does this resonate with leftover 50s Mass Futurism? It's like the atomic can-opener of the war on toilet terror.