My first time was with an EC Comic. There was a picture, I remember, of a man who had killed too many flies (or something similar) and the flies had come back to get him. “Noooo! *choke*” he screamed, with a shred of skin joining his lips together, as EC artists always liked to adorn the anguished.
We didn’t have reading material in the toilet at my house, but this was Jason’s (or Josh’s? Jack’s?) house and I was staying for a sleepover. His family had comic books in the dunny. Also swimwear editions of sporting magazines, of whose other purpose I was then innocent.
They were pulpy, those EC comics, nearly as pulpy as the nearby toilet paper. And looking back they were perfectly suited to the setting: pulpy paper, pulpy storylines, a pleasant sense of shame at the smells, the sounds, the taste in literature. I washed my hands afterwards—of course—because of the germs, and the cheap printers’ ink.
In later years I stayed at houses where mothers kept glossy interior decorating magazines by the toilet. I met fathers who would choose what to read, thoughtfully, in front of the family, before announcing they were “off to do a poo”. This wasn’t just distraction, as an aid to peristalsis. This was reading for pleasure; it seemed, especially for the dads, to be a little oasis in the day, a time when, no, Dad was busy, no-one could ask anything of him. And Dad was sort of improving his mind while he was at it.
Were Mums this brazen? I like to think so, but not around me they weren’t.
It seems to me now that the moving of one’s bowels is already an act of creation, and it stands to reason that other acts of creation would accompany it. A poo is more profound than a wee, and it takes longer. There’s silence (relatively) and there’s solitude. Where better to read? Or, assuming there is a difference, to write?
I never remembered, the whole time I was at university, to bring a pen, but the urge to scrawl on the back of that toilet door was strong. I wanted to match the wit of my fellows, to create art, at about the level of an EC Comic. I never did, but other students remembered their pens and provided my reading material. To the less racist ones, I remain thankful.
Today I’ll wager that Josh/Jason/Jack is holding a glass and plastic smartphone in one hand while he reads something online. He’ll tweet and, I hope, thoroughly sanitise everything afterwards. He might miss the pulpy paper but I think it’s the literature that matters, as one learned man understood when he scratched these words into a wall at Pompeii:
“Appollinaris, physician of the Emperor Titus, had a good shit here.”
It’s all there: the lofty titles at the start, the earthy flourish at the finish. He’s powerful, but your simple delights are also his. And he has left you a little something to read.
This article appeared in Materiality #1: Book. If you enjoyed it, you might enjoy the whole shebang! Purchase a copy at the pinknantucket press shop. (Available in hardcopy and digital versions, $10/$3.95).