Penny dreadful, part 5: the best seats in the house

1948 American Standard pink bathroom

Many months ago I showed up at a friend’s beach cabin and before I could walk even a few feet in the door she regaled me with a story about how when she arrived at the cabin the kitchen was perfectly pristine except for a piece of paper, conspicuously propped up. Excited, she picked it up, thinking a family member had left a special note. It said something close to:

Toilet seat

Puzzled, she looked around. She checked the fridge. She checked the toilet seats. She wondered what someone was trying to tell her. She called her mom. She pressed me about what it could mean.

I stood there still wearing my coat and holding my bags, and we fully discussed how it was a tiny town and there wasn’t a hardware store around for miles. We discussed how you couldn’t just run to the little local grocery store and buy a toilet seat. We discussed that at a store you couldn’t just stick a toilet seat on a conveyor belt with milk and eggs. We discussed that you would have to buy a toilet seat in the city and bring it with you, but you wouldn’t buy the milk and eggs in the city.

Why was the list at the beach? Why was it displayed so prominently? Like a message. Like a toilet seat is a perfectly normal thing to have on a grocery list. We looked at each other, baffled. This was a strange mystery we couldn’t crack.

And then we laughed our guts out. We couldn’t stop laughing. We cried. We laughed so hard we kneeled nearly to the ground. I had to kneel. I’d been driving a long time without a pit stop.

We got up the next morning and both confessed we had woken up early, thought of the list, and convulsed silently into our pillows so we wouldn’t wake up the other.

So when I decided to buy toilets,
I sent her an e-mail: “I have a grocery list that includes two toilets. Do you suppose I can find them at the beach?”

She said, “Absolutely!” and recommended a certain kind. She said she loves hers. And then she wondered if that was possible.

Apparently so.

Just ask a plumber. Or better yet, don’t.

Because otherwise you’ll learn all about top-of-the-line deluxe model toilets and a whole lot more than you bargained for.

You’ll learn about his own toilet, which has a bidet, a warm seat and a hot water thermostat that can be programmed for different temperatures for different people. And it comes with a remote.

You need warm water?

Yeah, apparently at first his wife thought the toilet was a waste of money, though he explained he got it for free. But now she likes the warm water.


I tried to act very cool and nonchalant, like it was a perfectly ordinary, everyday thing to stand in my kitchen talking to two men who were total strangers and listening to how this guy’s wife likes warm water on her tush.

What are you going to say? Tell me more about her habits?

He didn’t look away or shuffle his feet. This was serious plumberspeak.

But I get that. I talk writerspeak. Mention commas and I get all juiced up. I can go on for days about quotation marks. Singles and doubles.

I figured I could unabashedly talk plumber with the best of  ’em. “It comes with a remote? Like a TV?”

Let’s just change the channel and end it there, shall we?

–Laura Grimes


1948 American Standard bathroom. Not a remote in sight.