THE SOHO GAD.A.BOUT.
The holiday season has dropped on the city and to herald its arrival the good people who bring us Charmin toilet paper (and are doing God's work by the way) have once again bequeathed their annual endowment to the incontinent and colon impacted: Their Times Square Complimentary Bathrooms! And O by gosh, by golly, no matter how hardened your heart or cynical your cold soul, a visit to these toilets will instantly warm you in the spirit of the season and affix a smile betwixt your cheeks. I know this for a fact, because from once they pop up 'round Thanksgiving till after the New Year when they mysteriously disappear from whence they came; I visit these dandy dumpers damn near on the daily.
I know, I know: Times Square is anathema to local types, especially during tourist saturated December, however for any of you out there who have ever or will ever drop a deuce you owe it to yourselves and your world weary poop shoot to make a pilgrimage to this mirth filled mid-town Mecca.
Again— I know, I know: It's so very easy to view the whole scene with a jaded eye, to see Charmin's selfless public service as nothing but an uber exploitative ploy, just another corporation selling its soul to commercialize Christmas. But to you Charlie Brown commiserating naysayers all I am saying is give peace (poo?) a chance. Sure, the Charmin bathrooms are a blatant marketing manipulation, but I defy any of you to walk by their storefront, see the fresh faced gals and fellas out front dancing while dressed up as giant toilets and try NOT to chuckle. The absurdity of the whole scene is fantastic, and the dancing toilets are just the beginning.
I remember the first time I experienced the restrooms. I rode up a long escalator while listening to their kicky theme song: “Charmin... Enjoy the GO!” It's reminiscent of Olivia Newton John's “Let's Get Physical” mashed up with Sisqo's thong song. It's fun, upbeat and subtly prepared me to have a movement unlike any I've ever had. At the top of the escalator I was greeted by more Charmin enthusiasts welcoming me and urging me along. They're all smiles and almost impossibly chipper, like kid show hosts: shiny and bouncy.
At the top of the escalator I cued up on a serpentine line like I was waiting for Space Mountain. During the wait the Charmin song played on a never ending loop and my eyes took in the candy color walls and whirlwind of activity. Everything is pink and baby blue. There's a cheerleader on a lit up disco stage, big screen TVs with a rainbow coalition of children doing a toilet themed line dance. Enjoy the GO, indeed.
Attendants scurried everywhere armed with Febreeze and industrial disinfectants. And presiding over the ceremonies is an Isaac Hayes voiced huckster on a cordless microphone chatting up the people on line and announcing which one of the 20 toilets are currently available.
“Hey baby, where you from?”... “Oh Yeah, Charmin!”... “You ready to do it kiddo?”... “Hey mama, you've ever done it before?”
That's when it hit me. We're all actually in a giant bathroom, so are these guy's vanilla double entendres actually triple entendres? My head reeled with the possibilities and I started to feel like I was having an acid flashback, so I just let go and went with it. After about five minutes, it was my turn for toilet time, and I gushed just like a kid on Christmas morning. The bathroom was everything I hoped it would be: clean, private and wide enough to accommodate my husky man-frame. I popped a squat and got about the business of doing my business... and business was good.
But the fun times were just starting up. After airing out my stinkables, I disembarked from my momentous joyride and was asked to rate my poo on a touch screen computer. The choices were illustrated as plush cartoon bears with names to correspond to your shitting experi,ence. There was Moonshiner, Thumbs Up, Head Over Heels, Cartwheel and The Champ. I chose Thumbs Up and continued on my way; my knees wobbly with the slappy surrealness of it all. Yet surreal is way too soft a word. I was in the Disneyworld of bathrooms and I was having the time of my life!
Suddenly, the bathroom was a bumpin' lounge. There are beanbags and plush couches, a cheesily quaint electric fireplace and frolicking all around smiling Charmin cheerleaders. In one corner is a glassed in confessional room where you can sit on a porcelain throne and speak into a video camera, ostensibly to share some deep, dark fecal related secrets. On another wall was a giant toilet where you can sit and have your picture taken. Free printout? Don't mind if I do! That’s when I saw the ball pit. Only it wasn't filled with rinky dink plastic balls. It was filled with bountiful rolls of Charmin toilet paper.
On the way out, the Charminettes (as I've come to think of them) waved goodbye and told me they hoped I enjoyed the GO. I smiled all the way down the escalator with a peaceful easy feeling. Sure, the world may be going to shit, but I had found my own personal sanctuary and it was good. See? Joy can be had in Times Square.
I was brunching it up at the Cupping Room recently with my buddy Tyler and his curvilicious roommate Heidi when I began waxing poetically about Charmin and how they’re doing God’s work. Just as I was hitting my stride, Heidi chimed in:
“You know, I auditioned to be a Charmin ambassador.”
“What’s a Charmin ambassador?”
“That’s what they call the people who dress up and work there.”
I did a mental spit take and pressed her for details. She played coy at first, but after brunch she gave me the skinny. Lucky for you miscreants I had my handy mini recorder on me to capture the tale. Here’s what Heidi had to say:
“As this was my first NY audition, it's hard to classify how it ranks among the scores of mass casting calls in this city. Initially, I struggled with finding a sense of pride in my decision to spend the better half of a day convincing a panel of judges that I was better equipped than anyone else in line to encourage people in their eliminatory routines. However, I held fast to the promise of that fat paycheck, should their sights land on me. Ten grand for six weeks of work, people have done a lot stranger, for a lot less.
The audition notice said to ‘just be prepared to talk about why YOU enjoy the go’. They advertised on NPR, the internet, also in the newspaper. ANYONE could audition. There were husband/wife teams dressed as superheroes, writers -as one of the duties of the ambassadors is to blog about your experience- old, young, theatre and film students, seasoned actors, crippled, homeless, crack heads, you name it.
People had decked themselves out in an array of toilet paper accessories. One woman had made an actual dress of tp. Another had somehow attached a roll to the top of her head. I met a man from England who had shaved all but the word "Charmin" into the back of his head and then colored the remains green. People came from all over. In my audition group alone, ten people, there was a dude from Chicago and a lady from Georgia. Neither of them got cast.
We waited for over two hours in line outside the hotel, can't remember which one. Camera crews interviewed various groups of people; photographers captured the most outrageous of applicants. For the extreme number of staff members they had on duty though, they were incredibly unorganized. By the time we made it inside, a ridiculous number of people's paperwork had been misplaced. Auditionees were being moved from group to group, one audition room to another, I suppose the fact that they had given us numbers didn't really matter after all. I was number 116.
After waiting outside, inside, in big rooms, small rooms, lines in hallways, your big chance comes. You walk into one of three rooms to address a panel of three judges and a camera man. Of course, I'm only familiar with my room; I've heard the other rooms were slightly different. They welcome you with indifference, and ask you to state your name. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.
Then the fun questions:
~What makes you the best choice for a Charmin Ambassador?
~What would you say to encourage someone to use YOUR bathroom?
~Where is your favorite public restroom? (seriously)
~How would you stop someone walking by to get them to use your bathroom?
~Have you prepared a poem or a song? (Sure: 1-2-3, I gotta pee!)
After which you are either selected to be called back or not. I was not.”
For me this was like pulling back the curtain and seeing that the Wizard was just an old guy from Kansas, but I want to be that Wizard. So yes, I will be auditioning to work there next year.