OG Dad #22: 24-Hour Potty People


We just ordered a potty.

There’s a wild-ass first sentence I never thought I’d write. Funny how, just when you think you’re losing your edge, “We just ordered a potty” comes out. And it’s like, “Yeah, motherfuckers, I’ve still got it.” Step aside, Jim Thompson! But where was I? Potties, thank you.

See, I can’t lie, I had potty issues as a child. Then again, it would, of course, be weird to have them as an adult. But as our friends in the fetish community will attest, not that weird. There is, after all, nothing so depraved or infantile that some Romney-esque CEO diaper-hound won’t pay a woman named Mistress Slanky by the hour to humiliate him with it—including adult Huggie-play. (And no, I’m not saying that Mitt’s the kind of Mormon who likes a little scat action when he’s out of his magic underpants. Why would you even think that? What is this, Creepy Digression Day?)

Anyway, when I was three, the family once drove halfway to Chicago from Pittsburgh and had to turn around somewhere outside Toledo because nobody packed “Petey,” my potty. Why a three-year-old would give the thing he shit into its own name is a different story altogether. Though it may have to do with those “issues” referred to earlier. I was allegedly potty-trained. But there was no room for mistakes. I first marched this story out in Permanent Midnight, where it got more of response, strangely enough, than all of the retrospective ho-hum junkie details I’d scattered about the book like sprinkles on a birthday cake. More people—at least in my audience, so you be the judge—seem to have been damaged by toilet training than by dope. Maybe that’s why so much drug activity takes place in bathrooms. (PhD candidates, I’m giving you this one.)

If my mother, God rest her soul, so much as sniffed a poop smooch in my little-boy jockeys, it was off to the races. Actually, not the races, the backyard. Where, like Ethel Merman with her thumb in a socket, she’d scream her trademark refrain: “I’m going to hang your underpants on the line for all your friends to see!”

At which point—ah, memory—the hot salty tears would leak out of my eyes. Shame tears, accompanied by burning cheeks and asthmatic breathing, as that soul-crushing-but-hard-to-comprehend (because you don’t know you have a soul that early, unless you’re Joan of Arc) sense of three-year-old doom started to kick in. Are you supposed to want to hang yourself before you’re out of preschool? Or is that just a family predisposition, like a propensity for late-life ear hair or lazy eye?

It’s like a TV turns on in your head, tuned to the Kiddie Hell Network. Oh look! Elmo peed his pants in front of Oscar and Grover! You imagine all your friends standing there pointing and giggling, “What’s up, Choco-pants?” while your mother, now, in memory, about eleven feet tall, looms over your thirty-six-month-old self, keening with despair, inconsolable that such a foul little disappointment-machine should have sprung from her loins.

Forgive the nostalgia.

Long story short, we drove for hours and hours back home to retrieve Petey, then turned around and re-pointed our Plymouth Valiant toward Chicago again. I should mention for good measure that my mother never let my father drive, so along with the kiddy torment, there was some grown-up emasculation happening at the same time. My long-suffering father, accomplished and respected in all arenas except his own home, was riding shotgun, crouched like an illegal immigrant, trying to make himself tiny on a Greyhound bus when ICE boards with a flashlight and plasti-kuffs.

But enough about Petey. The potty, God rest its rusty soul, is now an oxydized husk in a ground-fill somewhere, full of bum droppings and happy memories. No, what I wanted to talk about was the parental confab I recently had on whether or not to go with the standard kiddie commode, or—hooray for progress!—the one that played music when our child “did her business.” (A phrase, God knows why, that makes me think of the swells at methadone clinics who sold clean pee to court-ordered urine-test victims out of an attaché, the sealed glass jars stuffed in socks so they wouldn’t clink.) Whatever. When Sanjay Gupta does a special on the link between rambling, a.k.a. compulsive self-referential obsession (what America does best!) and Alzheimer’s, don’t color me surprised.

The point that I’m busily not making here is: Musical Potties. As a parent, there is a certain amount of unavoidable, occasionally brain-deadening boring repetitive behavior you have to engage in with your toddler, who, by happy contrast, really enjoys it. That’s not even a sacrifice—it’s just what you have to do. On the other hand, you really have to think about whether you want to hear the same catchy tune every time your adorable feces-delivery system hangs a rat. That kind of repetition has consequences. As in, what happens when, for the four hundredth time, I step on the plastic chipped-at-the-corner Kiddie Cat piano at four in the morning, inducing a tiny rendition of “Frere Jacque” that makes me want to skip the trip to the bathroom (I think I mentioned, I’m an older dad) and just find some hydrochloric acid to throw in my face, hoping some of it soaks into my brain and kills the part that responds to Guangzhou-manufactured song product. Strange existential factoid: the music on the Blackberry technical support hold line is identical to the music on half the cheesy toys I trip over like the dad character in the existential sitcom that has become my life. And yes, I am the last person in America to still have a Blackberry, and the company’s choice of go-ahead-and-wait-we-hate-you-anyway hold music may just be one more way of saying that having a Blackberry bespeaks some dark strain of BM (brand masochism), of which your stunted communications technology is but one of a dozen symptoms.

But musical child toilets! The problem on the technical level is that none of the Amazon descriptions would say exactly what kind of music we’d be hearing. I mean, if they made one that played “Blank Generation” whenever my tyke went wee-wee, some kind of punk pleasure-reflex might kick in, and I’d be powerless not to buy the thing. Besides, Richard Hell might get the residuals, so why not? Instead, weirdly, the one review that mentioned a specific tune, emitted in this case from a Conco-brand Diddly-Doo Party Seat, it was “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”

I picture the producer and session guys dumping their Sweet’N Low in the coffee before heading into the studio, trying to cook up some enthusiasm for a tune that’s going to play whenever a child relieves themselves. Did the client give the musicians a pep-talk? “This could be a kiddie’s first time on the hotseat, fellas. We want something that sings ‘hope’ and ‘excitement,’ but we also way to say ‘fun.’” After that, maybe a couple of guys have to put something stronger than aspartame in their coffee. I once opened for .38 Special, and now I’m making poop music! Not everybody who robs their grandparents to buy a pawn shop Strat ends up doing sessions at Guitar Center.

As some of you know, I am obsessed with the people who write side effects and catalogue copy (of which the studio session above may be the musical equivalent), and right now, I’d like to acknowledge the sheer easy-listening genius of the scribes behind this potty patter, which you can find on Amazon. Please enjoy:

The Little Colorado Personalized Potty Chair helps take the anxiety out of learning to use the toilet. Your child will feel much more at ease and willing to go potty on a chair that’s made just for them. The Little Colorado Personalized Potty Chair is made of resilient Baltic birch wood and is easy to clean. This new potty trainer is a traditional style that your toddler will love to spend time using. Learning is made easier when favorite books and toilet paper are within reach, so Little Colorado has integrated a toilet paper holder and book rack to this design which can be easily added or removed.

Are we talking about a potty here, or a New York apartment? I was so impressed after reading, I wanted to lease one and make it an office. Then again, do I want a toilet that my child “loves to spend time using”? My constipated father used to spend hours in our bathroom, groaning like a Civil War soldier getting his leg amputated while trying, as he used to say, “to make the magic happen.”

Do I want to breed a child who spends that much time on the party seat?

So of course, we ordered a musical unit. Which, now that it’s arrived, is sort of like having a talk show house-band in the bathroom, playing massively irritating intros and outros whenever our little star steps onstage. Yes, we did go for the “Old MacDonald” model. And I can’t lie, I do want to go out and shoot a farmer whenever I hear it. On the plus side, our baby won’t go near the thing. For now she’s sticking with diapers. If she’s still wearing them in high school, I will know—among other things—that I was a horrible parent.

Jerry Stahl has written 8 books, including Permanent Midnight, Bad Sex On Speed, and I, Fatty. His new novel, Happy Mutant Baby Pills, is now out from Harper Perennial. More from this author →