Pants around my ankles, I can’t look away. It’s staring at me, a droplet of water slithering slowly down its face. The droplet reaches the bottom, clings, swells, then splatters against the tile floor. And I’m thinking no, I mean, they can’t, can they? They can’t actually- the angles alone! But they must, because every bathroom into which I’ve slapped my slippery flip-flops as one installed. Right there, next to the toilet. Sometimes righty, sometimes lefty, but always, always there: a spray nozzle not unlike the one next to the faucet on my mother’s kitchen sink. The one I used to chisel beneath a strata of charred egg when I forgot to grease the pan. But this spraygun ain’t for mama’s pans.
Allow me to state the obvious. The gun I’m referring to is meant for your bum; the stuff that comes out when you empty your tum. This is the way the vast majority of Southeast Asians wipe. Bum gun for the heavy lifting; toilet paper to dry and polish. If not for tourists, I would venture a single roll of two-ply could last three weeks in Chiang Mai.
Allow me to state the also obvious: as a tourist, the mere idea of a bum gun sent shivers up my spine. You’ve got to be- and pardon the expression- shitting me.
The nozzle was a thing so alien, so off-putting, I avoided eye contact let alone body. But I was seven months in Southeast Asia, that’s a long time, and sometimes things happen. I might be walking away from a temple or reclining buddha, feeling rarified as you like, and on the breeze catch a whiff of mystery meat, skewered over a pile of wadded newspaper, roasting over a bit of blackened tin, and before you know it, I’ve run out of options.
Not all bathrooms provide western amenities.
Knees shaking, palms enslickened, I reach out. Slow and unsteady, I fingerprint the sprayer, only slightly! A slow-motion minimalist in a college black-and-white. The lone droplet slips from the nozzle to my knuckle and I draw back sharply, like it isn’t water but magma. Instinctively, I want to pull hand to mouth to nurse the wound, but stop halfway, repulsed.
I retreat. Lean back to consolidate and strategize. I look at the nozzle, staring down and sizing up. I might have withered on that toilet seat if not for the shuffling of footsteps outside the stall. The mutter of voices and ricochets of strange tongues off the tile floor, prodding me into action, exposing the defensive limits of my stall door.
With the courage and ragged breathing of a South Pole expeditioner, I seize the sprayer, work the angles, and let loose an exploratory squeeze of the trigger. The temperature and pressure both startle and cause me to shudder in my seat. Nonplussed, I screw up my face, swallow sawdust, and squeeze again, this time for keeps. So tense I’m sure I’ve burst a blood vessel, the spray greets the clench and- what’s this? The world maintains its spin. The coolness of the water subsides until it becomes, I daresay, tepid. The pressure, so startling at first, makes it’s case. Businesslike yes, but attending to the job with empathy, not sadism. The helpful insurance adjuster or affable tax collector. I spray on and realize: this is downright pleasant!
And then the case breaks wide. An example, if it please the court: You’re stood under a tree and some vacant, speckled pigeon lets loose upon your forearm, do you A.) Wipe the mess with a neatly folded facial tissue? or B.) Rinse the nastiness with water, then dry again with the same? I’ll leave it for the jury to decide.
I finish, satisfied after a job well done, and exit the Gent’s feeling like I’ve come through the other side of a spiritual experience. An ashram for my- you get the idea. And thus begins a robust and passionate love affair. I become evangelistic, a zealot, proselytizing at ponds and parks in Kuala Lumpur, over backalley noodles in Hanoi, under soppy skies in peeling Yangon. I experience bum guns of every size, boasting sprays of every shape. And when the time comes to leave this part of the world, I feel as though I’m leaving something of myself. And sitting on the throne in the West, wadding toilet tissue into golf balls (always been a crumpler), I can’t help but think of those endless, beautiful nozzles, and the lucky few who, maybe even today, will take the leap, and experience a sweet caress in their moment of need. And finally, I’m wistful for the day my own fair country will come to her senses, and reunite me once more with the love I lost.