Legend has it that William Howard Taft once got stuck in a bathtub. It probably isn’t true, in the way that so many bits of history are just oversold dad jokes. But let’s say, for a second, that it is true. Or better yet: Taft didn’t get stuck. He just decided to stay in the bath.
I thought about William Howard Taft as I soaped myself. I’d left the door to the bathroom open, and I could feel the chill beyond the curtain; I knew what awaited me when I shut off the water and stepped, dripping, from the shower. Even though, when I’d come into the shower three minutes earlier, I’d known that, one day, I’d have to leave it — I’d known that the shower wasn’t, couldn’t, be where I belonged — the thought of Taft’s bulk gave me pause. His considerable girth warmed me. If Taft could stay, maybe I could stay, too. Maybe I could make it in the shower. If I could make it in the shower, I could make it anywhere.
I have a rain shower. It has black and white tiles. When we’d moved in to the apartment three months earlier, I’d thought, “This is a good shower.” Now, I thought again, as though no time had passed, “This is a good shower.”
It’s funny how time passes, even when it feels like it doesn’t. Because it does. The comfort I felt in that shower, warm-ish droplets of water cascading down my head, made me think of time, and how it passes. Hairs from my own body littered the floor of the shower. They weren’t there, once. And that’s when I realized: even if I stayed in the shower, one day I wouldn’t be there. Because, I realized, I have to die. Plus, there’s a drought going on, and I should probably stop using all this water. That’s when I left the shower.
Lunch was at one of those places that puts a bunch of lettuce in a bowl, with other foods. It’s called SLD. You can choose what lettuce you want, of course, although if you don’t choose kale, it’s company policy that the kid making your salad gets to verbally abuse you. I never choose kale. That’s how I was raised.
I was with my co-workers Kelly and Gwyn—it’s pronounced Gwen—and we’d walked 0.3 miles from the office, which involved crossing the road at a notoriously slow light. When you go through that kind of trial to end up somewhere, you don’t necessarily think of leaving, much less leaving before you’d even had time to settle in. The dressing had barely coated my leafy salad leaves when Gwyn said, “Let’s bring these back to the office.”
Gwyn was the one who’d brought us there in the first place. If it weren’t for Gwyn, who I loved passionately, with that sort of sickening ache that only comes from being in love with your married co-worker, I’d never have gone to the salad place. I’d have gotten a wrap, probably. My life would be different. But she didn’t seem to know this, or care. If I wanted to stay in the salad place, that anchor needed to fall from my boat, not hers. She was on her own boat. But Kelly opened the door, Gwyn behind her, extra dressing pouches in her purse, and, content as I was where I was, I knew I had no choice. I left the salad place.
Every office bathroom is more or less the same. It’s one of those pieces of American trivia that binds us, the office class, together. You may lose your job or get a new one, but chances are, you’ll still spend the most private parts of your day in an identical space from the beginning to the end of your working life.
There are the stalls with their vinyl swinging doors, their loose black latches the only thing holding you in obscurity. I stared at my phone. I’d texted Kelly to see if she was going to happy hour. She hadn’t texted back. I looked at the door of the stall. Someone had written there, in scratchy ballpoint pen, “Taking care of business.” A grown man wrote that. Could he have thought it was funny? Was I wrong in thinking it wasn’t funny?
All of a sudden, I felt conscious that the feeling in the stall, the environment that I’d come there for, had passed me by without my even noticing. I was no longer a native, or even welcome. I’m not an old man, but as far as the stall was concerned, and the whole bathroom, I was as old and irrelevant as Mel Gibson, who seems very old, and very irrelevant, these days. If you’re irrelevant, you’re dead, and the culture had moved on. I left the bathroom, after cleaning myself accordingly.
(I did have to go back for my phone, though, which I had left on the toilet-paper dispenser.)
Thursday night is Happy Hour, and the whole floor, usually, goes together to Killarney’s, which is about a half mile away, just slightly farther than SLD. Kelly was there, which took me by surprise. She almost never came to Happy Hour, even though I’d text her every few weeks, just to keep up a presence in her inbox. Don’t want her to have to scroll for it.
Killarney’s has a Bud and Jameson special during Happy Hour, six bucks for the both. It’s what brought us to Killarney’s—all of us. You’d think that out of the whole floor in our office, someone would end up somewhere else, would go somewhere other than Killarney’s, or at least suggest it, but like a flock of seagulls, we’d all ended up there in one group, and we clung to each other like a school of fish, which is ironic, because seagulls eat fish. My head had become an orgy of metaphors. Could we all possibly be suited for Killarney’s? Should we all be there? Weren’t there other places that could take us at that point in our lives, or was it truly the only possibility, like we all felt it was? We could probably drink cheaper elsewhere, to be honest.
I drank three specials. I’d downloaded Uber earlier that day. It was my first concession toward leaving, the first sign that leaving might be on my mind, but at the time, I hadn’t thought anything like that—I’d just thought, hey, this seems prudent. It’s Happy Hour tonight. Might have some Jamesons and Buds.
“Hey man, I heard you downloaded Uber. I love Uber,” Jeff said.
Kelly came over and said, “Hey, you’ve got Uber? Can I look at it?”
Could I have raised a family in that Killarney’s? Could we have had the Happy Hour specials and slept in a corner booth and lived on mozzarella sticks? I don’t want to call that impossible, but all the same, I could never imagine it. Kids weren’t on my mind that night at the Killarney’s, but you can never fully banish it from your thoughts. I knew I wanted kids one day, and that Killarney’s—if I literally never left that Killarney’s, ever again—would’ve been a poor place to raise them. I had a responsibility to my unborn children.
Sometimes you enter a place and think you could stay there. Sometimes you enter a place and can already feel yourself leaving. Sometimes, because you’ve had too many shots of Jameson and too many Bud Heavies, you leave, and you just don’t remember it.
I left Kelly’s as soon as I woke up. I must’ve dozed off. I forgot my boxers.
Kevin Lincoln is a writer living in Los Angeles.
Photo by Linda Tanner