No Time Like The Present
At what point do stairwells begin to smell of urine? The sweetness of it reminds me of my mother and our trips to the shopping centre together when I was a child. People couldn’t possibly undermine the fragrance of The Body Shop and its compatriots with the exhaust fumes of the multistory car park, and so had to pass through an airlock stairwell between the parallel worlds, essence of urine having clearly been engineered into the very concrete of its structure in order to neutralise the transition. Some residential tower blocks had it also. It was a general signal of neglect and civil priority. Never would the public of then expect or react indifferently towards the stairwell of an art gallery smelling of urine; not unless it was art. In fact, most would sooner assume the latter than confront the possibility of inappropriate public urination and the hypocrisy in such a
It would seem like something was wrong if a place didn’t smell of urine, these days. Now part of the furniture that lets you know you’re home, like manure to the countryside, that incubated sickly ambiance of uncapped storm-drain smothers all in the city and renders its original point of reference redundant. But I still think of it so, as I still think of rain as rain, result of a cloud and not rain as rain, result of the sky. The same way that, despite my age, men are still boys and women girls: I allow the world its change but respectfully decline for personal reasons.
Regardless, an impressive cue extends from every official toilet of this building, so perhaps I’m not alone in my denial. Must be something in the water. Still, I had to prise myself away from one, despite its contradictions, and now find myself lingering in the stairwell, awaiting the opportune moment to release my over-extended bladder.
Has it really come to this? Pissing not in the official toilets of the Tate Modern? Because that’s what it is, come hell and high water. Come homeless, come sickness, come donner and blitzen, this is still the Pope of stairwells; a spiral into the loft of culture; the Odessa of steps. But! There is no time like the pure pressing swell of the present to deny past value and future consequence, and the rain, so ever present that one learnt to take personality from it a long time ago, now taunts me with the sound of its constant relief.
A moment as opportune as any other finally gives enough cause to face corner and gush. The ceaseless roll of one million rooftop drums stops for my urination and, in what will become the only instance of such a feeling for a very long time, I am joyful. Then it stabs me in the back – ‘Oi!’ – and the suspenseful roll of rain reignites from above.
A woman is shouting at me, but what’s the point? Never in the history of women shouting at urinating men has a man stopped half way through. But, of course, as the lengthiest wee since records began finds contour and spreads down the stairs, the shouting becomes more and more distressed. Finally, and with the resignation of an inescapably shamed man, I shake myself off and turn to face the judge.
Something about me being disgusting and how even her little boy can wait until he reaches a toilet, but
I don’t really pay attention to her words. She looks like a corpse, save for her eyes and animation, and, as she lectures, blood begins to run from her right nostril until it hits her lips and flecks towards me down the steps on the back of her voice. I’ve seen it in half of the people here, and wondered at it in myself. Cholera, I expect. Enough to kill a man, but not enough to stop a woman keep order. Makes you proud to be British.