War. Disease. Wearing Open-Toed Shoes In The Exxon Mobil Bathroom On The Sunday Drive Home From The Hamptons.

Gabor Monori. Unsplash Images.

There are, of course, horrors happening in this world of ours. One needn't look far. Christ, my DM inbox is brimming with woeful requests to donate spades and trowels to some excavation effort of a kindergarten currently buried beneath the rubble of a landslide in Peru. Why those South American architects continue to build schools at the foot of scrabbly mountains, I'll never know. There are no trees in sight, morons! No roots to anchor the soil! What's the play, insurance? Their kid didn't make the varsity alpaca-racing team? Yo no se. 

Far be it for me to complain. I've learned that with great privilege comes great expected silence. From a young age, I was coached that when times get hard, go purchase a luxury good and keep quiet. For there are always those whose suffering is far worse than yours, so do what you can to help and be quiet. 

But on Sunday, I finally experienced a level of hardship that I believe warrants the sympathy we typically reserve for burn victims. I was driving home from an entire week in the Hamptons, the taste of a Duryea's $108 lobster cobb salad still dancing on my lips. The thermometer read 99 degrees but held no bearing on my day as I'd cranked the Tesla AC to a 10 across face and feet. That cool wind nearly turned my toes to tuna, for I was wearing a pair of slide sandals you'd typically see on a germaphobic freshman who showers at odd hours for privacy and will eventually drop out due to homesickness so you might as well fart on his pillow while you can. 

In my cupholder, the diluted dregs of a $10.38 Left Hand iced oat quad latte begged for a red light to be dumped across route 27. But I waited, crawling through Amagansett, East, Bridge, Watermill… South with that teasing view of Shinnecock's wondrous fairways, waiting for the sudden and sorrowful disrepair of Hampton Bays to dump my coffee. At least there, that last splash of brown water might wash away the film of soot and sorrow that covers their ruined, stinking streets. God help those poor people who drive east at sunrise and west at day's end. 

When out of nowhere, the dreaded pinch came over me like a storm over the sound—slowly at first, then picking up steam in my gut. I had to find a bathroom and there was to be no heroic push for home, home, home with its glistening toilet and a Le Labo Santal 26 candle to set things right. I weighed my options, passing restaurants that would require a food purchase I'd never want, for this was that stretch of Long Island desolation where you can't find a decent caprese sandwich on salt-flaked focaccia anywhere for miles. My only real choice? 

A gas station. An Exxon Mobil.  

Construction Photography/Avalon. Getty Images.

Man alive. I'd take a postgame porta at Heinz Field over a Mobil bathroom on a scorching Sunday slog home from the Hamptons. As soon as I saw that red and blue facade, the scaries threatened to send me into anaphylactic shock. What's more, my sneakers were packed in a duffel of dirty clothes and my internal organs told me there was no time for a footwear change. 

It was always sandals. 

Inside, there was a line, of course. Four young boys on the way back from the beach, their mother, and another man stood before me. I considered offering them cash payments to jump the queue but it was hard to know what number to start at, given that I wasn't sure in which zip code these people rented/owned. Let's be honest: they don't own. Families that own out east don't stop at Exxon Mobils for a full-team movement. Yet the boys struck me as the types who knew how to order grilled cheeses at poolside snack shacks as though born with the member number tattooed inside their foreskins—free food on an endless tab paid by some country club fairy each month (dad). It would take at least $20 a lad, plus another $50 for each adult. I didn't have it, having spent all my cash greasing doormen for no purpose other than to be that guy, to be him.  


So I danced from foot to foot, swaying uncomfortable, trying to will those who stood before me to a respective urgency. One by one, they entered and exited a bathroom I couldn't see but could definitely smell. And by the time it was my turn, I almost didn't care anymore. Almost. 

It's that first step into the abyss that changes everything. The floors are so wet that they're not even sticky. There is standing accumulation on the floor. You move water when you step. Balls of rolled up paper towels dot the floor like soggy landmines. The toilet seat is covered in hairs that couldn't possibly have come from a pubic region, yet who is plucking strands from their head, finishing, and then laying them delicately on the seat? What purpose would that serve other than as some totem to a haunted visit from a shedding ghoul?  

I struggled with my surroundings as I hurriedly pulled individual squares of toilet paper from the dispenser. Of course it was that stubborn type that only allows you one goddamn sheet at time. My protective layer laid, I did my best to find a happier place in my mind and get through it as quickly as possible. But when I opened my eyes, I kept seeing my bare toes hanging precariously over the edge of that funk-fouled lake. Reflexively, the sphincter contracts, pinching the loaf mid-taper which tells you there is a lot of wiping in your future. 

As I said, there are terrible things that happen every day in this world. But in that moment, in an Exxon Mobil bathroom on the way home from a week in the Hamptons, facing a death march of traffic to the city, my gym shorts crumpled at my ankles soaking up a miasma of floor fluid, knowing I'd pull them back on to feel the wet hem around my thighs, knowing my feet had marched a blackened path; in that moment, I felt that no suffering soul on earth—no refugee, no orphan, no captive, no victim—would trade their shoes for mine.