Desired or Perceived.
A gleaming white bookstore in Vienna is populated with densely tattooed tech nomad types who importantly shuffle around its brightly-lit nooks and spacious shelves. They chat in the filtered sunshine over lattes and beers in pillowy German syllables about politics or cooking or transportation. They have time to kill, novels to skim, and acquaintances to one-up. The bar to the right of the entrance is the only surface that is not littered with exquisitely bound and correspondingly priced paper. The baristas offer the minimum hospitality required to the American tourists who happen upon it, as they rightly perceive them to be hurried and stressed and rude to people who make coffee.
Past the bar is a long and claustrophobic hallway plastered in posters. Sharpie writing on the doors marks the restrooms for herren and damen. Inside they are black—floor, walls, and ceiling—windowless, and dank. The bare, swinging light bulb illuminates anti-fascist stickers, ads for local rock shows, and silvery graffiti that spiders across every reachable inch of the room’s confines. The stench is unbearable yet the toilet sparkles.
In Service, I Guess.
A profoundly rotund executive is leading an orientation class in an administration building. The whole structure resonates with the wide-windowed, beige-walled boardroom frequency common in the wealthy area surrounding it. “This is a place that cares for its people unconditionally,” he proclaims, extolling the superior work atmosphere and company vision.
The subject of the building’s elegant dark wood and marble washrooms is raised. “They’re right down the hall,” he tells the trainees, “and I swear, if I catch you in the wrong bathroom, I will be very upset.” The class laughs. He splutters on: “Ladies, I don’t know what it is with you, maybe the floor plan is too confusing, but I keep finding you in the men’s room. When I do, I will tell you—and I won’t be quiet about it—to get out! Then, I will wait by the door until I see you leave.” His energy stalks the thresholds to relief long after his talk is finished.
Won in Battle.
Driving eastward across the middle of Florida, one hits farmland. Swampy canopy gives way to privacy hedge and dirt road, which gives way to infinite, finely ordered rows of crop. Dozens of men and women, always overdressed to shield themselves from the late-summer sun, stoop low to fill buckets or dart inwards to trucks with their payloads. Things look brutal, but they have been much worse. There were beatings and chains and robberies once. There was burning and thirst and disease. There was death. They needed to fight, to organize, to come together and assert their collective power in order to survive. They did.
At the far end of the field, a great distance from anyone laboring, stand a few blue port-o-potties. They are undoubtedly sweltering, dirty, and smelly. They stand next to modest sources of shade and drinking water, spoils of war that their employers are now legally obligated to provide.
The Source of Life.
Is one camping if they can charge their phones at the entrance to their campsite? A dozen idyllic clearings in the Appalachian mountains surround a pristine, fresh lake. These woods are protected by the state, but their inhabitants are still periodically invaded by RV’s, tents, smartphones, and jet skis. Narrow pavement guides the tourists to the only running water in the national park.
Workers in yellow hard hats and overalls are extracting a tree from the bathroom’s roof. The toilets are open, though, so anyone can walk in and find refuge. The stalls have grime and dirt lining their corners. Webs drape the windows and ceiling. An anxious peek into the bowl reveals not sterile porcelain but a whole community of variously-legged creatures vacationing in the cool water.