Postcard Essays from DC: Pissing at the Women’s March

This essay and subsequent Postcard Essays reflect my notes from the inauguration weekend in DC. There was too much going on to promptly assemble in a single essay, so I’ve divided up little events into written snapshots, AKA postcard essays. The postcard essay is my stupid (or clever?) synonym for the micro-essay, but with a focus on a moment or image. This essay pertains to the Women’s March on January 21st, 2017. (More coming later.)

There’s a march to the march. That’s how big this crowd is. And a lot of people need to use the bathroom. And a lot of people don’t need to use it yet, but they to want to use it before they enter the huge throng of pink pussy hats on 7th and beyond, where there’s little hope of finding an open bowl to piss in. So they stop here. There’s a line to get into the Starbucks on the corner. And another line at the other Starbucks on the other corner. No, and no.

And then there’s the port-a-potties. The lowly and sedentary green shit-ovens. There seems like a hundred of them at Indiana and 7th alone. Gene’s Johns. And they’re locked. Not just here. All over the Mall and downtown. Locked. It feels like Trump did this. Like he said to Gene after the inaugural parade, hey, lock that shit up, make those Losers hold it in. Make those loser ladies in vagina hats wait at Starbucks. So people wait. Some marchers stop and give them stickers to wear: #Vagilantes, #NotMyPresident, Pussies Against Trump.

A man can pee anywhere, if he’s careless enough, and I scout a spot where I could quick-release in sweet semi-privacy, between two long rows of Gene’s Johns, just a heavy stone’s throw away from the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial. But this is my city, and I don’t want to piss on it. And I know this is a female disadvantage; they can’t just unzip, aim and shoot. Isn’t this day just a little bit about acknowledging the ongoing history of male violence and power and privilege? And maybe giving some of that up? So I take a stand — or rather, I stand in line for one of two open port-a-potties — all of us pissers together in solidarity, waiting to let it go.

A guy with a bobby pin works a small padlock on an adjacent john. He jimmies and shakes it; it won’t budge. He tries another, jimmies it, shakes it. The lock snaps open. The crowd cheers and forms a new line. He’s a hero.

He tosses the lock under the john.

Then he holds up the bobby pin. His hands are tired, probably bruised and blistering. He’s done three locks now and attempted several more. “Does anyone else want to try?” he asks.

“I wouldn’t know how,” a lady in line says. I nod. I also don’t know how.

“I need to learn that shit,” another lady says. I nod. I also need to learn that shit.

Maybe this is it, maybe this is how we learn the little skills we didn’t think we needed — how to make stickers, how to express yourself in a mass, how to march, how to break the right rules, how to pick a lock, how to open doors for others.

I wonder what else I don’t know that I ought to know, and I see the problem in that process, like trying to find your glasses without your glasses, or just now learning that you needed glasses. It takes a guy picking a port-a-potty lock to show me what I’m missing in my tool kit.

And it makes me feel what a lot of those people in red hats probably feel. That we’ve relied on folks in suits in government offices to do too much for us — to give or not give us what we need, to open or close the door, to allow or disallow access to care and food and jobs. I understand the sentiment. Get out of the way. Let me live. Let me piss.

But I don’t think that’s what’s going to happen; I don’t think these white guys in red hats in the Big white House are about to get out of the way. I know they won’t. (pause) Because they locked a few thousand port-a-potties hours after they showed up for the keys. And now they’re busy locking other doors, lots of them.

A woman with a buzzed head and a stickered leather jacket joins the effort. She uses a special bicycle tool, and now they’re both working the locks. I’m peeing when I hear a lock snap. I hear the crowd cheer. Another new line forms. Now she’s the hero.

I finish up and hold the door for the next person. Then I move toward the crowd on the Mall. There’s a small Beyonce dance party in the middle of 7th, the halfway street between the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument, our nation’s great and permanent erection. I heard that some of the experienced protesters wear adult diapers for the big marches, and I imagine maybe they’re dancing in their piss now, and I admire it, the kinesthetic of a wet, liberal funk, but I’m not ready to go there yet.

Instead I practice at home the next day with a paper clip and a brass Capitol lock. I haven’t gotten it open, not without the key, but I’m still trying, and I know I’ll get it soon. Then we’ll see what else.

Update: This essay was revised and updated March 22nd, 2017, for presentation at the Inner Loop Reading Series.