Surviving Armageddon in your bathroom

By Jim Mullen

“Hmmm, that looks comfy.” Sue was flipping through a glossy home-decor magazine and stopped on a section on bathrooms. The featured element, the tub, was a harsh rectangle with welcoming, knife-edge corners made of grey, poured concrete. If it weren’t for the rose petals floating on top of the water, you might mistake it for a particularly cruel horse trough. Maybe the rose petals are there to lure alien life forms, because certainly no human will ever sit and soak in that tub. How would you clean it? Sandblast the soap ring?

If the tub was harsh, the sink looked as if it came from the Country Club Prison Collection. It was a stainless-steel basin that jutted from the wall with no visible plumbing that could be used as a weapon in an escape attempt. The toilet, we decided, came from the future. It looked like one of those Tour de France bicycle seats. At first glance, you wouldn’t quite know whether to sit on it or to feed it ants.

As I looked at the picture all I could think was “These guys don’t have kids.” I don’t even think they know rational adults. There were no wet towels lying across the tub; there were no half-squeezed tubes of toothpaste on the sink; there were no nail clippers, brushes or combs in sight. Absolutely nothing indicated human habitation. There was no trashcan with the strand of dental floss hanging down the side; there were no bottles of prescription medicines scattered about. There were no towels that showed their age; there were no bottles of deodorant or cologne visible, no lipstick, mascara, mouthwash. Who lives here? Robbie the Robot? What does he need a toilet for?

Home design magazines call themselves “shelter” magazines, now. I wonder if that’s how the editors talk to each other at dinner parties.

“Nice shelter you’ve got here, Bob. Who does the rose petals in your bathtub? My guy quit, I’m looking for someone. By the way, have you got any Band-Aids? I cut my hand on your tub, but I couldn’t find the medicine cabinet. Oh, the medicine cabinet is the thing made out of razorwire. I thought that was a towel rack. You’re so right, it probably does keep people from snooping.”

I go through shelter magazines now not looking for the latest trends in furniture or window treatments, but for signs of life. You see the ultra-modern living room, all white and glass with sharp corners. Does it say “Cool sophistication” or “No kids, no pets, no friends?” Can you imagine having people over for beer and pizza in this joint? Can you see mom changing a baby’s diaper on a white Italian leather sofa while she’s watching “Ellen?”

You never see a purse plopped down on the hallway table; you never see a newspaper folded over to the sports section; you never see a sweater hanging over the back of a chair; you never see shoes and socks in front of the TV set; you never see pictures and cartoons attached to the refrigerator door with magnets.

If there were a contest to find these ten items pictured in an entire issue of a design magazine, no one would win. A stack of junk mail, a set of car keys, a branded bottle of dish soap a kitchen counter, mismatched pots, refrigerator magnets, an open bag of lime-flavored taco chips, a random pile of notes and messages beside a phone, a bed table with a jumble of books, Ben-Gay, moisturizer with vitamin E and reading glasses on it, a messy cat or dog dish on the kitchen floor – some ugly thing that a relative gave them that they hate, but display anyway just to keep peace in the family. I suppose when company comes we could just dump it all in the jagged, square tub.

Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life” and “Baby’s First Tattoo.” You can reach him at

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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