Shit Outta Luck

The city’s planned deprivation of public toilets is the original hostile architecture.

In the burgeoning genre of writing about public toilet access, most essays begin with an anecdote establishing the writer’s authority on the subject, usually linked to a medical condition like Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome or—less seriously—some traumatic near-miss that almost involved the business getting done in the writer’s pants. Mine begins with a routine piss that landed me in jail. In the summer of 2018, I was walking home after a long night of drinking when I felt the sudden, though in no way surprising, urge to empty my bladder. This was in the lower stretches of Crown Heights, down by Atlantic Avenue—not a part of the city blessed with an abundance of toilet-bearing late-night commerce.

Had I always been a public urinator? No. The spectacle of men whipping it out in broad daylight, nozzle to traffic, and hosing the gutter with jets of steaming discharge is fairly common in New York, but it’s not a performance in which I’ve historically considered myself part of the cast. That night, though, with the pressure in my bladder approaching levels n…

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