Sunday, July 26, 2009

There's Lipstick On The Toilet Paper

Upon getting engaged, I moved into my fiance's apartment;  the very next day in fact.  Living in Manhattan, space is at a premium and as it happens, her place was bigger than mine. My apartment, a small one-room flat in a run down East Village tenement building was just not going to do for both of us. Besides, it's full to the brim with all of my stuff. Every shelf is crammed with toys I've designed and samples of toys that never came to fruition. The floor is covered with paperwork, letters  and drawings. Forget opening the refrigerator for before it is a gargantuan pile of plush toys, sorted into clear garbage bags. There's nothing in the refrigerator anyway. There never has been. And the one small hallway leading to the bathroom is practically blocked by boxes full of cds and merchandise I'll sell at shows at some point or another. This is clearly not an ideal home for a newly married couple. But it will make a fine office someday if I can get it cleaned up. So despite moving uptown, I've kept this place to work in. In the very least, it's a good place to keep all of this stuff.  I shudder at the thought of what my fiance would say if I showed up at her apartment with boxes upon boxes of cds, t-shirts, plush and vinyl toys. So for the moment, my place remains, as I like to call it, "the most expensive mini-storage unit on the lower east side".

It serves another purpose as well. Located near my son's home and a lot of the places I do business, the post office, the copy shop, etc,  as well as some of my favorite cafes and other haunts, it makes for a fine pit stop throughout my day.  It's a suitable location to regroup, pack an order before heading to the post office or just take a break.  Often, I end my day there. The East Village is a vastly more interesting place to eat, drink and be merry than uptown (in the opinion of this one bohemian) so often, when I'm done doing whatever it is that I do all day long, I'll call my fiance and she'll meet me at my apartment. 

I should mention at this point that the apartment has a name. When we became engaged and it became obvious that I was keeping my place, we joked about being a two-home family. When people would ask us where we lived, we'd say, in a preposterously pretentious accent, something like, "We have an uptown residence and a downtown one where we summer."  It seemed to me that if we were going to be that obnoxious, we should give our residences names, you know, like rich, white people do. So the place uptown became "Wuthering Heights" or "The Heights" for short and my place, which is nestled on a street in the East Village full of Indian Restaurants, became "The Taj Mahal", or simply, "The Taj".

I was at the Taj one evening after a day of working on some toy designs (it was an Adventure Quest /DEADY crossover  8-inch vinyl toy for Toy2R I think). Jayme, my fiance was on her way downtown to meet me. We were going to some party, I think. I can no longer remember.  But I do remember that we were running late, as always.  Or maybe I just know that because we always are. I also remember that I had run out of toilet paper. I texted her to bring some. 

Moments later, she arrived. Since we were both on the run, she didn't bother to step inside. She simply passed me the 4-pack roll of "Charmin extra thick, pleated toilet paper with ass-moisterurizing aloe vera micro particles"  (I made that last part up, but seriously, can it be long before it's offered?).  I tossed it in the general direction of the bathroom, slammed the door shut and we scurried off into the night.  

An image flashed before my mind, something I could have sworn I noticed in the micro-second the toilet paper was in my hand.  I turned to Jayme. "Did you kiss the toilet paper?"

She looked at me incredulously,


"Nevermind," I said.

But honestly, I could have sworn I saw, pressed onto the toilet paper, the lipstick print of someone's pursed lips. We dashed off and I didn't give it another thought.

The next day, I was at the Taj again. At some point, I had found a less than novel use for toilet paper and reached for the package that lay on the floor just under the sink. As I picked it up, there on the package, plain as could be was what I had thought I'd seen the night before,  a lipstick mark of someone's lips.  In a flash, I put together in my mind what had happened. In the last few years there has been a wave of uptown Yuppies who have discovered the charms of the East Village. Night after night, like a swarm of Izod-wearing locusts they descend upon my neighborhood, get drunk and behave in a fashion far less civilized then you would expect they themselves would approve of. Certainly one of the fillies of their flock, some drunken, disorderly, former sorority sister, must have stubbled into the local deli. And for the amusement of her friends, and no doubt the chagrin of the Bangladeshi deli owner, she picked up a package of toilet paper, pressed her prissy, pursed lips to it and planted her red Channel lip print upon it, marking her territory the way a pedigree, and common bitch alike, piss on a neighborhood tree.  And this was no doubt done either before or after exclaiming the obligatory battle cry, "Woo Hoo! East Village! Saturday night!  Paaaaaaaarty!"

Be wary of those who would use the word "party" as a verb. They go hand in hand with those who "summer". If I may for a moment use a verb as an adjective, they make me very "stabby, stabby", as my son would say.

I went to wipe off the offending lipstick when I was met with a very arresting surprise. I was wrong. It wasn't on the package. It was inside, on the toilet paper itself!

Now here was something truly curious!  Who could have done this? I mean, obviously, it had to have been done at the factory while it was getting manufactured. This act had to have been perpetrated by a factory worker. But I thought factories were all run by robots at this point? It gave me pause. Someone, some one, a person, a human being picks up these countless rolls of toilet paper every day and stacks them, four at a time into neat little piles, then shrink-wraps them into this tidy little packet. Sadly, it's not something I had considered. This paper, that one takes for granted that's, and I hope you won't mind me being frank, wiped along the most delicate and vulnerable parts of your body, is picked up and handled by someone right up until it's wrapped. That is a whole lot of trust right there that you are placing in the hands of a total stranger.

So why the lipstick? What did it mean? What was this person trying to say? Was it a threat of some sort? Did this worker wish to point out how vulnerable we are, how directly this faceless factory drone who is so totally dismissed, so undoubtedly undervalued by us could hurt us in some way if they wished to? Or was it just an act of defiance, a raspberry, a "kiss my ass!", a thumbing of the nose to those lazy, fat, spoiled Americans who would literally wipe their fat asses with the very fruits of the factory worker's labor? And one can imagine they are paid little and work so hard at such a tedious, mind-numbing, repetitive task.  Or was it something else. Was it merely a declaration of existence, a way to say, "I am here! I exist! Appreciate me!".  This toilet paper did not make itself. It was made by someone... for you. And maybe, all they wished for was for someone to know that. 

Or maybe, just maybe, the sassy owner of those red lined lips had a sense of humor. Perhaps in the staunch, gray, joyless dirge of the factory's mechanical lumbering towards productivity, she or he (the factory could have been in Brazil or San Francisco ) took a moment to infuse some laughter, some humor, some irreverence and beauty into the world in the way of a red kiss on a roll of white toilet paper.

Either way, I'm not sure I will look at a roll of toilet paper the same way again, or any other factory-made item for that matter.  I will always be reminded that behind that item there was a person or team of persons who labored to create it and to bring it to me.  I will be reminded that while I have the luxury of living the life of an artist, there are millions of others who toil at jobs they have no passion or love for.  And I hope that fact never ceases to humble me. On the other hand I think I will view these items with a little less indifference and  little more suspicion. Seriously, why do terrorist challenge themselves with monumental tasks like blowing up battleships or crashing planes into skyscrapers when they could do much more damage by simply getting a job at a factory. There's no security check, anyone can do it, and frankly, one gallon of a skin irritant in the paper-pulp bath of a toilet paper factory would keep all of America scratching their asses too long to repel an attack of any sort.

I have a friend who is a very talented artist and toy designer. His name is Brandt Peters. He has a fantastic line of vinyl toys called Serv-O-Matics that are made by Mindstyle.  At one point recently he posted a photo on a toy blog of some of his and his wife, Kathy Olivas' toys being manufactured in a factory in China. I honestly half-expected to see giant, mechanical robot arms pushing paint-drenched pads onto stencil-coverd plastic figures. Instead the photo displayed a very different image. It was of a person's hands and this person was painstakingly painting delicate little details onto a small vinyl figure.  I'm ashamed to say I was surprised. I had no idea this is how it was done.

Factory worker paints Scavengers/Servomatics figures

A factory worker paints fine details on a toy by Brandt Peters and wife, Kathy Olivas

I have a lot of vinyl toys coming out this year, mostly of my character, Deady. They won't be the first toys I've made by a long shot. But for the first time ever I have a desire to go to China and visit the factories where they are made.  I want to meet the person who's hands are in that photo and maybe, just maybe, when no one is looking, we'll put on some lipstick and kiss a random toy on the assembly line.


ps:   You can see Brandt Peter's amazing work here:

Serv-o-matics vs Scavengers production photo credit belongs to Mindstyle


  1. Thats amazing
    You have opened up my eyes
    No one ever thinks about the simple necessities they get
    How they got there?
    Who made them?
    But now i do...

  2. Hmmmmm....all I can say is Thank you! And yes it is nice to be acknowledged for ones' work; as they say "someones' got to do it" right!. Well.. I know this first had having one of those tedious, mind-droning jobs. That if we didn't entertain ourselves on a daily basis we would here-in commit utter mayhem on one another. I surely do enjoy reading your blog; and had the pleasure of meeting with you twice. Once in Pgh, and Once in Baltimore. You know; (Gregor stole my heart) And of course "Rogue" & I come up with many of ideas to advertise for you. Especially the "deady coffee" We work in an embriodery shop 10hr days. Four days a week. And some days we just wonder why we aren't MaDD!
    We have "Deady Parties" And Zombie name it. Thank you for your incredible mind.
    Sincerely; Best Wishes to you and Jayme...keep writing...

  3. Dude, I'd have totally wiped my ass with it and then proclamed that someone just kissed my ass.

    Then again, we both know I'm many many cards short of a full deck.


  4. Woah. That blew my mind.

  5. congratulations on the engagement. it is so much different than at your 40th birthday show in richmond. i'm glad to hear that you have found some speacial to share life with. it must be nice to be able to afford an apartment just for your things. it is nice that your place is near your son.

  6. I wonder if they ever imagined how their simple action that day could evoke such a beautifully thoughtful and sensitive awareness. It is fortunate that this kissed package found its way to you.

  7. What? I just like the way toilet paper feels on my lips. There's absolutely nothing abnormal about that.

    Hey, I found your blog!

    ~ Dave

  8. Interesting.. Glad to see someone give recognition to all those with mundane and thankless jobs.. I hope I never find lipstick on a tampon... Wow I'm tired.. Anyway, congrats on the engagement.. I'm newly engaged myself. I guess I'm headed to NY in the next few months, my fiance is taking me to the Ren Faire I've never been.. hope to see you there ~ Manda

  9. Manda, the renn fair at Sterling Forest in Tuxedo, NY is AMAZING!!! You'll love it!

  10. Hee! Very amusing flow. ^^

    I once found wood chips in a Boboli pizza crust and admit I too was shocked and have never looked at any ready-made pizza or ready-made crust ever the same.

    To this day I still wonder if it was intentional or not. Where did the wood chips even come from? Why was there only two and a handfull of splinters? Why was that the only time it's ever happened?

    I wonder about your toliet paper now as well. Why only one roll? And given the amount of lipstick, if that is the same roll in the picture, how can you not avoid picturing some lady or queen pulling out the lipstick from their pockets and putting it on for the whole factory line to see and cat-call before delivering a giant smacker on your fated roll??? ^^

    Heh, never mind. It is way to late to think about such things. Nighty night to you and yours.

    P.S. Your friend does great work, I've seen a bit of it before. Tres fab in my humble opinion. ^_-

  11. If you ever get a chance to see Tamara again you should talk to her about the factory art she has had to deal with for Eductaional Publishing ... whole different ball game than what you're thinking, and rather disgusting too.

    -Kevin English

  12. Hm, that has me intrigued. What did they do, paint the pictures with their feces? ; )


  13. Wonderful blog, V. Being a worker "bee" at one time, holding and handling parts that I knew others would be assured to perform as described; gave me purpose. I had true pride in my work. I know you love what you do, wish there were more hours in the day and live each day as well as you can. I always look forward to seeing and hearing you whenever possible. See you at D*Con. Cheers! Barb (and Brad)

  14. Your line, "the most expensive mini-storage unit on the lower east side" reminded me of a song by The Magnetic Fields called The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East side. I hadn't heard it in quite a while, thanks for reminding me about it.

    As for the toilet paper, I love the ass- moisturizing aloe vera micro particles! You should keep the paper as an homage to factory workers worldwide!

  15. Another artifact to add to "The Taj", and definately an experience that would have ended my day with a smile. You almost unintentionally had someone kiss your ass...

  16. Cottonelle in the green package has aloe and vitamin E in the paper.=)

  17. I certainly hope there weren't any other marks or stains on that TP.

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  19. You amaze me more and more everyday. I wish I had had the chance to sit and talk with you when I was working with Flam in the LES. He doesn't let me live it down that I always missed you vists lol.

  20. You’re actually quite wrong, it was actually done by a black teamster woman who's was Silvia. She would fix her lipstick throughout the day and think nothing of kissing off the excess on any roll that was lucky.

  21. i have a teddy skull :) just a plastic skull with probably 50% lead. Damn china :P

  22. Put it in a museum of modern art. They'll totally accept it.

  23. talk about "inspected by #something", huh? this is a beautiful thought on a most bizarre event, I mean, a kiss imprint on a toilet paper roll? it makes one think, and you, my friend, did think some pretty nice thoughts about it... deep as always!

    -Cheers! Crimson.

  24. i wish my head was screwed on as well as yours.
    that last bit reminded me of the last line of metropolis... "the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart."
    i think i finally understand it now :)

  25. Your instincts are much too noble. I'm guessing the reason the lipstick kiss was on your crapper-paper is because some tacky, pre-operative, Indonesian, transsexual factory worker had an "outcall" to execute via his/her personal escort service "side-business". He/she received an email text from a client that read "I want you right after work so I can sniff your sweaty panty hose". With that in mind, your factory worker had to blot a fresh application of lipstick because there wasn't enough time at the end of his/her shift to hit the...uh...ladies room. It's really that simple, Voltaire. Your aloe-drenched crapper-paper was tainted by tranny escort lips and you romanticized a noble gesture just because the truth is just too ugly for you to handle.

  26. That works for me, too. I don't have a problem with that. ; )

  27. i had a teacher who collected toilet paper from other countries (i know its odd but he was too and we loved him) i remember him showing us one from england that was medicated, smelled like neosporin. so i dont think the "ass moisturising micro particles" are far off, lol