Privy Chambers

Kage Baker loved modern plumbing. She had a deep emotional relationship with her bathroom, which included a territoriality that would put a wolverine to shame.

Kage grew up in a house with a daily minimum of 8 people. There were three bathrooms, it was true, but with a horde of kids (and friends) all over the place, one of them was always out of order.  The one off the kitchen hall was a particular problem, because the toilet was the logical place to stand if you were climbing in or out of the window; it was frequently broken by falling children. Decorations or frilly touches were impossible – you considered yourself lucky if the last user had remembered to replace the toilet paper.

Doing historical  re-creation events wasn’t quite as bad – chemical toilets but none of them being used by our brothers … Still, Kage and I both wanted better, which we eventually got with some creative privacy systems. Nor was this plumbing solipsism, oh, no! – everyone in our troupe benefited from having a private privy hidden behind our set, where it was not at the mercy of 300 clumsy strangers every day … it was so popular, in fact, that we had to keep a lock on it; the combination was a great and deadly State Secret. Sometimes the combo would get out, and I’d resort to a key lock: which was chained to a privy monitor, who verified the eligibility of every postulant to the Seat of Ease and let them in …

We hung gauze bags of lavender blossoms in there – best bathroom  deodorant ever. For a while, my ladies included bottles of waterless hand sanitizer too, but while  reading the label during an enforcedly-idle moment, I discovered that that stuff is flammable! After that, I required that it be kept outside … these were still infinitely better arrangements than the public privy banks.

Once Kage and I left home,  our bathrooms were unabashedly girly. (Male guests learned to cope. They always do.) Everything was perfumed, and alarming portions of it were pink. There was art on the walls! The shower curtain had a pretty pattern! The windowsills and toilet backs were decorated with coloured glass and sea shells! Though that last custom was abandoned after a big conch shell fell into the toilet one Christmas Eve – the shell was unscathed but the toilet bowl shattered, and we had a lot worse to worry about than coal in our stockings for awhile there.

Our last apartment had the unbelievable luxury of two bathrooms!!! We got totally spoiled. We never used one another’s baths without express permission. They were the most highly individualized rooms in the place.  Kage’s was all beach deco and sand motifs; she had a hanging shelf shaped like a rowboat, and a frieze of beach chairs around the ceiling edge. She used green tissue and toilet paper. Her nightlight was a skull and crossbones carved in agate. My bathroom was moons and stars and midnight blue towels; blue tissue, blue Kleenex in a cover decorated with stars. My nightlight was a spray of glowing optic fibers, and there were blue-white faerie lights hung around the mirror.

Our bathrooms in our 50’s were decorated right out of our teens. It was great.

Today, my sister Kimberly’s bathroom went berserk. Nothing would drain or flush. One of the cats, evidently driven mad by wet paws, decided the laundry hamper was her cat box: more to mop up. This is a little stucco California cottage of a house, almost a century old – there is but the one bathroom … we have spent the last several hours waiting for, and then supervising, the plumbers who came to save us. They were quite nice, really, aside from desperately wanting to sell us liability protection we didn’t need; and they restored our one bathroom to functionality.

They heroically even stayed to help out a neighbor  across the way with the same problem. It appears the basic blockage is in the main under the street, in the 8-inch city pipes – so now we are hacking our way telephonically through the thorny mazes of the DWP. Chinatown is still happening in Los Angeles, and the water department is still psychotic – but nowadays they can stick you on hold forever instead of slitting your nostrils. I guess that’s better.

In the meantime, every flush of the toilet is like pulling the lever on a slot machine.

Me, I am gonna go dig out the old camping toilet. And a bag of lavender blossoms.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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10 Responses to Privy Chambers

  1. ROFL Some days, you just totally crack me up. This is one of those days. And good luck with both the plumbing and the City.


    • Kate says:

      Maggie – days like this, it’s laugh a lot or cry uncontrollably. Don’t worry, though – the DWP is going *down*.



  2. Widdershins says:

    Always good to have a back up loo.


  3. Kate says:

    Especially for us setter types, Widdershins. Men have a cosmically unfair advantage in the urination department. One of the real tests of wilderness camping, I learned long ago, is how to successfully relief one’s self on rough ground without peeing in one’s shoes …


  4. Doug says:

    Oh man…I remember those awful green wooden privys at Northern! At workshops they wouldn’t be cleaned. Got bit in the privates once by a yellowjacket in there one time! Now that was an expierence I never want to repeat!!


  5. Kate says:

    Oooooh … those old wooden privies were *the* most authentic historical experience I have ever had. And the worst. Believe me, good plumbing is the epitome of our advance as a species. Heck, along with beer and hot cereal, it’s one of the earliest advances known. Older than writing! Humans invented bathrooms before they even invented anything to read in them.


  6. carsonwyler1 says:

    Too bad the privy monitor wasn’t designated Lord Privy Seal and given a ring and chain of office…or maybe he/she was…?


    • Kate says:

      No, I kept it fairly secret. The low-key level of the key monitor’s identity was another layer of security. The basic idea was that I didn’t want people to use our privy – so I didn’t make it easy to find the person with the key. You either already knew, or you wandered around and asked until someone either took mercy on you or advised you to go find a public toilet.

      Two members of our group – physicists, both – wanted to make the combo the second 5 prime numbers, or the Fibonacci sequence, or something – but then they decided that was too easy to decipher, and the rest of us decided they were insane …


  7. Kate says:

    My brother-in-law Ray – one of those physicists; at one point my theatre troupe had 3 of them – always says he’s a *theoretical* physicist. I think this means he doesn’t have to deal with reality.


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