Now that the “holiday season” (Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the release of Avatar) is finally behind us, I can say with finality that I never got around to visiting the Charmin public restrooms here in NYC. I certainly had my chances, but it just would have felt too strange for me to see the final results of the process that took place on November 5th.

Let me tell you about the events of that day. What I am about to share with you is a completely true, accurate report. I know this because I was the one shady-looking participant standing around with a little notebook, writing down every single ludicrous thing I heard and saw.

Every year around the holidays, Charmin—yes, the toilet paper company—sets up these really nice public bathrooms in Times Square. They exist to serve all the desperate shoppers who can’t find a place to pee when they’re running from Bloomie’s to the M&M Store. This year, for the first time ever, they decided to hire five people to be greeters at the bathroom and blog about the experience. When I told my mother about this on the phone, she was unimpressed. But then I added, “It pays $10,000.” That sealed the deal for getting parental encouragement.

In order to choose the lucky five, Charmin held an open audition. The online posting for the job had been sent my way by three different friends along with notes like “You gotta try out for this!” I should mention here that “toilet blogging” was my own derogatory moniker for the post. The official title Charmin had adopted was a lot more highfalutin: “Charmin Ambassador.”

Charmin’s description said that Ambassador candidates should “Have a resume on-hand, have an outgoing personality, exude enthusiasm, and possess social media savvy.” I felt that I had all of these, in spades. At the very least, I was certainly capable of printing out my resume. The ad continued: “Auditions will begin promptly at 10 a.m. on November 5. Interested applicants may line up at the New York Hilton starting at 8 a.m. Only the first 1,000 candidates in line will be guaranteed an audition.” Since I’m a complete idiot, I assumed barely anyone would show up. I even laughed at their delusional hope of attracting 1,000 people.

I had forgotten about a sizable group in New York: the unemployed. Arriving at 8:25 put me at #182 in the line, which was a harrowing sight that snaked along the outside wall of the hotel. In addition, it turned out to be (how grand!) the first truly cold fall morning of my three months in New York. While I and the other 184 losers stood shivering, peppy assistants with headsets ran around handing out yellow sign-in sheets, to which they stapled Polaroid snapshots they took of each person.

I examined the form and found pretty standard questions about my profession (none), my age (young), and my agent. Wait, they were asking me for the name of my agent? I didn’t have one.

I quickly learned that most of the people in line were not bright-eyed journalism students, but out-of-work actors. In fact, Charmin had hired a casting director to run the auditions. Some people were even practicing lines from plays. I was out of my element.

“Don’t worry, lots of people here are amateurs!” a cute casting assistant told me after I expressed concern. “Yeah, I’ll bet that guy doesn’t have an agent,” I quipped, pointing to an old man leaning on a cane. I found it somehow mortifying that a person over forty was trying out to be a toilet blogger. This man looked about seventy. Sporting a giant silver beard and a trucker hat that said BEAST on it, he looked like he could have been the drummer for ZZ Top. When a cameraman rushed down the line to get reaction shots and people waved or whooped, the old man shouted at the camera, of all things, “Good to see you!” which seemed to me a bizarre choice.

Everywhere around me were more people to ridicule. The girl directly in front of me had brought along a small ukulele, and was singing a song she had written about toilet paper. “My favorite thing about the go,” she crooned, “is I get that time for me!” I should add here that the online job description instructed that applicants come prepared to explain, “Why you love the go.”

Still, I wasn’t really thinking of the audition in those terms because I assumed that they really meant, “Tell us why using a public bathroom could be a good experience and how you would make it one as our greeter,” and not, “Tell us why you love urinating or evacuating your bowels.” Of course, to my horror, a good number of people in line had prepared serious answers to that very question.

Meanwhile, a girl in line behind me had forgotten to bring a resume and was now writing one by hand, using a crayon. This was my competition—people who seemed to have walked off the set of Glee.

And boy, people were excited. A chubby, likable guy who must have been around 25 had informed everyone that he was a comedian, and from then on I took everything he said to be a shtick. He especially hammed it up as he told us about the time he took his grandmother to the Charmin restrooms a couple years ago. “Have you guys actually seen them? They’re unbelievable! My grandma said it was more fun than Disney World!” Oh, god.

We learned from our yellow info sheets, which were decorated with that adorable Charmin grizzly bear character at the top (you know, the one who adorably wipes his ass on tree trunks in the commercials), that this job would run from November 23rd to December 31st (so that’s $10,000 for 5 weeks of work) and would require 40 hours a week, including weekends. In truth, I knew as soon as I saw this detail that logistically I could not take this job, were they to offer it to me. For my graduate program I had class all day on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. Even if I worked all day on weekends I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fulfill the 40 hours. Still, I stayed. ‘Go big or go home,’ right?

We were finally allowed to come out of the freezing cold and go into the building at 10:15, but not before I had managed to successfully offend everyone in my near vicinity by announcing, “Why would actors want to try out for this?!” The answer, as many were all too happy to tell me, was money.

Once inside the giant reception room, I came into contact with a host of other misfits who seemed to think it was still Halloween. One woman had dressed in a toilet paper gown. A tall, bald guy had written ‘CHARMIN’ on his skull with a Sharpie pen.

We all sat down in plush hotel conference chairs and began to chatter amongst ourselves. The young woman who sat beside me had brought along an illustration she had done. The drawing depicted a stick version of her, standing in a room before a panel of judges. They were all holding up signs that read ‘9.5’ or ’10.’ I strongly wished that the Charmin judges would not be wooed by unsolicited artistic gifts. When this same girl looked up from her drawing, which she had been examining proudly, she asked me what I could possibly be doing with my iPhone. It had been glued to my hand for quite some time. “I’m tweeting the shit out of this,” I said. And I was.

Another good-looking casting assistant entered the room after forty minutes and finally announced, “We will begin calling numbers shortly. You will head upstairs in groups of ten. Once it’s your individual turn you will enter the room and have no more than 90 seconds to tell the casting people why you should be the Charmin Ambassador!”

After this warning terrified everyone, I witnessed several “routines” in the works, including the same comedian from outside practicing what he called “my TP rap,” a gorgeous Italian girl practicing a dance routine that looked like she had lifted it from Grease, and two siblings juggling toilet paper rolls. Their plan was to audition as a pair.

I found myself extremely fucking annoyed. I felt pretty sure that a woman using the Charmin bathrooms would not want a greeter to get all up in her face, playing ukulele to herald her toilet trip. The innocent visitor would want a warm, normal “hello” with no tiresome shenanigans.

I had a grand plan to say exactly this, to tell the casting director in honest terms that I would make the perfect greeter because I was the common man (in my Timberland boots and un-tucked flannel shirt) and that I had come with no gimmick, no song and dance, just my friendly demeanor and marketable blogging skills.

I grossly misjudged myself, and the event. By 3pm, almost 700 people had shown up. I had sat in the waiting room for nearly five hours, and had consumed two Clif Bars and a Turkey sandwich.

At last the time came for #182. After an elevator ride of pregnant silence with the other nine people in my group, I stepped into the room and a man behind a table, flanked by two women on either side, called across the vast space between us, “Hello. Please stand directly in that circle, directly under that spotlight.” It couldn’t have felt more unnatural. He pressed record on a camera and said, “Ninety seconds, and, go.”

I did not ‘freeze,’ exactly. I said what I had planned to say, but the entire speech was painfully artificial. I found myself making these strange exaggerated hand motions. I could feel that I was giving little forced laughs after each statement—ha!—and that my face was twitching with fake smiles.

I watched all of this as though through a window. It was abundantly clear after only ten seconds that it was not going well, but I kept digging myself into a deeper hole. “Welp, ya know,” I yammered, “I saw a lot of these other people out there [motioning with my thumb like a cartoon character] practicing elaborate songs and dances, and lemme just say I just think that’s kind of fake. See, I’m [pointing to myself the way one might while saying ‘this guy!’] just a down-to-earth, friendly dude. I’m a real people-person [oh no, not that] and I know how people would want to be greeted.”

It was a train wreck. I had heard before my turn that if you were chosen for a callback audition, you would find out on the spot. The man would hand you a blue slip. After I finished speaking, I said with whatever desperate energy I had left, “So that’s it; I’m your guy!” The director looked up from the camera and said sweetly, “It was nice to meet you.” I walked out.

I had spent that day ridiculing the most outlandish freaks there, but they were probably the ones to receive callbacks. Part of me—the bitter asshole part—is still sore that Charmin apparently did not want the outgoing, social media savvy everyman they clamored for, but actually was looking for ebullient, over-the-top clowns.

But that’s not a fair conclusion. Mostly I’m just humbled. I could feel a little silly for wasting a whole day, sure. But the experience was worth it, if only for this mildly entertaining story at parties. I left with a new awareness of my performance limitations. Oh, and I have that coupon they gave everyone for a free 10-pack of Charmin toilet paper. Maybe I’ll mail it to my mother.

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , ,

DANIEL ROBERTS is a grad student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and will finish up in May. He writes for PopMatters and the New York Daily News. Before journalism school, he went to Middlebury College, where he wrote a weekly newspaper column called "In My Humble Opinion." He has a web presence at www.danielbroberts.com and tweets @readDanwrite.

31 responses to “I Tried To Be a Toilet Blogger”

  1. Barclay says:

    Wow. Not sure how people might find out about this, but it sounds like it set up something outrageous and hilarious…

  2. hannah says:

    “Good to see you!” hahaha. You really had me laughing out loud.

  3. Very funny! And I’m glad that you “tweeted the shit” out of that experience!
    Did you follow the Charmin blog at all? Do you have any idea how the actual greeters did?

    I think you’re lucky you didn’t get that job. I mean, can you imagine, the friendly people from Wisconsin or Iowa wanting to shake your hand as they exit the Charmin loo? There aren’t any sinks for washing in there, are there?

  4. Hilarious! Welcome to Camp Snoopy!

    I look forward to more stories from your perspective.

  5. Carly says:

    You had me at “highfalutin.”

    November 5th may have been a painful day for you, but we’ve all benefited from your experience because we get to read about it! I loved the descriptions you gave of all of the eccentric characters you came across from the bearded old man with the BEAST trucker hat to the overzealous kid who claimed that the Charmin restrooms were “better than Disney World.” Also, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be greeted at the restroom by a bald man with “Charmin” written on his head.

    Looking forward to reading more!

  6. Why you love the go?

    Sweet son of a bitch, the world is truly awful sometimes.

    Welcome aboard, Mr. Roberts.

  7. Rohan says:

    Hahaha. Amazing.

  8. Marni Grossman says:

    Oh, babe, welcome to my nightmare. I’m a year ahead of you- imagine everything here said with a raspy, smoker’s voice-and have been unemployed or underemployed since graduating from Vassar in 2008. I have four unpaid editorial internships at magazines under my belt and no cash-flow. Isn’t the Real World fantastic?

  9. Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

    I agree with Simon, Daniel.

    “Why you love the go,” is so creepy on so many levels that it’s hard to even think about it.
    On the other hand, had I known about this, I would absolutely been on that line and hoping to get picked.

    (Although I’d use my time waiting on line trying to come up with an answer to why I love the go.)

    • Daniel Roberts says:

      Because you made a point to mention that you are “Lenore’s Mom” I have to ask who is Lenore? Should I know who that is?
      Thanks for the comments, all you ‘Nervous nellies.’ Haha.. just kidding

      • Zara Potts says:

        Lenore is awesome. That’s all you need to know!

      • Irene Zion (Lenore's Mom) says:

        Hi, Daniel,

        Sometimes my name appears as it does above, and sometimes it appears without Lenore. I don’t exactly know why.
        Lenore is one of the early contributors to TNB. Believe me, you’ll get to know her sooner or later.
        I started writing for TNB later than she.
        It’s quite a group we have here.
        Welcome.

  10. Dave Howard says:

    This is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read on tnb. Good stuff man I can’t wai for your next story.

  11. Lana says:

    Great story. And, you look pretty hot in that picture. Are you single?

  12. Mary says:

    Aww. If it’s any comfort, I sincerely do not want to be greeted on my way into or out of the bathroom. I’m sure the whole experiment was a flop for Charmin, and the only good thing to come out of it was your essay.

  13. tao says:

    i enjoyed that, good job

  14. Zachary German says:

    Pregnant silence

    nice

  15. I was recently at a wedding. Porta-johns were off in the distance when the time was right. After downing a few bottles of beer, the time was right. I opened the door and it was the most glorious sight I had ever seen. The bathroom was nicer than the entirety of my home or any home I had ever been in. I wanted to take a picture. (I wish I would have taken a picture) I left the porta-john and returned to everyone at the reception and immediately told them how wonderful the porta-john was, how they had to hurry and go.

    After reading your story, I wondered if these were rented from Charmin. P.S. Sweet deal on the free 10-pack of Charmin.

  16. ALM says:

    I second Lana.

    And ha ha, Jeff Pillow really sounds like he ‘loved the go”

  17. Daniel Roberts says:

    Hey Nervies,

    Just wanted to say that my next piece, also nonfiction humor, is just about ready and I’ll post in the next couple days. Check it out yo.

    Also, last night I was casually looking through my handy moleskine journal, the one in which I took notes at the Charmin audition, and I found this gem of a note that I failed to use in the piece above:

    Overheard– “That’s why pooping is so wonderful. It’s like a rebirth, every day!”

    Yeah… and that was a girl. Cool huh.

  18. Slade Ham says:

    Ugh. The whole story brings back memories. I’ve twice auditioned for Last Comic Standing. The first time was an all day cattle call, starting with me in line at 5am and not finishing until much later that day. It was miserable. That was eight years ago though. Two years ago I had a call time, which meant that instead of standing in line with a thousand other people, I got to show up at 8am, audition, and be done by 8:30.

    They both sucked.

    I never fare well in those artificial environments around a bunch of fake, prepared people. I’m good at what I do, just like I’m sure you’re very much “just a down-to-earth, friendly dude”. I totally understand how that doesn’t ever seem to translate when you need it to though.

    Nice piece, Daniel.

  19. Daniel Roberts says:

    Now available in extra-pompous PODCAST form! Enjoy: http://bit.ly/9OlAEl

  20. becca says:

    That was beyond funny! Great story, hilariously told. I’ve got to put myself in more ridiculous situations – OBVIOUSLY. If only for the amazing stories.

    What if they’d asked you for a callback?

    • dan says:

      thnks, Becca. Had they asked for a callback, I spose I wouldn’t have been able to write this critical post teasing the entire event. haha

  21. SAA says:

    This was really funny. I tried out for Jeopardy once, I never felt so stupid in my life. I didn’t even make it through the first round, yet when I watch it on TV I’m a beast, I answer every question. They told everyone to have some banter ready for the second round, and the best I could come up with was that I had a crush on Alex Trebek. That wasn’t even true, I just didn’t want to be the asshole that tells a story no one laughs at.

    • dan says:

      that’s hilarious.
      I’m the same way with Jeopardy, and also with Who Wants to be a Millionaire– whenever I watch, I say, “these questions are absurdly easy!!!” but if I were on the real show I’m sure I’d get tripped up by some early, $500 easy-ass question about elements or the moon or geography, some topic I learned about in 5th grade and promptly unlearned.

    • gloria says:

      Me, too! I tried out and I was in this room with 200 other people – ranging from nuclear physicists to housewives – and it was the hardest goddammed 8 minutes of my life. On my way home, I was thinking of all the answers I’d missed. I demand a do-over!

      • SAA says:

        I could probably swing Cash Cab, too bad it’s in NYC.

        • gloria says:

          I also auditioned for The Weakest Link and made it to the third round – but had to leave because I’d been away from my infant twins for so many hours (first time) that my breasts swelled nearly out of my dress and I leaked huge circular stains of breast milk on my nice dress.

          Isn’t that an awesome story? Want me to tell it again?! **hangs head**

        • SAA says:

          I think that would have made you a shoe-in!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *