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Victoria Patterson is the author of the novel This Vacant Paradise, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Drift, her collection of interlinked short stories, was a finalist for the California Book Award and the 2009 Story Prize. The San Francisco Chronicle selected Drift as one of the best books of 2009. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside.

38 responses to “How I Cleaned Toilets”

  1. Jessica Blau says:

    WOW. I hope you worked this stuff into your forthcoming novel. There seems to be a novel’s-worth of stuff here: recovery, mother issues, race/class issues, pubic hair, engorged dog testicles, sex addicts, and the wives of sex addicts. Excellent post!

    I’ve always loved forced encounters with people who wouldn’t normally be part of my life. Yesterday I waited two hours for a very late bus in New York City with a group of Ethiopian “business” men. It was hot, I was tired, I was hungry. But the chance interaction with the strangers, the “bonding” that occurred due to the shared wait, was worth it.

    • I don’t think there are any “engorged dog testicles” in my novel but I’m really digging the way you phrased it–definitely lots of race/class/money issues, some pubic hair, a drug addict. No sex addicts in the novel–but one businessman who is a shame-pervert.

      I love that you bonded with a group of Ethiopian businessmen yesterday! I’d love to hear more about that. I agree: those surprise encounters with people we wouldn’t ordinarily get to associate with help to make life a beautiful deal.

  2. Uche Ogbuji says:

    What Jessica said. This is perfectly weighted as a teaser. Gripping little episodes, and many casual hints of much, much more in the nooks and crannies. Very nice.

    • Thanks, Uche! I’ve read many of your posts and comments and am seriously impressed by your depth and range of knowledge.

      Maybe I’ll write more about that particularly charged time in my life. The benefit of fiction, though, is that I can write without necessarily pissing as many people off–although with my last book, I pissed off my family anyway.

      • Uche Ogbuji says:

        You’re too kind. I see what you mean about the partial shield of fiction, but we selfish readers want our raw literary fix, dammit! How about pseudonyms? Patricia Victorina? 😀

        • Patricia Victorina works for me! My nickname is Tory–my real name Victoria, which I use for my pen name. In the world, as a Mom picking up my kids from school, I’m Tory. My family and friends call me Tory. I actually prefer the separation. I don’t enjoy offending people. But my work has been known to offend people. It makes life easier in some respects, especially as a Mom. It’s a strange deal.

        • Jessica Blau says:

          Love the name Uche came up with: Patricia Victorina. Go for it, and write in all that dang stuff, including the engorged dog testicles!

        • Patricia Victorina–okay, going with it. Patricia Victorina wouldn’t write about engorged dog testicles, would she? She’d write about horticulture or something? Vitamins. Something healthy and optimistic.

        • Uche Ogbuji says:

          Ooh. Hmmm. You got something there. Guess we need a wickeder pseudonym?

          Or maybe the wickedness lies in the stateliness of the pseudonym, and then POW! engorged dog testicles. Reader has no idea what hit ’em.

          I could get behind that 😀

  3. Simon Smithson says:

    “I know darlin’. Don’t worry. He’s just got giant balls.”

    Situation assessed!

    Wow, this is a little unexpected, Victoria. And I wanted to hate Lonnie, I really did, when I first read about her calling you a bitch, and now, I just can’t.

    That’s weird about the electroshock hound.

    It really is.

    • It is strange to think that a dog would like getting high, essentially, by being in the electric current of a fence. The golden labs were brother and sister and the female was very smart, the male very dumb. They had French names because my mom was a Francophile: Claudo and Noblesse. It was the dumb male dog Claudo that liked to get high. That’s the only real explanation because Claudo seemed to seek out the fence. Or, possibly he was just too dumb to remember that if he went there he’d get shocked. But that doesn’t account for why he’d stay in the electric current instead of withdrawing??

      As far as the giant balls–that bulldog had HUGE balls. I don’t know what the deal was? It was CRAZY. I’ve since seen other sort of bizarre dog genitalia–but nothing like that. The other day I saw a man walking a dog with a huge lump on its ass. It must have been a tumor?! It was the big lumpy deal. Dogs, if you think about it, are always in the open–doing their thing on lawns, right for us to see. I don’t know. Something about it gets to me.

  4. Irene Zion says:

    I can’t imagine a worse choice for a man than this carpenter. Just saying.
    The wife had no business blaming you for being an idiot and staying married to a double addict.

    Poor Lonnie.
    She probably will never be all right.

    Good story, Victoria!

    • The woodworker had issues, yes. As I recall, he continued to pursue me but the wife’s phone call–thankfully–took away any and all temptation for me. I had my problems as well! To be honest, at the time I had a boyfriend at home. So I wasn’t an innocent!

  5. J.M. Blaine says:

    I’ve written a few
    of these stories
    from the other side
    from right out of high school
    working in rehabs
    with all sorts of
    toilet boil scrubbers
    & flask smuggling fools.
    I used to read for them
    from Brother Lawrence
    & we would talk about that
    damned awful wonderful

    I love your story.

  6. Angela Tung says:

    wow, victoria i love this. to echo everyone, i see this as part of a book-length piece, whether a memoir or novel.

    and i love that crazy, electric-fence loving dog.

  7. JB says:

    In my past life as a maintenance worker the women’s bathrooms were always worse than the men’s.

    I had big problems with the steel bins for tampons and sanitary napkins. Of course, this was back when I wasn’t married. I’m a lot less queasy about that stuff now.

    Nice work.

    • dwoz says:

      Ditto that.

      Theater work.

      Next morning cleaning crew.

      Men’s bathroom needs a quick once-over, disinfect, replenish consumables, quick splash ‘n swab on the floor.

      Women’s bathroom looks like “Revenge of the Fucking San Andreas Fault II” combined with the Valentines Day Massacre.

      And this is after every show, not just the young audiences.

      • But why do men’s bathrooms always smell worse than women’s bathrooms? How, you ask, do I know this information? Well, I’ve been known to invade a men’s bathroom when the women’s bathroom has the inevitable line. (As long as it’s a single bathroom.) Men are just more smelly? But not more dirty?

        • dwoz says:

          because men aren’t re-applying makeup and perfume in the loo.

          How do women apply perfume? By spritzing into the air, and passing a bodypart through the cloud.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I don’t apply perfume like that.

          And incidents of perfume application in women’s bathrooms are not, in my experience as a frequenter of such bathrooms, very normal. At all. One reason why: If she does it as you describe (but even if she didn’t), she’d be getting her perfume mist all over other women, who won’t want to smell like someone else’s shitty perfume and would get fuck-all pissed off. Unless the perfume has a little dauber or something and she can put it directly on her skin.

          And frankly, most perfumes do not require more than one application in the course of an evening.

          Victoria, it has something to do with backsplash, I think. Tiny particles of piss everywhere. Have you ever seen the side of a vanity that’s too close to a toilet?

          All acid-sprayed and spotty from pee splatter.

          I mean, unless they sit down, careful as they may be, it happens.

        • Yeah–you’re right. I don’t even wear perfume and I’ve never seen a woman apply perfume like that in a bathroom. I probably agreed just to end the discussion because once I asked the question, I thought–Do I really want to know? Maybe it’s just one of those mysteries that can go unexplored.

          I have two boys–12 and 10–I know all about pee splatter. Don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

        • Becky, question: once a person comments on here, he or she can’t delete his or her comment? Right?

        • dwoz says:

          I almost was given a divorce because of perfume in a bathroom.

          In bathrooms across the USA today, there is a move forward toward automation. In order to “improve” our defecatory experience, technology is coming to the fore!

          One such automaton of personal hygiene perfection, is the automatic air freshener spritzer.

          When this century’s Einstein got the idea for this satanic contraption, he handed it off to an engineer, who must have measured MY bladder size, MY tolerance for bladder distention, MY coffee habits, and MY wife’s signature perfume.

          The installation engineer then determined which urinal I was statistically most likely to stand at, my height, and my distance to the wall. He then placed the automatic air freshener spritzer in concordance with those specifications.

          Thus, every single time I went to the bathroom, this infernal device would spritz ME with a perfume that was the exact opposite from the one my wife wears. And it would do so like clockwork, as I started my business, at the exact moment that I was committed to the position, helpless to do anything but accept my fate.

          After weeks of this, my wife sat me down and gave me an ultimatum. Either lose the mistress, or we were through. It was bad enough that I was having a mistress, did I have to come home smelling like her? What kind of SKANK wears vanilla perfume like that? You’re cheating on me with a SKANK?????

          There was no verbal defense. There never is. You’re lying, by definition. So I had to drive her to my place of work, bring her into the men’s room, and….nothing. So I walked over to the urinal and started peeing. Sure enough….spritz….

          And I’ll tell you…men LIVE IN FEAR of women who are spritzing perfume in their proximity. It’s like having the red dot of a laser scope on your chest or forehead.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Right. Only contributors can and only on their own posts.

          Some of the mucky-mucks around here might have veto invasion powers, but for the most part, once it’s there, it’s there.

  8. Joe Daly says:

    I didn’t expect that the story would unfold as it did, and really enjoyed how it developed. Who knew that the road to happy destiny would be lined with so many pubes? Well, quite a few, I suppose…

    Great teaser, indeed. Looking forward to the next installment.

  9. Gregory Messina says:

    it seems that everyone complimented you in all of the appropriate places, so all can say is that i enjoyed this very much.

  10. Marni Grossman says:

    This is such deceptively simple writing. But, of course, it’s not simple at all. It’s brilliant really.

    Also: “‘Don’t worry. He’s just got giant balls.’” Not comforting at all, is it?

  11. […] to sell her book, she sure as hell isn’t going to get a boob job.  (Although she’s not averse to cleaning toilets, or making her soul more Chicken […]

  12. Hank Cherry says:

    I’m super late getting to this, but it’s chilling- She smelled like vodka. I thought about how I used to drink vodka because I thought people couldn’t smell it. Also, I drank vodka because I loved vodka.- I know that place.

    great writing

  13. Natasha says:

    Don’t know how I missed this one. Great story, Tory. I cleaned houses too and the pubes always grossed me out too. You describe it so well.
    I ended up getting fired – broke a cup.

    • Victoria Patterson says:

      I’m glad you broke that cup. I had no idea you’d been a fellow-pube-cleaner. We need to discuss further. Soon.

  14. Subway Tile Bathroom…

    […]Victoria Patterson | How I Cleaned Toilets | The Nervous Breakdown[…]…

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