Facility, a new magazine about bathrooms, is kind of like a bathroom itself. The cover is gray and white. Almost nothing about it exists online, so engaging with it feels like a solitary experience. It is intentionally filled with delights—just as friendly bathrooms might have lavender soap and fluffy toilet paper—but, by necessity, gross things do abound. Why don’t we talk about bathrooms more?, Facility asks. Clearly we should—because they’re fascinating.
The magazine launched in November and had its launch party in an actual bathroom. “The public restroom is a microcosm of the culture at large,” argues a manifesto in Issue 1, which you can order online for $15 or pick up at a handful of places in New York and California. (The next issue is due in spring, according to editor-in-chief Erin Sheehy, a writer with a sparse internet presence herself). We regard the taking in of calories with appropriate importance, enjoying “a robust culture around food,” the magazine notes. But there’s comparably little examination, and certainly less joy, given to how we push them out. “The bathroom,” says Facility, “has not been thoroughly plumbed.”
And plumb Facility does. (Yes, the magazine allows no lavatory pun to go to, erm, waste.) There’s a survey on morning routines that offers a stream of explanations of what people do when they ought to shower but don’t have time (“damp paper towel rub my armpits,” “I wash my crevices”). There’s an essay on the “ingredient of the issue”—this time, glycerin, a key component of moisturizers and many cosmetics that can help make you a “slick, weasel-wet influencer.” There’s an ode to the pills we keep in our bathrooms, and reflections on what we’re willing to do in our home bathrooms that we won’t do out in public (leave the door open, mainly). There are excerpts from another project, the Capitalist Bathroom Experience, that explains how workers fought for the right to go to the bathroom from their employers, and the struggle of gaining equal access to public restrooms for all races and genders. (Women’s restrooms often used to have a fee!)
I am not sure that if Facility were available online, it would work as good bathroom reading. But it’s glorious in print. There’s an interview with a plumber that references an incident known as “poop lake.” Elsewhere I learn that “King Henry VIII shat on velvet.” (Yes, really, here’s a photo.) A beautiful poem by Jane Marchant* called “Scrubbing Bubbles” is laid out on a grid that resembles variegated bathroom tile. It explores private moments of Marchant’s family life that span race, death, and the baby brother who accidentally swallowed a penny.* The words speckle the pages in clusters.
Facility isn’t just about toilets and showers and the things we do and think about on them. It’s about the broader components of bathrooms, like florescent lights and bath products—but it also takes a more philosophical approach to how we behave in private and sterilized spaces. By approaching its topics with an anthropological remove, it feels designed to be read in utter solitude. (Can you imagine how fun it would be to come across as reading in an actual bathroom?) As I read, I kept imagining Facility as a course pack for aliens without bowels, a way to communicate what these rooms in our homes and offices mean, how they fit into our social fabric.
My favorite part of Facility, though, is strictly practical: a list of hidden restrooms on the last pages, along with directions and entry codes, where applicable. The top of the page reads, “YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO THE CITY” and “FREE THE CODES!” It’s the one part of the issue that’s also published online, along with an email address to submit codes for more bathrooms, especially ones not in New York, where much of the list now focuses. If you do nothing else about the existence of this magazine, email in a code? We all need to pee.
Correction, Jan. 6, 2020: This piece originally misspelled Jane Marchant’s last name.
Correction, Jan. 16, 2020: This piece misstated the age of the baby who swallows a penny in Jane Marchant’s poem. He is not 4 years old.