The thing Consort and I have argued about for the longest is a toilet-paper holder, and I think we might be the only people in America having this argument.
Please note: I am not saying we disagree as to whether it should unroll “over or under”. That would be a dispute other people would recognize. No, we’re arguing about the holder itself.
When I first moved into the house things were a bit chaotic. [Three words: Undiscovered Termite Damage.] [Wait. Three more words: Twenty Years’ Worth.] It says something about the hideous state of the infrastructure that it took a while to notice the strangeness of the toilet paper holder in the original bathroom. I was replacing paper for the umpteenth time before I finally realized it was missing the usual “Oh, this is a toilet paper holder” signifier -- the plastic axle/pipe thingamajig that runs horizontally to support the cardboard tube.
Instead, there was a half-circle niche carved into the wall with a narrow lip protruding out about half an inch. This formed a cradle into which the paper roll rested comfortably but loosely. Nothing held it in place. It just sat there, napping until summoned. Of course, this also meant even the slightest tug caused the roll to leap towards the bathroom door like an ejecting test pilot.
But when you’ve got a contractor drawling relentless bad news, [“…Yah see there are termites that eat from the top down. They’re pretty bad. There are this other kind, see, and they eat from bottom up. They’re really bad. You have both…”] you don’t have the luxury of puzzling over your toilet-paper holder. I rationed my distaste for the entire bathroom. Where to begin…?
The room had been redone somewhere in the seventies by someone whose creative inspiration was access to a lot of cheap, shiny black tile. Also, a shiny black sink, a shiny black toilet, and a large looming black soffit which gave one the sense of having Death from the Ingmar Bergman movies hovering over you while you flossed.
The water in Los Angeles is hard, which meant the instant anyone washed his hands, every inch of porcelain was covered in a misty grayish film and no matter how frantically you might scrub the bathroom, it stuck. The floor tile, which was original to the house, had been a lovely shade of pink until some previous owner decided to clean it with either lye or bleach. It was now the colors of a Big Stick. There was a sizeable crack in the Big Stick mosaic which some genius had carefully filled in with chewed-gum–looking putty. I described the room as “…a place you imagine has seen more than one stabbing”.
After a year or so, we were finally in the position to redo the bathroom. My goal was to create a bathroom which looked chronologically appropriate to the house. Basically, what I was hoping was to spend large amounts of money to create an effect which would never draw any attention to itself whatsoever, because that’s how I roll: discreetly.
I found a designer, Mark, who has renovated many bungalows from the same era and could give us some advice. He showed us places to find the right hexagonal floor tiles, the right faucet and handle, a good replacement medicine chest. Finally, having gazed upon the toilet and talked about where we could get something to substitute for the Black Hole, I remember the toilet-paper un-holder.
I pointed at it and said, “I don’t know if you’ve seen anything like this, but…” I flailed for a second. I finally said, “…was there a point to not having any way of keeping the paper in place?”
“Oh, I’ve seen these,” Mark said confidently. “This is a pretty common sort of toilet-paper holder from the time”.
He removed the toilet paper and pointed to the underside of the jutting lip. There, flush with the wall, was a narrow slot which ran the length of the lip about a quarter inch from the wall. He put the paper back in, fed it through the slot and…
“Voila!” he said matter-of-factly. “Now, are you replacing the shower fixtures as well, because I’ve got a catalogue…”
I could barely wait for Consort to get home that night. Taking his hand, I dragged him into the bathroom and pointed joyously to the paper hanging down.
“Look!” I said, barely containing my glee. “You just tear off the paper and it doesn’t fall out and it doesn’t go bouncing across the room and it’s the only thing they didn’t screw up in this Godforsaken room and isn’t it just the most clever thing!”
Consort thought for a second.
“A spindle going through the middle would work better. As long as we’re redoing the bathroom, let’s just put one in.”
I shielded it with my body and stared at Consort fiercely.
“It’s original to the house. We’re not ‘let's-tear-things-out’ people; we’re ‘hire a designer to re-create original bathroom’ people.”
“It’s not a Batchelder fireplace. It’s a toilet-paper holder. There’s a reason we’ve never seen it in another house; everyone else gave up on it. And let’s not over-romanticize the architecture of this house. Have you seen the kitchen? Face it; the toilet-paper holder was a stupid design.”
The conversation didn’t get more refined from there. And in the seven years since, the only part which has changed is the speed at which we can have this conversation.
Consort enters bathroom, shuts door. From across the house, Quinn hears Consort sigh, very softly. Quinn yells, “It’s original to the house and we’re not replacing it!”
Consort gets his revenge, fear not. His claim has always been that tearing off the paper causes the roll to leap up and waltz around the room. Being as I seem to be able to tear off toilet paper without launching the roll airborne, I refuse to believe this. Consort proves how easily it comes out of the holder at least once a day by removing it from the holder and placing it on the bathroom cabinet out of arm’s reach from the toilet. He swears this is unconscious. What comes next is what politicians refer to as a “free and frank exchange of ideas”.
So, to all of you arguing about money, sex, work, children or housework but not getting the same satisfaction out of such combat, I say this: Somewhere out there is an old house which needs your love and care and somewhere within that house is an irritating grain of sand which will, over time, become a glowing pearl of everlasting spousal disagreement.