Chris Ceravolo ~
One of the first things I noticed in my single room at the Hotel Plaza was that there was a single roll of toilet paper.
“This could be a problem,” I thought.
I waited for the maids to clean the room the following day. Perhaps they forgot to leave me an extra roll. Perhaps the previous habitants used it all.
The following day came, we explored Havana on the sleek chariot that is our Transtur coach bus, and I returned to my room, delighted to find two towels folded into a heart-shaped swan, my comforter ruffled like a fleur-de-lis—but yesterday’s toilet paper on the roll, dwindling fast to its twilight hour.
After a few days, when there was a quarter-roll left and I was soon to be paperless, I thought: “How will I survive the long hours until the maid concedes that I deserve another roll?“
So, in the morning, before leaving my room for a day of adventure, I secured my assets by locking the remaining toilet paper in my safe—atop the red velvet lining, next to my passport and two-hundred-and-fifty dollars.
This ploy was successful. The maid noticed the empty axel and replaced the roll.
As leaves change and winter comes, so did my new toilet paper run thin on its roll. And this morning I awoke with a new bodily function: Diarrhea. (This phenomenon may or may not be caused by gargling the tap water that an estimated Gazillion people, here and abroad, told us not to drink). At first it was painless, effortless, as though I had been designed like a Keurig since birth to spout coffee every fifteen minutes. But this was not coffee. It was some cruel, other fluid whose loss my body soon came to regret.
Zombified, I informed my professor that I would not be attending today’s adventure, and returned promptly to my bed (with a run to a public toilet in between, where I surprised a man in a neighboring stall with my loud vomiting).
I thought I had been thrifty by saving that extra roll, but no amount of thrift could save me from the devil who has possessed my digestive system. It is now
It didn’t take long for my toilet paper to disappear—extra roll and all. I waited until the last possible moment to request more. My professor told us that Americans (meaning North Americans, meaning United States-ians) tend to be more needy than the rest of the world. While a European tourist may accept their share of toilet paper, an American tourist may be more likely to complain about not having enough.
I didn’t want to fulfill this stereotype of a greedy, demanding American. But when it became necessary, I put on my shoes and grabbed the paperless cardboard tube for presentation to the front desk. Karl Marx wanted a system that would answer needs rather than desires, and in this moment I determined that I needed toilet paper. My request would be politically acceptable in this socialist nation. Certainly, Karl Marx and Fidel Castro and Che Guevara would have wanted me, in my time of need, to have toilet paper.
On my way downstairs, I found a maid’s cart in the hallway—the mother load—and decided that I would best make my request at the source. Unable to speak Spanish, I raised my paperless tube to the eyes of the maid, who was cleaning somebody’s room.
“Can I have more toilet paper?” I asked.
The maid looked at me without response as an imaginary buzzing of bees crescendoed.
“What room are you in?” she said finally, knowing my language better than I knew hers.
This number was apparently the open-sesame to more toilet paper. She tidied a few final things and, in one masterful gesture, slapped a new four-pack on the cart, unsheathed my roll from its plastic packaging, and handed it to me through the doorway.
I accepted the gift. Then, I did something wild—primitive.
One more—perhaps the only Spanish phrase I know.
The lights above flickered and the maid’s tongue knotted. The look on her face didn’t mean anger or annoyance, but shock. I was not a nuisance but a celestial disturbance—a transgressor of some sacred code. Spoken language was lost, so I held my stomach in an effort to communicate that I did not feel well.
Like a cashier being robbed, she slowly, grudgingly unsheathed another roll and handed it to me through the doorway.
I returned to the safety of my room and stored my bounty carefully on the bathroom rack. As I did this, I happened to notice that my perpetually dripping shower was no longer dripping. I turned the knob of my faucet and discovered that I had no water.
This could have been swift justice for my greedy indulgence in an extra roll, but it is routine for the hotel to turn off the water during the day. It can be off for hours at a time. I had been waiting for it to happen.
As quickly as I removed my shoes to deposit my toilet paper, I put them back on to go buy bottled water for hand washing and ask the front desk when I might expect to have tap water again. Of course, this was meant to disguise my real question: “Can you turn my water back on so I don’t flood my room with stagnating diarrhea?”
The bottled water in the hotel lobby was twice as expensive as those in the dollar store down the street, but I was not willing to risk shitting myself to save two bucks. So I splurged on local water and approached the front desk. I told the receptionist that I was not feeling well, needed the toilet, and was wondering when the water would return. I rephrased this several ways to try and accommodate the language barrier.
She may or may not have understood, but she shrugged and said: “I guess I can call somebody to check. What’s your room number?“
Lying on my bed in the fetal position, waiting for somebody to arrive, I began to hope that I would have to use the bathroom. Then language would not be necessary for whoever entered. They would smell my situation immediately and witness me try, without success, to flush the toilet. Even if they didn’t consider this reason enough to turn on the water, it was my only form of retaliation: “See what you are doing to me?“
I fantasized about torturing the negligent hotel personnel with the smell of my poo for a while. Then, like seeing the season’s first snow fall gently, magically beyond a window pane, I heard the drip-drop of my shower in the bathroom. Nobody knocked on my door. No questions were asked. I rolled over and fell asleep—thinking of my garbage pale that is starting to fill up with the unflushable toilet paper.