Urinal-top video by Matt Rees

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We were on the Hessian plain somewhere outside Frankfurt when I felt as though the drugs had taken hold.

Why am I paraphrasing the great Hunter S. Thompson? Because I endured an experience that Professor Gonzo could only have imagined in his wildest LSD frenzies. Something that made me feel I must be hallucinating, as if the Las Vegas of HST’s fear and loathing had come to me, cleaned up and waterless but every bit as insidious. What I saw was proof that we have no limits in our power to suck every last cent out of every possible human moment.

I was urinating. Into a urinal. At a rest stop outside Germany’s business capital. When I looked down, I didn’t see the accustomed maker’s logo. No, there was a video screen. About six inches across and four inches high. Bright, bright high-definition. Built into the top of the urinal. Advertising itself as the product of Urimat.com.

They’re insidious, these Urimat people, I tell you, brother. They must’ve done years of research to assess exactly where males let their eyes drop when peeing. It’s not on your unit. No, because that necessitates looking at the disgusting mess of the urinal itself, the chewing gum and receipt papers and hairs, oh God the curly hairs. We look higher than that. But not so high that we must confront the wall in front of us, with its vicious graffiti and its smears of nose-booger.

We look right at the top of the urinal. And the bastards at Urimat thought: Why waste all that time, when men are looking at nothing? Let’s make them look at a housewife, scrubbing her kitchen and bathroom. Let’s make them watch as “The dirt goes, the aroma stays.”

Can’t you picture Baron Urimat now, in his boardroom overlooking Feldbachstrasse in Feldbach, Switzerland – for this is where they have their evil mountain lair – saying to his henchmen: “When they have their dirty little units in their hands, the path to men’s minds lies open. Let us feed this psychological emptiness. Before they put themselves back in their pants and walk out without washing their hands. Let us take control of their minds.”

I can hear the evil laughter now.

I had thought the final invasion of our most trivial moments had been the video screens in the back of New York taxi cabs. They’re noisy, but at least you can turn them off – most of them, anyway. And in New York you fully expect to be assaulted and irritated at every turn. (It has its benefits, too. When the driver turns on his meter, the cab used to broadcast Judd Hirsch of “Taxi” fame saying, “Buckle up for safety.” Or did he? I always thought the devilish Hirsch was actually slurring “Fuck a lot for safety.” The rogue.)

But no, it can get worse than the NYC taxis. Imagine, even if there was a button to turn off the urinal-top video screen, how depraved and disgusting would be the man who would actually press his finger down to activate it. I remind you, it’s on top of the urinal where you and thousands of truckers pee.

That’s the cruel logic at the heart of capitalism. Oh, yes, it’s true that the irresistibility of the urinal-top video screen is the furthest reach, as yet, of the dread control of Adam Smith’s hidden hand. It can’t be avoided. It can’t be switched off. Yet you must pee. It’s as though Wharton MBAs were being told to read “1984,” with admiration for Big Brother.

Next time I go on a book tour to Germany, I shall be riding the railways. They’re state-run. Surely they’ll be a couple of years behind on the urinal-top technology. I can void my bladder with nothing but the clack of the rails in my ears, as generations of men did before.

But, ah, brothers, the future is a deformed bastard son of the world it could’ve been.

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