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On the Importance of Bottles of Pee
By Jason Silvan

As modern plumbing drifts farther and farther from its hole-in-the-ground roots, the fabled Bottle of Pee gets harder to come by. As a child, the field behind my house would be littered with bottles of pee, their caps closed, yellow contents sloshing. They glowed like fireflies when the setting sun hit them just right. People understood that life was precious, that it’s not enough to just hold it and wait until you get home. You could die any minute—no, you must rage, rage against the dying of the light, piss into that bottle, throw it in the tall golden grasses behind the local high school.

Recently Dick J. Pebbles argued in his op-ed that we have gotten soft; that, back in days of yore, “you’d have the grit and toughness of an Iron Bladder, you held it until you got home.” Pebbles opines that to hold pee is to display mental and physical fortitude, such is lost among youth nowadays. Pebbles is 46; I am 53. I argue that his is the opinion of an upper-class man, born and raised, and with no disrespect to Mr. Pebbles, he does not know what the working classes have experienced. The Bottle of Pee is far more symbolic than a man like Pebbles could recognize, and it is my duty to share the deep meaning it.

The fundamental features of the Bottle of Pee are twofold: an empty disposable water bottle; and the pee inside of it. The fact of an empty water bottle itself is a symbol of someone who values hydration, values their health. Someone who repurposes such an empty bottle as a container for pee? A true believer in the principles held dear by environmentalists. They are living by the code of reusing your belongings rather than throwing them out right away, and that should be celebrated. Some would say that disposable plastic water bottles are extremely wasteful, and they would be right. Yet I would rebut that to focus overmuch on the consumer is to redirect attention away from corporations like Nestle, who buy water sources that could be directed to impoverished communities like Flint, and instead donate a couple of cases to the elementary schools before making millions elsewhere. I will join you in banning the containers that serve as vessels for my precious bottles of pee, once we successfully change the destructive nature of capitalism. Until then, I’m writing about pee.

But for part two: the pee inside of the bottle. The golden liquid holds mythological symbolism, the color of precious metals, evoking the ambrosia of the gods. It also holds meaning in its own right, insofarasmuch as it symbolizes someone who grabs life by the horns. The person who pees in the bottle is out exploring the world, experiencing all that it has to offer. They pee in the bottle not because they don’t care, but because they care too much, because their heart is so full of the zest and pizzazz of the world. They ramble and pee into a bottle because they don’t know when they’ll be home, and they are trespassing across unmapped territories where a good toilet or piss-hole is hard to come by. They are arguably living more fully than any of us, and shouldn’t that be celebrated?

The Bottle of Pee has been described by a few scholars as a holdover of patriarchy, the symbol of those male-assigned who find it easier to pee into the narrow neck of a bottle. I understand the sentiment. But might I counter, for the sake of the good Bottle’s legacy, that it is quite the opposite: that the Bottle of Pee was once the field of expertise of anyone with a working bladder, and that the art of aiming piss regardless of one’s body type used to be far more ubiquitous than it is now. When I was a child my two sisters and three brothers and I would do target practice, back in our toddler years before it becomes weird. My sisters displayed more fortitude than any of us boys did, even though we might have had the advantage. To say that the Bottle of Pee is a male-exclusive activity is to overlook the long history cisgendered women and other female-assigned folks have had participating in the sport. Male-dominated? Maybe, but the Bottle itself is not inherently misogynistic. Don’t knock the many women, trans men, and others who have spent countless hours refining their aim in the backyard and the shower. They are more valiant than the rest of us.

I returned to my hometown this summer to work, and feel the hundred-and-seven degree heat on my skin, and remember the beautiful suffering I endured as a young lad. It filled me with nostalgia to see a bottle of pee on the ground near my house, six weeks into my stay. I’d given up hope of ever finding one. Not that I go on walks specifically looking for bottles of pee, that would be weird and a little concerning. But I’d found one, and I took a moment to ponder it, and think about my life, and then I went home and wrote this article.

The Bottle of Pee, or, more accurately, the Bottle of Suspiciously Yellow Liquid, also holds one more mystery for us: that of the unknown itself, and the nature of bravery. Because who among even the bravest of us is actually willing to open the proverbial, metaphorical, or in this case literal bottle? Some may be willing to contemplate its contents, and say, no, I think it’s a prank; or, “Well, it looks like pee to me, also who would leave a bottle of water and yellow food dye on the street, just to screw with random passerby whose reaction they won’t even be around to see?” The closed bottle of pee, abandoned on the sidewalk or the street or the proverbial field, holds within it all of the unknowns we dare not ponder; or that we may ponder, but never cross far enough to uncover the truths fully. The bottle of pee is, dare I say it, the container of the human heart, and I would hate to see it disappear into obscurity. But if it did, would any of us have the courage to walk into that vast void and follow it?

All photographs creators' own.