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Chamberpots: A Resurgence?

Marcela and Ryan Marshall live in a well-to-do part of Brooklyn’s popular Park Slope neighborhood, but pay a (relatively) microscopic monthly rent of $300. If that seems unlikely, it’s because of an arrangement that’s a little unorthodox, but — as they’re quick to point out — not without precedent: Their apartment doesn’t have a bathroom, so they use chamberpots, as the building’s first tenants did nearly 150 years earlier.

“But not just any chamberpots,” Marcela said one recent afternoon, as she sat with Ryan on the stoop in front of their apartment. “We have some lovely ones from an artist in Red Hook who glazes them with sea glass.”

So the pots aren’t metal?

“No,” Ryan said, explaining: “we find that metal can be obtrusive in personal places. And if we’re using chamberpots, let’s use the same kind that the people who first lived in this house used. If it was good enough for them—”

“It’s probably too good for us,” Marcela said, laughing. “That’s our life slogan. Insofar as lives can have slogans, which I would argue they actually can’t.”

So, presumably — his and hers?

“Well, we started out with just one,” she said, giving Ryan a look.

He smiled. “That didn’t work out so hot.”

“Speaking of heat…”

“Let’s just say it was summer when we moved in,” Ryan continued, “and we don’t have or ideologically support air conditioning, so nights could get a little rough, especially when you don’t know what to expect when you lift the lid. I know — it’s not necessarily for the squeamish, but we’ve been doing it for three years now, and it’s helped us feel closer to the building, to its history, and to each other.”

Is this a trend they expect might take off?

“Why not?” Marcela said. “We’ve given a lot of Andrea’s pots to people on holidays and birthdays — she’s the woman who makes them, in Red Hook — and haven’t heard any complaints.” (She admits, however, that many of the pots’ recipients may be using them not as latrines but to hold plants.)

And finally: the waste. It goes … ?

“Into the gutter, early in the morning,” Marcela said, matter-of-factly. “And then we douse everything with water. It’s not hard. It’s what people have been doing for hundreds — thousands — of years. And is that really…” she said, pausing.

Ryan picked up where she left off: “… So crazy?”

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