One of my favorite peeing-in-a-closet stories — and I’ve heard a lot, for journalistic research and because I went to college — doesn’t involve any pee at all.
In the spring of 2004, a woman named Erica (she requested I withhold her last name) took her friend Christian (same deal) who was visiting from Washington, D.C., to a monthly DJ night, where they partied until last call. Retreating to her apartment with another friend in from D.C., they watched a horror movie. Well, Erica and her other friend did; Christian immediately passed out on the couch.
About 30 minutes in, Erica saw Christian spring to life and start walking over to her living room closet, fiddling with his jeans as he stumbled in the opposite direction of the bathroom. He started to reach out toward the wall, doing that thing that drunk guys do when they’re bracing themselves for a pee.
“I screamed, ‘NONONONONO!’” Erica recalls. “I jumped up, knocked our other friend to the side, leapt over the coffee table and grabbed him by both shoulders. ‘That is not a bathroom!’ Like I’m talking to a cat.” She directed him to the actual bathroom, and he passed out again after relieving himself. The next morning, though, he was a bit fuzzy on why he picked the closet over the water closet, especially considering it was more difficult to get to than the bathroom.
“Somehow I felt like going into that closet was correct even though it was behind an armchair,” Christian says. Erica felt compelled to draw him a map of her apartment. Though she moved out long ago, Christian now keeps the souvenir in his Brooklyn apartment. He texts it to Erica every year on the event’s anniversary.
Therein lies one of the great mysteries known to man: Why do men go out of their way to pee in closets when they’re drunk?
Because for every real American hero like Erica, there’s a thousand soiled closets every weekend, and for a few reasons, no one can tell me exactly why.
It’s a tale as old as time. Every man on the planet has a story about going wee-wee in the opposite of a toilet after too many chardonnays with the fellas. Hell, I will admit that I — Mom, stop reading immediately — wet the ratty blue couch in my little brother’s dorm room during graduation weekend after running the beer pong table like the 1960s Celtics and forgetting to empty the cheap beer out of my bladder.
But why is it so often a closet?
There’s a famous story, at least among my friends, from my time at Rutgers in the early 2000s. A friend of ours passed out on his futon, after which a bunch of his roommates put playing cards and lightbulbs in his hands to see if he would wake up. He did, but only to — you guessed it — spray the closet with his pee. They tried to stop him, but he merely turned around, grinned, gave a thumbs-up and finished peeing. I wasn’t even there, but I found out immediately because one of the roommates started calling everyone to relay the story.
A cursory Reddit search will show that a ton of dudes have either attempted to or successfully played target practice with the hamper. A popular — now locked — thread in r/TIFU (Today I F****d Up, naturally), begins as such [sic throughout]:
“So last night I’m having a ball of a time doing shot of vodka with my friends and end up going to bed shot faced. I wake up in the middle of the night having to pee like a waterfall. Well my closet is located to the right of my bathroom and in my drunken stupor I jump out of bed wonder into what I think is my bathroom and begin to relieve myself. I wake up at 6 of clock this morning and my wife tells me. ‘Did you realize you peed all over your shoes last night?’ I walk into the closet and sure enough there’s pee stains all over the back of my closet.”
Nearly 100 comments follow, from the man whose friend crushed 66 beers and peed in the closet in front of 12 friends, to the stepson whose not-real-dad turned the kitchen pantry’s trash can into a terlet, to the guy who destroyed a laundry basket filled with his girlfriend’s dirty clothes — and then still convinced her to marry him. One guy found his roommate doing the deed, and instead of stopping him, took a video and posted it to YouTube. That was nine years ago, and you can still watch Travis pee in his closet, each time hoping that he’ll come to his senses, or that someone will stop him, along with the 10,000-plus others who have watched.
There is, however, a major problem in identifying just why dudes dye their crisp white dress shirts yellow in the night: Without fail, they’re all drunk as hell when they do it.
For one, the dude from college had no memory of peeing in his closet as he schlepped his band T-shirts to the laundromat the next morning. The story has lived on in his memory as just that — a story that, despite involving him as the main character, is foreign to his consciousness.
Christian says he fades in and out from that night and that he “vaguely remembers it,” but Erica believes her friend is simply remembering the retelling of the story, now infamous in their circle of friends, having been shared widely in the last 15-plus years. “He didn’t remember doing it,” she says, plainly. That’s why she made the map. “I thought it might happen again. I had to impress this upon him.”
I found even more examples, all of which began the same way: “I was completely wasted…”
When Jeff, a pseudonym, was 19, he was having a rough go of it. A recent art-school dropout, he was back at his parents’ house for a bit, and not coping with it well. He took a job as a roofer, but he says he was binge-drinking every chance he got, plus taking painkillers and barbiturates on occasion.
He was day-drinking and passed out one afternoon, only to spring back to life like the Undertaker when his bladder was full. He walked across the room, opened a closet door, peed everywhere and retreated back to bed. His brother, then 17, watched in horror. “He was too afraid to say anything,” Jeff says. Perhaps he should have. It wasn’t Jeff’s closet, but rather his brother’s, and he ruined a pair of his shoes.
Kris tells me he generally keeps his bodily functions under control when he’s drinking, no matter how wasted he gets. But after moving into a new house, he celebrated by blacking out, chasing whiskey with beer. The next morning, his wife broke the bad news to him: In the middle of the night, he woke up and stumbled toward the closet, bumping into furniture and the walls and yelling at inanimate objects, frustrated that he wasn’t at the bathroom yet. He eventually reached her closet, whipped it out and started urinating in an empty plastic laundry basket. When his wife heard liquid hit plastic, she screamed, “Kris, what the f*** are you doing?”
He cut his pee off mid-stream — no easy task, mind you — looked her dead in the eyes and calmly stated the obvious. “I’m peeing,” he stated, matter-of-factly. They still reminisce fondly about the story, and his wife likes to tell it in mixed company.
Similarly, I speak with a man who peed on a globe — a screw-the-world statement? — a guy whose brother peed on him and a friend of a self-proclaimed room-corner-pee-er. “Vacation rental, dorm room, living room, whatever: If we partied there, he peed in it,” he tells me.
Run-of-the-mill non-toilet peeing, however, is one thing. What I was looking for was specific, but no less ubiquitous. It seems like everyone knows someone — or is someone — who has peed in a closet. Hell, I found a guy who peed the closet in his hotel room, not three feet from his actual bathroom door. But still, none of these guys could tell me what compelled them to whizz there. So I asked an expert.
Joshua Gowin is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He generally deals with how alcohol affects us and also has a background in behavioral neuroscience. Alcohol, he points out, is a diuretic and makes us have to urinate more frequently. Gowin makes a distinction, however, between the bro who drops-trou and pees wherever he pleases after hitting the bar — but before falling asleep — and the person who falls asleep, arises and pees in his closet.
“That might be more likely a case that you’re half asleep and not fully aware of what you’re doing or even in an awake state,” he says. “It’s different if it’s, ‘I’m not going to bother to find a place to go, I’m just going to go right here on the corner.’”
That is to say that guys like Jeff and Kris (and likely the globe-ruiner, too) are probably in a different state of mind than Chad is when he bombs a pee out of the window of his frat house. Neither behavior, though, accounts for the — my word — stupidity that goes into either action. And so, Gowin points out some research on alcohol and the brain that might enlighten us. “When the brain is active, it uses glucose, and across the board, the less glucose uptake, the brain is using less energy,” Gowin says. “There is a specific study: how alcohol decreases how much sugar your brain takes in.”
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a co-author of the study to which Gowin refers, did another, similar study in 2015 that took things a step further. She and her fellow researchers noted, “Brain imaging studies have shown that acute alcohol administration decreases glucose utilization by the resting human brain, which was originally interpreted to reflect decreases in brain activity. However, subsequent studies showed that even low doses of alcohol, with minimal behavioral effects, significantly decreased baseline brain glucose metabolism.”
I’m no doubt very dumb, but even I can understand what Volkow et al mean here: People like Jeff and Kris and Christian weren’t playing with a full deck when they peed — or tried to — in the closet, and that even if they weren’t completely plastered (and they were just that) their brains were functioning at a much lower level than normal.
So, alcohol makes you dumb. Obviously. But perhaps it makes men dumber on a larger scale than it does women?
“I’m not aware of any systematic differences,” Gowin tells me. “Alcohol tends to have broadly the same effects in men and women in the sense of lowering inhibitions, increasing impulsiveness and reducing focus on the future consequences of their actions.”
He did, however, speak on the impulsivity we have when we’re drunk. In a 2010 article called “Your Brain on Alcohol,” Gowin wrote, “Elevated levels of norepinephrine increase impulsivity, which helps explain why we lose our inhibitions drinking. Drunken brains are primed to seek pleasure without considering the consequences.” His article has more to do with hooking up when drunk — norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter responsible for arousal — but the aspect of increased impulsivity cannot be overlooked. Why else would someone reach for not necessarily the correct door when drunk and in dire need of bladder relief but rather the first door he — and it’s always a he — fumbles across?
“You’re less likely to consider the consequences and more likely to take risks,” he tells me, “to do things without thinking about how it could potentially negatively affect you.” Perhaps men are in a daze when they pee in closets, but they are — in some way — awake. Even if they don’t know exactly what they’re doing, it’s clear that they don’t care in any meaningful way about hosing down the sock drawer. The impulse takes over.
I’m no scientist, but nevertheless, from my research, it appears that there is one single thread that ties together every closet, dishwasher and roommate’s shoe painted yellow: The urine is always coming out of a penis.
Perhaps that’s answer enough.