Something was living inside, outside, allsides of my toilet. Following a paper trail of trashy muscle magazines floating on the surface of an invisible toxic bog, you could sometimes make it safely from the door to the toilet in careful sanitary hops. An extra pole vault would award you entrance to the shower; however, I'm not sure anyone ever made it out of the shower alive.

Muscle and Fitness: the name of the magazines-slash-stepping stones that decorate the tile of our shared bathroom. This is the kind of magazine that piles up in a college bathroom, next to Maxim and FHM and other buttery vats of celebrity spread. These are the understated insults to my gender-slash-generation I could not stand for: you want these pectorals. You need these biceps. You absolutely require Jennifer Love Hewitt's gratuitous cleavage for the extended duration of your ritual defecation.

Turn to page 74 for Top Ten Ways to Dump Your Girlfriend. Page 45 for Hollywood Bodyguard Sex Secrets. Page 30 for an easy four-step How to Survive Torture.

These are preferences solved by committee; creativity dissolved by base titillation; responsibility absolved by the ravenous appetite of mediocrity. Today we are told what to want and how to want it: someone else sets your standard for beauty and strength. Twelve reps of these custom chinups and a do-it-yourself-tanning-kit and your girlfriend will look like Alyssa Milano after a Finnish sauna. Twenty-four hours a day. Seven days a week. No blemishes. No growths. No split ends. Permanent sultry smile and bedroom gaze. Everything just as it is on the glossy pages: so perfect, she doesn't even need to breathe.

I love how the covers of muscle magazines invariably feature some guy enchantingly uninvolved with his own grotesque blistering overgrowth of musculature cradled in the shadow of some beach-blonde toned NASCAR queen heaving up some bronze trophy that reflects the whites of their horribly misshapen teeth and bloodshot eyes.

Washboard abs in twenty days. Balance your triceps in fifteen days. Looking to compensate where nature failed? You've come to the experts.

It's not that these publications are giving you a choice. They are giving you one choice, and that choice is impossibly gaussian blurred and restructured under heavy layers of photo-manipulated skin tones and shadows. This is an ultimatum. This is a dictatorship of aesthetics. This is your culture and your values and your desires and your stakes: and they're all dying in sync to the beat of sex marketeers.

I put Miss Hewitt down onto the toilet basin cover and coat my hand with extra paper to push down on the flusher; hopscotch back to my room; look out the window through the tattered shades beyond the dumpster into the parking lot where both dreams and nightmares are made into unbearable realities allthesame. One time the asphalt was so hot that standing on it burned my feet through the soles of my shoes. A hasty sprint would lessen the damage to a sour itch.

The guy we share the bathroom with, he's outside charming a tantalizing creature. He's got washboard abs, balanced triceps, a do-it-yourself-tan, and probably knows all the Hollywood bodyguard sex secrets he'll ever need to know. He is cradled in the shadow of a freshman sexpot, filling out the curves of her barely-clothes in a regal anorexic grace. She looks still-wet from a Finnish sauna. No blemishes. No growths. No split ends. Permanent sultry smile and bedroom gaze. They walk out into the unforgiving heat like puppets crawling up their strings: out to meet their masters, makers, movers and shakers, but together as shimmering trophies. Tokens for the arcade of cultural perfection.

By the window this day I felt duped by my own sense of integrity. There was no reward for me. Watching the two of them disappear into the darkness of the future made me feel less and less like a pioneer and more like the proverbial stick in the galactic mud. They follow the rules. They win.

How to measure up to your chiseled gym-hound roommates? Turn to page 58.

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