Nick’s Icehouse, Hattiesburg, Mississippi
Who among us does not love a good piss? After making love, with a hasty return to the bed; hungover, after painting the town scarlet; while fishing, going straight into the bayou or the lake; or even just as a break from work, a chance to get up and stretch your legs. That feeling of release, of pent-up tension flowing from your body—how wonderful that such a pleasure is ours not just every day but multiple times? Should you take such acts for granted, consider the scene in Leonardo Padura Fuentes’ Adios, Hemingway, where Mario Conde, an aging detective, goes to take a leak. “It took some time for the stream of urine to flow,” Fuentes writes, “and when it did, it was like expelling hot sand. … there had been better times, when he pissed with a powerful, crystal-clear stream.”
With this image in mind, consider furthermore the opportunities we have to transform the mundane, to achieve the sublime in one’s daily urinations, and allow me to hold the door open to a little place in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi: Nick’s Icehouse on Hardy Street, right on the main drag halfway between the downtown area and the University of Southern Mississippi. (Hardy Street, it’s worth mentioning, was immortalized in OA contributor James Whorton Jr’s excellent short story ‘Hattiesburg, Mississippi,’ a heartrending tale of prom and pubescence set right here in the Hub City. Sadly, Nick’s features nowhere in the piece. We may require a sequel.)
Nick’s Icehouse sells beer. And ice. And that’s pretty much it. Founded years ago by local businessman Nick Kolinsky, the place began as a distributor of industrial-grade ice in the area, around which the bar later evolved. (The prices for dry ice are still taped to the register: $2.50 up to 5 lbs. $2.00 over 5 lbs.) Sure, it looks like a shack. Sure, it might be built out of plywood and spent kegs. And sure, some folks call it no more than a dive—but in truth, it’s a temple to beer. Not in the thousand-beers-on-the-wall, let-me-whip-out-my-pint-glass-from-my-pants kind of establishment so beloved in Memphis, Atlanta, and Austin. No, sir (or ma’am): at Nick’s, you have three choices: Bud, Bud Light, and something else which no one ever orders. No wine. No liquor. No food. They don’t even serve water—the bartender once cussed out a friend of mine just for asking. No, with apologies to the grand old man, it’s between beer and nothing, and true to its roots, it’s the coldest beer in town. I’ve seen folks put their gloves on to take a swig.
While you drink—among electricians, tattoo artists, landscapers, and wildcatters on their weeks in from offshore—you sit on toilets mounted on plywood platforms. Vinyl record covers and posters from old gigs—Pink Floyd on their ‘87 tour, or local legend Mark Mann—line the walls and the ceiling, as do team photos from USM athletics. (Like a number of other bars around town, Nick’s shows more school pride than it receives; students rarely brave the place.) There’s music most weekends, a side area for darts and pool, and a little recessed room with piles of old junk and table soccer. The TVs are usually on, set to the Saints or SEC football, and graffiti from generations of local boozehounds graces the walls—including the name of a friend of mine from high school, a dry-erase scrawl now twenty years old if a day, a friend who kindly designed the cover for my second book, an act for which he was paid with a big fat bottle of Maker’s Mark because this is Mississippi, after all. If I remember right, the graffiti says that he eats dick.
It’s that kind of place.
So when nature calls at Nick’s, answer, and answer with joy. The conversation you have will be one you won’t forget. You’ll saunter into the men’s room, a side hall just off the pool table, and face your options: one of three urinals, these too carved out of spent kegs and hoisted up on their mount by half-inch thick steel chains, into which the bar staff have poured a veritable minor mountain of ice. If your aim is good, and the pile is fresh and high, you can piss a little cavern into the stack, creating a hole up from which rises a fresh cloud of steam, always a pleasing sight and the visible remnant of thousands of calories released into the atmosphere, and down from which falls a little impromptu rivulet into which you can see both your beer and paycheck disappearing. “Money’s like the wind / you only feel it when it’s moving,” the Mayhem String Band, once of Oxford, used to sing—true in more ways than one.
Picture courtesy of White Trash Repairs.
Now, if you’ve had a couple rounds, you can piss your entire name into the pile, and if you’re not driving, you can piss your buddy’s or your lady’s handle, too. There’s an unspoken rule that you always visit the same urinal when you go, because you wouldn’t want to interrupt the thread of a thought that someone else might have left behind. (Yes, I realize that this is a publicly sanctioned form of playing with oneself. So?) Be alert, though: as one observant soul scrawled on the wall, Don’t throw toothpicks in the urinal! Crabs can polevault. And in the winter, you have to piss quick, because the room is freezing—only a few sheets of plywood from the elements—and everyone knows what happens when precious equipment is left out too long in the cold. But pissing better be all you’re prepared to do: the ladies are fully provided-for, but for the gents, there’s no place to do anything else, even given what you sit on at the bar.
Questions do remain: namely, whether the same opportunity is provided to those who are differently abled, whether in their sight or in their ability to stand. No word yet from either Nick himself (who’s often hard to catch, being usually out on deliveries) or any of the staff, though God—and the Fed—both know they should be. The point, though, is the pleasure. It’s an exhilarating experience, and one worth the price of admission—two bucks for that Bud and the tip—even if you’re on the wagon. But caveat pissor: the effects are longer-lasting than the booze. No matter which hemisphere you find yourself on, in whatever direction the water flows when you flush, you’ll never look at a toilet the same way again.