Pee Talk

March 17, 2015

There is a juicy news story going round, about millionaire Robert Durst who may have murdered at least three people, including his wife, in 1982. HBO has been showing a six-part documentary on the subject.

During a taping, Durst, forgetting he had a wireless microphone clipped to him, started talking to himself in his bathroom while he was peeing. He was heard muttering, “What did I do? Killed them all, of course.” It was two years later that the film makers realized they had this audio.

Robert Durst has been arrested. This may be the most extreme example of pee talk, but one suspects that many people, in their bathroom sanctuaries, may be talking to themselves.

Sometime in the early 90s. I was playwright-in-residence at Washington Irving School on the near west side of Chicago, a mostly Hispanic and black student body, led by a dynamic principal, Madeleine Maraldi.

Ira Glass, of “This American Life” fame was a reporter for WBEZ at the time. He got the idea to do a series of pieces for “All Things Considered,” about Irving School. There was one report a week for the entire school year.

My junior high school students were the subject of one of the shows. We had written a “radio play,” about Martin Luther King, for “broadcast” live over the school’s PA system. Ira Glass watched the play in the school office, twenty kids, actors and sound effects, huddled over one microphone. Glass suggested we tape the play for airing on NPR.

Which is how we came to spend several after school hours, taping our show for national broadcast. A sound man wired me with a microphone and a transmitter which was clipped to the back of my belt.

The taping was not going well. The kids were exhausted, and we kept making niggling mistakes and had to re-tape and re-tape. Finally, we took a break. I walked into the faculty bathroom to pee. I was frustrated, mostly at me. I stood at the toilet and muttered, “Concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrate.” It was my mantra, through the pee and the washing of hands. “Concentrate.”

We got a great take. Ira Glass’s producer took the tape to a studio for editing. Several weeks later, the show aired on “All Things Considered.” The kids and I were interviewed and we heard from teachers from around the country, including a junior high teacher in Alaska.

I sat with some friends and listened to the show. There was the play itself, the excited kids jabbering. And I could be heard exhorting my young charges: “Concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrate. Concentrate.” This was commented upon by the show’s host, Robert Siegal, as a positive reinforcement from a masterful teacher.

The sound man had taken my bathroom exhortation and made it seem as though I was talking to the kids. There was no peeing sound. Thank god the only word I spoke was “concentrate.” I might have said (as I am a salty cuss), “Concentrate, motherfu_ _er.” Out of frustration over my young charges, I might have muttered, “I’ll kill them all.”

I could just imagine Robert Siegal: “Mr. Baldwin was arrested after being overheard on a live microphone in a bathroom, threatening his students with bodily harm. Ironically, he was performing a bodily function at the time.”

I’m sure Mr. Durst, now languishing in the Big House, would agree: ’Tis a fine line between confession and soliloquy.



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