I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
Back in the early aughts, Brad Pitt allegedly bought a jailhouse toilet. According to “a source in the world of architecture,” it was stainless steel and came with a matching sink, and he wanted to install it in the Beverly Hills home he shared with Jennifer Aniston. I know this because I read it in Slate in 2005 in a column aggregating the tabloids — it had first been reported in Star, under the headline “World Exclusive! The Toilet That Destroyed Brad & Jen’s Marriage!” I’ve consumed and forgotten so much information about celebrities in my life, but Brad Pitt’s prison toilet will remain with me forever, because I’m convinced it was the final straw in their relationship. Some people blame Angelina Jolie; those people are overlooking the prison toilet.
Brad likes architecture: so much so that he once said “whilst acting is my career, architecture is my passion.” He also seems to like architects — according to reports, he spent some time last spring enamored with architect and MIT professor Neri Oxman, herself associated with some dubious design choices. It’s not hard to imagine him being charmed by an industrial bathroom fixture with a compelling backstory. It’s also not hard to imagine Jennifer Aniston (or any of his girlfriends, or, um, me) taking one look at that thing and saying “Not in my house.” We’ve all seen pictures of Jennifer Aniston’s homes. The vibe is not exactly Shawshank Redemption.
The reason the prison toilet haunts me, though, is that I can imagine finding it charming, if I were a month into a relationship with its owner (even if he weren’t Brad Pitt). I can easily imagine saying to myself: “My new boyfriend has such cool, unusual taste. He’s a guy who thinks deeply about architecture. He even owns a prison toilet!” This is the kind of thing you say when you’re falling for someone and looking for new reasons to like them.
By the same token, it’s also exactly the kind of thing you’d seize on if you were looking for reasons to break up with someone. In my head, this is known as the Syd Barrett Phenomenon, after the tragic, psychedelic former lead singer of Pink Floyd. It’s called that because my high-school boyfriend got very excited about Syd Barrett at the precise moment, deep into college, when our relationship was finally petering out. He kept playing me his favorite Syd Barrett songs, including one about a gnome and another with the lyrics “I’ve got a bike/you can ride if you like” — an adorable couplet that fills me with misplaced frustration to this day. We are 21 years old! We will probably never be more attractive! Why are we staying home on a Saturday night listening to music for babies?
Of course, none of this is Syd Barrett’s fault. And it wasn’t the toilet’s fault, either. But picture this: It’s 2005. You’re Jennifer Aniston. You like yoga and sculpting things out of clay, and you’re starting to feel like your marriage isn’t going to last forever. And then your husband suggests installing a jailhouse toilet in your home. There are so many reasons to be mad about this: It might be ugly. It’s probably uncomfortable. It’s also, if you think about it, kind of morally questionable to fetishize a piece of plumbing with such a sad past. Think about the prisoners who used that toilet, and then think about ’90s Brad, immensely privileged human and paragon of blonde all-American masculinity, using it to rid himself of, I don’t know, Champagne from the Golden Globes? You’d have to dump him. No wonder they broke up. Although, as Slate pointed out at the time: “Star notes that ‘Reps for both deny the toilet tale.’” So maybe it’s not true — but of all the fictions ever published about Jennifer Aniston, this is definitely my favorite.