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.
There are certain things you come to rely on in life, like that winter ends, or that hair grows back, or that when you are standing in a bathtub, it will not fall through the floor. It’s possible that you could fall — you could slip! — but you would by no means fall 30 or even several feet as a result. This is what I’ve told myself every time I’ve showered since January 27, 2008, the day a TV scene written by Vince Gilligan ruined bathing forever.
If you’ve seen the second episode of Breaking Bad, I know you know what I’m talking about, because you don’t simply forget this scene. It stays lodged in your memory forever, haunting you like a ghost with bad intentions. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, I regret inviting you to the club, but feel I have no choice. The scene is thus: A high-school science teacher named Walter White, recently diagnosed with cancer, has decided to go into the meth business to pay his medical bills. So he enlists Jesse, a former student and current meth dealer, to be his business partner, and after a series of misfortunes, they murder someone. Now they must dispose of his body.
You may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with a bathtub? And to that I say, really pretty much everything.
Walter, man of science, tells Jesse to buy a big plastic bin in which to dissolve the man in hydrofluoric acid. But Jesse can’t find a big enough bin at the hardware store, so he drags the corpse up to his second-floor bathroom, dumps the body in his bathtub, covers it with acid, and scampers back down to the kitchen to wait. Walter walks in an hour later, and Jesse, extremely agitated, says: “Why you got me running around town trying to find some stupid piece of plastic when I have a perfectly good tub I can use!?”
Well, Walter is not so pleased when he hears this! He beelines for the foyer located directly below the bathroom. There is acid dripping from the ceiling onto the hardwood below; it’s sizzling, it doesn’t bode well at all. Jesse comes around and gets a look, too. There is an ominous gurgle, their eyes grow wide, and suddenly, the moment I’ve dreaded for the last 12 years: the bottom of the tubs falls right through the floor, followed by a torrential downpour of blood and body parts.
Hydrofluoric acid, Walter then explains, eats through everything other than plastic — including ceramic, metal, and glass.
I did not enjoy watching a slurry of human viscera and dissolving musculature cascade through a home, but that’s not the part of the scene that haunts me the most. It’s actually the next shot: of Walter and Jesse looking up and into the bathroom from the first floor through a gaping, person-sized hole. It was this moment that awakened me to the fact that some things are simply not as sturdy as they seem. Whereas I once believed the bathtub to be reliable and foundational, I now understand it to be capable of dissolving. A little acid mixed with misguided gumption and you could end up with a liver in your foyer.
I’m not in possession of any hydrofluoric acid nor do I have any murders planned, but who’s to say my bathtub isn’t vulnerable in other ways? I used to see it as a mere extension of the rest of my house, but now I understand what it really is: a would-be hole filled with heavy porcelain. Now when I step into it to bathe my weary vessel, I imagine I-beams groaning under the pressure. When I wash my hair I examine the plaster surrounding the tub and wonder whether the person who applied it was perhaps distracted that day, doing the bare minimum under the conviction that bathtubs rarely if never fall through floors. Well, tell that to Vince Gilligan!
This is really a question of philosophy: Shall we simply believe what we’re told, like that bathtubs don’t fall through floors, or shall we question everything, as the purveyors of scientific discovery have done before us? Imagine if we were still eating low-fat Wheat Thins like it’s 1998, or believing dinosaurs didn’t have feathers, or thinking Pluto was a planet! What other dogmas await our reconsideration?
Of course, none of this is to say that you, too, should worry about your bathtub falling through the floor. But next time you put your full weight on the slick enamel of your tub, I invite you to ponder the idea of suddenly finding yourself naked on all fours in the apartment of the guy you’ve never spoken to down in 1A, a loofa you should have replaced months ago rolling across his kitchen like an incriminating tumbleweed, and tell me you wouldn’t, just a little bit, prefer to live out the rest of your bathing days in a state of gentle but vigilant paranoia. I can’t imagine anything more reasonable.