Fox host Tucker Carlson was worried about the men’s rooms in Penn Station on Tuesday night.
Sure, news was breaking that President Donald Trump encouraged former FBI Director James Comey to take it easy investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties with Russia. But the men’s rooms really got Carlson going.
His guest was New York City Councilmember Corey Johnson, who seemed to have been invited so that Carlson could make fun of Johnson’s pointed, possibly far-fetched bill that would force Trump to release his tax returns.
Unsurprisingly, Johnson, a Democrat, took the opportunity to talk about the need for transparency from Trump and to call for an independent prosecutor in the Russia investigation. Carlson told him to mind his business. Namely, local issues like Penn Station:
“You been to Penn Station recently? It’s like a homeless shelter. It’s disgusting.”
And again: “Have you been to the men’s room in Penn Station?”
He added other pressing concerns about that local transit hallmark such as the “guy living under the ATM machine.” Of less concern was the leader of the free world firing the FBI director.
What we talk about when we’re not talking about Trump
It’s true, we’ve got our little problems here. Maybe Carlson meant to point out the terminal’s need for federal investment, or the fact that ancient tracks and malfunctioning equipment have led to delays so bad that Amtrak is planning an overhaul over the summer it says will temporarily reduce train service by about 25 percent.
Or maybe Carlson feels really bad about our homeless situation, with some 60,000 people nightly seeking refuge in shelters in the five boroughs. We know it’s not the mounting evidence of the president appearing to impede an ongoing investigation.
No, it was the men’s rooms that Carlson really wanted to talk about.
About those men’s rooms. Each of the restrooms are controlled by one of the three railroads that operate out of Penn Station: Amtrak, which owns the whole station, and the state-run Long Island Rail Road and New Jersey Transit, which lease space at the site and maintain their own bathrooms. In fact, none of this is the responsibility of the New York City Council.
But Carlson wanted to talk about the bathrooms, which he says he visits every week or so. He didn’t think it was a New York councilmember’s job to worry about the fact that the commander-in-chief oopsidazily revealed compromising intelligence material in a closed-door meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador.
Well, let’s talk about bathrooms
As for the men’s rooms: a Wednesday afternoon visit to the LIRR’s facilities found a surprisingly blue and sparkly tile interior. Sure, there was gunk on the mirrors and an abandoned T-shirt tossed in a corner, but the walls had some sort of nice rainbow metallic design and there was no intelligence officer from Israel quaking in anger and fear while drying his hands.
NJ Transit’s toilets have faux-marble floors, working soap dispensers, clean tin urinals and no evidence of an illicit taping operation.
If any of the restrooms deserved to be singled out, it would indeed be the large Amtrak one on the main floor closest to the streetside entrance on Eighth Avenue. Naturally this is the one overseen by the federal government which New York City has by far the least power over, but a fair investigation is a fair investigation.
On Wednesday, two mirrors were missing and 3.5 out of 5 sinks were blocked by a “Caution Wet Floor” sign. A guy in an American flag tanktop spent about 20 minutes moving between the mirrors and the urinals. The soap dispensers were empty.
An Amtrak spokeswoman said construction for a “restroom refresh” will begin later this summer.
Things could be worse: for example, Republicans could continue to support Trump unequivocally while joking behind closed doors about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as The Washington Post reported of high-ranking House GOP leaders Wednesday. At least the Department of Justice has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation as a special counsel, some measure of independent oversight that many Republicans have been brushing aside all week.
The bathroom also has its moments. An attendant in the Amtrak lavatory said from time to time he had to go get an Amtrak cop to rouse a drunkard from the toilets. Sometimes he ducked out into the relatively fresh air of Penn Station to get away from the public-restroom-smell. But he pointed to the floor, freshly swept, and the clean working sinks.
“Does that look dirty to you?”
Not particularly. That would make Carlson happy.