In this bathroom, image is everything

A couple of weeks ago, a bartender who works the morning shift called in sick because her son, a 4-year-old with mild cerebral palsy, had pink eye. The little boy was miserable and irritable, so his mother stayed home.

The way she tells it now, the way things are turning out after what happened that day, her staying home must have been a sign from God.

But that wasn’t clear at the time. Magdalena Nelson and her fiancé, who is also a bartender but who works the night shift, argued about her decision to skip work.

She was babying the boy, he said.

And besides, she was missing work at a time the couple could not afford it; their house, which they bought two and a half years ago for more than twice what it’s worth now, could enter into foreclosure proceedings at any time. They’re considering a short sale. They are in trouble.

So the couple argued.

Nelson was frustrated. She needed something to take her mind off her troubles.

She grabbed a bottle of 409 or Clorox and went to work on the downstairs half-bathroom, the guest bathroom. It is covered in cheesy red and black Vegas paraphernalia, by design.

Nelson, 34, who moved here from a small town in Northern California eight or nine years ago, ventured into the souvenir shop on Sahara Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard earlier this year intent on adorning her bathroom in kitsch. She bought shot glasses and goofy decorations and a glittery black, silver and red bumper sticker that says "I (heart) Las Vegas."

She put this bumper sticker on the underside of the toilet lid. She thought it was funny.

"Because I’m a cheeseball," said Nelson, who used to work as a showgirl and cocktail waitress who introduced an Elvis impersonator.

There the sticker sat, so to speak, unnoticed, until the day of the sick kid and the missing work and the argument.

Nelson said she was on her hands and knees, cleaning. She tossed a paper towel into the toilet, and flushed.

She was about to spray the Clorox onto the underside of the toilet lid, on the bumper sticker, which by now had become slightly torn and bubbled, especially around the red heart, but she stopped cold. She looked up at the sticker, at the red heart, specifically at the top right corner of the red heart, and she saw, glimmering in the bright light of the bathroom, if not salvation, then at least hope.

"What the heck?" She said that out loud, although there were no actual people around to hear her.

She said she paced the house. Went back into the bathroom. Touched the image on the sticker to be sure it was real. She left the room, came back. Paced some more.

What to do? Was it real? Was it a prank? Was she seeing something that was not there? Or was this a sign from God?

She snapped a few photos, to have evidence. She locked the bathroom, figuring it was inappropriate to use the room for its intended purpose now.

She thought about this discovery. People should know. So she e-mailed the media. A local TV station bit, and soon the story was picked up by the wires, which is how it ended up on YouTube and CNN and a host of local TV stations around the country.

"Las Vegas woman sees Jesus on toilet seat" is one of the Internet headlines. Another: "Jesus appears on Las Vegas toilet."

You get "Jesus," "Las Vegas" and "toilet" into the same headline, you’ve got comedy gold.

Nelson gets it. She knows lots of people will laugh at her, and she laughs about it, too. But she also said the image has inspired her. It gave her hope, at least a little, at least on that day.

"It’s been fun," she said. "At work, everybody just thinks it’s the funniest thing in the world."

Laugh if you want to. Make fun of her. Then later, when you’re browsing the Internet looking for something to do, stop by eBay. Search for "Jesus Toilet." Look at the price she’s tagged on it: $10,000. That’s not enough to stop a foreclosure, but it might get your mind off your troubles for a while.

And then you can wonder who’s getting the last laugh.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake or 702-383-0307.

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