A Tail of Two Toothbrushes

An Urban Legend

David Emery

As told by Susan Waldron:

A couple from suburban California were vacationing in Jamaica when their room was broken into and everything stolen, with the exception of their camera and their toothbrushes. Considering themselves fortunate to have retained the camera with their vacation photos, they returned home where they had the film developed.

Two pictures were unidentifiable something like an aerial view of two mounds of dark earth with a pole in between. They later realized, to their horror, that it was a photo of their toothbrushes up someone's rear end.

As told by Helen Vanscoy:

I heard this one while waitressing in Miami ten years ago. I think part of what made it seem plausible was the fact that the folks in South Florida are so often warned about crime targeting tourists, plus they often vacation in the Caribbean.

Of course, this happened to a friend of a friend of mine!

The "friend" and his new wife went to Jamaica for their honeymoon, where they stayed in a bungalow on the beach. One day they came back to their bungalow to discover they'd been robbed. The burglars had taken everything of value, their money, binoculars, video camera, even clothes, but luckily had missed their camera and some worthless personal items, such as toiletries.

The couple decided to make the best of it, and enjoyed the rest of their honeymoon. Once back in Miami, they had the film developed from their vacation. There, along with the pictures of themselves snorkeling and hanging out on the beach, were some pictures the burglars had taken.

The robbers had taken turns shoving the couple's toothbrushes up their rectums and photographing each other doing so.

Analysis: You will also find this charming urban legend and its many variants discussed in Jan Harold Brunvand's The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends (W.W. Norton: 1993). The chapter is aptly titled, "Indecent Exposures."

As Brunvand, an academic folklorist, notes in the book, the anecdote has been set in many different locales since it first began circulating in the early 1990s, most often in tropical climes such as Jamaica, but not always. Sometimes the unfortunate vacationers are said to be on a camping trip; frequently they're said to be honeymooners; in most cases they are said reside in the hometown of whoever happens to be telling the "true story."

"In no case," writes Brunvand, "is the narrator any closer than a FOAF — 'friend of a friend' — of these victims, nor has anyone I know ever actually seen the revealing photos."

Most versions have racial overtones, in that the victims tend to be white and the criminals black, but the deeper impact of the story lies in the grossness of the photographed act and the shock of its discovery. In one of the earliest tellings I'm familiar with, the anally fixated burglars were described as members of a "white trash" motorcycle gang. Brunvand cites a version in which the offense is committed by an individual burglar, "an old, toothless, bearded man."

Adult Fairy Tale

I'm inclined to think of the toothbrush-in-the-rectum story as one of those adult fairy tales of suburbia in which horrid things happen to ordinary, middle-class folks who wander from the safety of their homes and neighborhoods, encountering people "who are not like us." It expresses a generalized distrust of strangers and strange places — also known as xenophobia — ultimately an emotional reverberation of childhood insecurities, I suspect.

It's also one of the most cringe-worthy cautionary tales you're ever likely to hear.

Is there any reason to think the story is true, in whole or in part? Has an incident like this ever really happened?

Let's face it, it's been told a gazillion times by a gazillion different people, each and every one claiming that it "really, truly happened to a friend of a friend."

What are the odds?