The Inner Citrus made two demands. One: I must not inquire into their identities. They would not reveal those identities, and I would not pry. Two: I must partake in a shower orange. That much, at least, I had expected.
So one evening while my family watched TV downstairs, I brought a plump navel orange into the shower. It felt odd to have it in there with me, sort of like being trapped in a room with a strange, harmless animal. Eventually I began to peel the orange. Its skin was surprisingly tough. The zest caught under my fingernails; the juice and pulp leaked down my arms; the peel came off in small, irregular chunks. Conveniently—and this is perhaps the most persuasive argument voiced by fans of the shower orange—the water washed all the mess away. I made a little pile of peel chunks on a shelf in my shower. Then I ate the orange.
It tasted like a standard supermarket orange, somewhere between fine and good. It smelled nice but not noticeably nicer than an orange does outside of the shower. The shower felt like a shower: hot, pleasant. Perhaps the twin novelties of eating an orange in an unfamiliar place and performing an unfamiliar act in the shower made me more mindful of each element—that is, perhaps I enjoyed both the shower and the orange slightly more than I would have if I’d experienced them separately—but I wouldn’t call it liberating, or a sensual reverie, or a moment of spiritual transcendence.
The members of the Yale Shower Orange Society would. YSOS is a secret group of shower orange enthusiasts who have vowed to “spread the zested message of the blessed shower orange,” as they assonantly describe their mission. I planned to interview their senior members—the “Inner Citrus,” as they call themselves—later that night.
So I emerged from the shower, brought my orange debris to the trash, clothed myself, and opened the Zoom meeting. On the call was Kumquat, a lonely looking orange with human eyes and a human mouth floating in front of an orange grove. Kumquat told me that others would soon arrive. Soon, they did. Blood Orange, Jaffa Orange, Valencia Orange, Clementine, and Tangerine all joined Kumquat. Most of them had identical setups: the same digital orange-head in front of a digital orange grove. Blood Orange and Valencia Orange had phoned in together. Their camera was off, and in lieu of a profile picture their square displayed an edited version of Magritte’s “The Son of Man.” I’m sure you can guess what the green apple had been replaced with.
The subreddit r/ShowerOrange was created in April 2015, but the trend didn’t blow up on Reddit until the next year. A shower orange, in case it isn’t clear yet, is nothing more than an orange you eat in the shower. Members of r/ShowerOrange have described eating a shower orange as “borderline euphoric,” “a religious experience,” “amazingly blissful,” and generally transcendent. By the early months of 2017, publications like Men’s Health, Pure Wow, Vice, and even NPR had published online articles about the trend. (NPR’s testersconcluded that eating a shower orange was nice, but “not life-changing.”) Still, r/ShowerOrange is active today; it boasts over sixty-nine thousand members. The trend has had a resurgence on TikTok as well. Over eighty-seven thousand people have viewed the hashtag “#orangeinshower.”
On the Zoom call, Blood Orange maintained that YSOS had been around since 1921. In fact, the Inner Citrus had prepared a whole slideshow presentation about their society’s incredible history. Their Latin motto is “AVRANCIA IN BALNEIS CERTATIM MANDVCAMVS,” which Kumquat helpfully translated as, “We eat oranges in the shower with zest.” YSOS was founded, according to this presentation, by three Yale undergraduates: “Bill Gates, on the left, Clifford Buchanan, in the center, and Jeb Bush, on the right,” Blood Orange said, displaying a photograph that, I later discovered, is one of the top results if you search “1920s fashion men” on Google Images. They traced their apocryphal history through the decades: At first, YSOS had a tomb on Orange Street. (I asked where the tomb was, exactly. “That’s classified,” Kumquat said.) Warren G. Harding banned shower oranges in 1922, apparently out of sheer malice toward what Tangerine called their “daring counterculture.” The ban forced YSOS underground. After the 1928 Florida hurricane wiped out most of the state’s orange groves, YSOS members turned in desperation to shower apples, marking “the lowest point in shower orange history,” according to Clementine. During the free love movement of the nineteen sixties, shower oranges became a popular group activity at Yale, which again attracted the ire of the authorities. Yale’s president at the time, Kingman Brewster Jr., condemned shower oranges. “YSOS disbanded and gave up its tomb,” said Jaffa Orange.
There was then, according to this fantastic tale, a period of dormancy from the nineteen sixties onward. YSOS reassembled (or assembled, one suspects, for the first time) in 2018, but it was a small, fragile, secret group. When the pandemic interrupted their initiation process, the young society was in danger of dying for lack of new initiates. The members of YSOS had to do something if they wanted to keep their group alive.
So they went public. In early March, YSOS created the Instagram account “shower.orange.yale.” They post various bits of shower orange content; a graphic from March 17 asks, in orange text on a blue background, “Where is your favorite place to eat an orange?” Swiping through the post reveals a few options (“Trumbull Shower? Saybrook Shower? Pauli Murray Shower? Payne Whitney Shower?”) along with a helpful photo of each. So far they’ve accrued 529 followers.
Entering the public sphere has had its downsides. While the Inner Citrus have seen plenty of positive feedback on their Instagram account, they’ve also received lewd direct messages, apparently provoked by the erotic overtones some detect in the shower orange. Even worse, “We also have people coming at us saying things like, ‘Can I eat a charcuterie board in the shower?’” Clementine said. “The answer is obviously no.”
Despite their bullies, YSOS believes in welcoming others. “At a place that is already dripping wet with pretentiousness,” Kumquat said, referring to Yale, “we try to accept any and all followers who resonate with our mission.”
Shower oranges continued to perplex me—I couldn’t wrap my head around the astonishing zeal of their admirers. The Inner Citrus, of course, had plenty of explanations.
Tangerine said the smell makes a shower orange special. “Where does the smell come most intensely to us?” Tangerine asked. “In a very warm and humid environment. And the most handy would be the shower.” (To my disappointment, you’ll recall, I found the smell of a shower orange no more intense than a normal orange.)
“It’s helped me tune into my spirituality,” Jaffa Orange said.
“I would argue that partaking in a shower orange is actually an act of political protest,” Kumquat said. “We’re all naked and enjoying the juice running down our bodies—it’s a very humanizing act and therefore is inherently democratic.”
Clementine decided a poem would best express their love for shower oranges: “Taking a shower with citrus / the juice running orange and viscous / I chomp and I gnash / till the fruit is a mash / for I only have God as my witness.”
“It’s a very old poem,” Clementine said.
A week later, I tried again with a Cara Cara orange—pink, heavy, sweet, cold. I’m not saying I saw the light. And maybe all the praise of the Inner Citrus had clouded my judgment. But, I admit, it was a pretty phenomenal orange. One of my better showers, too.
—Eli Mennerick is a senior in Ezra Stiles College and Managing Editor of The New Journal.