I don’t like public transportation, public pools, public parks, public forums, public opinion polls— See a trend? Anything involving the general population has never been a favorite. But of all things, the worst are public restrooms.
They’re the scourge of humanity. A porcelain Temple of Doom. Any place where a group of strangers congregates to take care of bodily functions is nightmare adjacent.
From the time I was a child, I feared the boy’s room. At my elementary school, the class took a bathroom break together. We walked single file to the lavatory like a chain gang.
The restroom was in the basement of the old schoolhouse. It was a dungeon with plumbing. I guess my life was sheltered. I wasn’t part of any pre-school gang— no Cribs versus the Binkies. No Romper Room rumble. My knowledge of bathrooms was a potty chair.
Urinals were alien to me. I didn’t grow up with The Big Golden Book of Urinals. Taking a wall whiz was not in my frame of reference. The first time I saw them, I thought they were porcelain teleporters from Star Trek.
My classmates stood facing them and were unzipping their pants. Was this a secret identification process? Were they waiting to be sent to Uranus? “Pee me up Scottie.”
One of the most distinct bouquets is a wall of urine scented porcelain being masked by an equally smelly deodorant block. They’re often called urinal cakes, but I’ve never seen one at a bakery
“Let’s surprise Grandpa and order a urinal cake for his birthday, he didn’t like the red velvet last year” is a statement I don’t ever want to hear.
So, starting in kindergarten, I knew that I wouldn’t be working anything out in the boy’s room. I’d not take part in a bladder brigade. Also, everyone assumed if you disappeared into a stall, there was more serious work to be done. The boys would yell, “Vince is going swimming with Winnie the Pooh.”
I didn’t need the pressure, so I avoided all of it and simply did my catwalk around the room, washed my hands and exited back into the hall. I’d hold it until I went home for lunch. I transformed into a human camel and could hold liquids tighter than Tupperware.
I avoided public facilities for years, but there comes a time when entering the forbidden zone becomes necessary. You can’t always wait until you can perch on your own private Kohler. If you’re like me, before entering, there’s a brief period of meditation, a silent prayer for cleanliness and a countdown so you can be in and out faster than breaking news on CNN.
It’s a rare treat to find a clean, well-kept restroom. When it happens, it’s like having a wonderful meal. I want to yell out. “Have you tried the men’s room? It’s fantastic. Don’t leave before checking it out.”
Mostly, bathroom facilities are crime scenes. There’s paper outlining the floors. Finger prints of unknown materials dot the walls and mirrors and a green fog floats in the air. Choosing the correct stall is a lottery. If you win, you may enter. If you lose, your corneas will peel off your eyeballs.
Why can’t people flush the toilets? Is it one task too many? Lots of toilets now have sensors that automatically flush when the perpetrator stands. But, John Q. Public has reverse engineered the toilets to leave a parting gift— “You know Bob, I think I’ll take the Rice-A-Roni instead.”
For some reason the worst of all possible restrooms are treated like hidden gems. If you’ve ever stopped at a gas station, you have to make a special request just to get inside. They hold the key as if it were an object I will want to covet. It’s always attached to a car wheel, brick, or the ankle of a station attendant.
Why would I want to take the key? I don’t even want to see what madness awaits me behind the dented, metal door. If I had a shovel and the strength to dig a hole along I-95, I wouldn’t even stop.
A parallel universe exists inside a men’s or women’s room. The room temperature, the air quality, the lighting, the acoustics, and the smells change. There’s a mixture of cleaning products, body odors and sulphur wafting from hell’s air vents. I’ve had so much practice holding my breath, I could dive to the Titanic without a submersible.
Once inside, I hope the room is unoccupied. There’s nothing worse than someone using the stall next to me. I don’t need to see a bad choice in footwear and experience the aftermath of serious bodily issues. It’s always someone in extreme gastric distress who needs to grunt, groan and expel noises like Yoko Ono (have a listen) trying to sing. The last octave that escaped into the echo chamber of the toilet, ruptured my eardrum. Thank you subway tiles, I’ve just had a doo-doo Dolby experience.
Why don’t they make stalls with complete walls? Because, it’s a public facility and we’re supposed to share as a community. Guess what? Can someone share the horror of my experience? The restaurant meal, I just ordered, has been ruined and I’m suffering PTSD (Public Toilet Stall Disorder). There’s no rest in this room.