The Top 5 Most Awkward Public Bathroom Situations

I haven’t done a Top 5 post in awhile, and this is a topic I’ve put a lot of thought into recently, now that I am in an office building with stall bathrooms (my last office building only had two co-ed, individual bathrooms, where men and women from all over the floor would go to have a nooner, which may merit a post in and of itself).

Public bathrooms are tremendously efficient, but they are by their own nature very flawed. By creating the public bathroom, society took processes that we have been taught are the most private things and have made them…well, public. We have become forced to share the most intimate aspects of ourselves with strangers, in an enclosed space. No behavior is safe in a public bathroom.

Because of this, they breed self-consciousness. Because of this, they are awkward incubators.

The Acoustics: What sort of sadistic bastard designed these things? Fun fact: bathrooms are number 4 on the most reverberant rooms, after cathedrals, concert halls, and speaking venues. Seriously, dude?! Sure, let’s just take the noisiest materials and make people pee on them. That’ll be fun. Then everybody waiting on the ever-present, inexplicably long line will have something to listen to. They can get an extra bit of excitement if I have to open a pad. Oh, who me? Nope, I don’t have my period. I’m just enjoying a nice bag of Doritos on the can. Don’t mind me. La di da.

The best are the people who think they stand a fighting chance of covering up their bodily sounds by rolling the toilet paper, flushing repeatedly, or turning on the faucet. Cry woe, everyone. Cry woe for the naïve. There is no escape. Pee streams are one of God’s most powerful creations.

No Toilet Paper: Has anyone ever been in a more terrifying situation than when you’ve rushed into the first empty stall you’ve found to finally relieve yourself, only to discover there is no more toilet paper? Has there ever been a time in which your critical thinking, emotional strength, and grace under pressure has been more greatly tested?

You do have options in such a situation. You can find auxiliary toilet paper in your bag. Surely the Duane Reade receipt won’t sting as much as you think it might. You can just shake it dry like a wet puppy and hope for minimal discomfort, but then there is that feeling in your heart (and in your pants) that everyone who sees you that day will know what you’ve done and will hate you for it.

You can bend to see if there is someone in the stall next to yours. If there is nobody, you can enter Cirque du Soleil mode and carefully contort your body to reach underneath for some toilet paper, and nobody is any the wiser. If there is somebody in the stall, you can ask them for toilet paper, but then they hand you a ball of toilet paper crumpled up in their palm, and I mean, you know what they’re doing in there and you know they haven’t washed their hands either. Plus, you open up the possibility for stall talk. More on that later.

Of course, no matter what, there is that the next person who rushes into the stall before you can shout your cautionary cry, and they are only able to make one of two assumptions: 1) You’re the dick who used the last of the toilet paper or 2) You’re the weirdo who doesn’t use toilet paper. You can’t win. As women, we are at the mercy of toilet paper.

Clogged Toilets: If you accidentally clog a toilet, and no one is around to see, does that mean it actually happened? You can tell a lot about a person’s moral compass when they’ve owned up to clogging a public toilet. It’s only happened to me once. And as I felt a surge of water splash over my butt, my eyes widened with panic. I had no loved ones I could call, no one I could trust. My compass was spinning in a whirlwind of right and wrong. Ultimately, I decided the best call was to put on a pair of sunglasses, wrap my scarf around my head, put my jacket on over my now wet pants, and pass a written tip to the first person I saw. My moral compass remains solidly pointed Northeast to this very day.

The Stall Talker: If there was a reality show called Public Bathroom Showdown, I’d be the one who didn’t go there to make friends. Perhaps I’m a poor multi-tasker, but I have a very hard time doing what I have to do while the person in the stall next to me is expecting me to engage in polite conversation. Someone once asked me if there was anything worse for me than small talk, and I wish at the time that I had been clever enough to say, “Yes, stall talk.”

It’s different if it’s your friends, of course. I’ve had fulfilling conversations with my ladies through the thin stall doors. And stall talkers have become a rarity in the age of smart phones. But then there is occasionally that one lady whose bathroom anxiety gets a little easier if she can describe her stall with excruciating detail and ask me questions about the phone numbers and evocative poetry written on my walls. The worst was when the girl in the stall next to mine was broken up with via text message and started crying and asking me for advice. I am, without a doubt, the worst person to talk to about such a thing. I have too many emotions and other peoples’ put me into overdrive. I believe I said something along the lines of, “Well, looks like this won’t be your only dump for the day,” because, ya know, humor. And this is why I’ll be alone forever.

Bottom line, keep that shit in the stall. Your literal and figurative shit. Or call someone from the stall. I don’t care if you talk to someone else. Just leave me be.

Which brings us to…

Anything Involving Poop: Since you’re on the internet, I’m guessing you also may have observed that people have figured out white men are treated better than other people. I can only assume that has been known for awhile but now, with Facebook and Twitter, we can be exposed to all kinds of new and exciting opinions. As a woman, I firmly respect feminism and all of its plights. However, I wouldn’t start the fight with wage inequality or our sexual freedoms. I would start the fight with a huge problem we face everyday: a problem we do not only face when dealing with men, but with each other.

That problem is poop shaming.

The fact that women poop makes the majority of people very uncomfortable, including women. And that is utterly ridiculous. Why do men get the comfort of being open about the fact that they poop regularly, and everyone is just okay with it, but as a woman, I do not only have to conceal the fact that I poop from my suitors, but from my own kind?

Having to pee has gotten to a very acceptable point. We can now pee without facing major consequences. Yay progress! But still, when we’ve just had our coffee, and things start kicking in down there, we have to engage in CIA-level protocol in order to complete our mission.

We breathe a sigh of relief when we find we are alone in the public bathroom. At least no one has seen us, no one would be able to identify us should we be found out.  Quickly, we choose what we hope is the most inconspicuous stall, pull up Pinterest on our smart phones, and begin.

Then someone walks in and we must abort. We know they know what we’re doing in here, but they can’t have any proof. Begin the clench! Then we hear the silence from the other stall, and now we know what they’re doing, and they know we know they know what we’re doing, and we have reached an impasse.

After a time, everyone agrees we must go forth. As long as one waits for the other to make their exit, no one will have been seen, and everyone can go home safely. But then, oh no! Someone walks in to do their makeup. And the silence ensues once more. Even though all parties have finished what they had come to do, we must wait again. Our butts are getting tired, but it’s the only way. Don’t forget to cover up your scent later on because the smell of fresh lemons and crap is enough to ward off any detective.

This must be stopped. Only when women stop ignoring this fact about ourselves, about each other, can we achieve progress. Only then can we achieve peace.

Truthfully, this list could have been a Top 10, 15, 25, 400 things. There are long lines, running out of soap, automatic sinks and towel dispensers that do not work no matter how wildly you flail, the social hierarchy of the stalls. So if you’ve got a great public bathroom story, share in the comments! And the next time you find yourself embarrassed in a public bathroom, think of me and women everywhere and know that we’re going through the exact same thing.

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J. Awkward Prufrock Goes to the Gym

I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions. At least, not intentionally. If anything, I have more so utilized them for end-of-year procrastination purposes (I am GOING to DO THIS…next year).

But I’ve decided that 2016 is going to be different. In 2016, I am going to do things.

Many of my friends have made incredibly admirable New Year’s resolutions for themselves. They have a five-year plan, and they have outlined the necessary steps it will take for them to get there. As I mentioned in my last post, I like systems, and I think they have laid out their plans very intelligently.

My resolution is not this kind of resolution.

I do not have a five-year plan. I do not have a five-minute plan. When I say I am going to do things, I don’t mean that I am going to climb a mountain or visit Spain or break the world record for most M&Ms eaten in one sitting (though that last one’s tempting).  I mean I am going to actually leave my room and do the things that are easy for normal people to do, like join a gym.

It is not the gym part that scares me. I actually like to exercise. It’s great for managing anxiety and stress. And I like the gym. It’s an amazing place to go unnoticed. People are busy looking at themselves and being body-conscious, so if I trip getting on the elliptical or decide to kill two birds with one stone and practice my air-guitar, chances are nobody is going to see me.

It was the joining part that was holding me back. It was the idea that I had to go to a place and talk to a person.

I was starting to feel pretty crappy in my own body. I love to run, but it was getting too cold out, which induces my asthma. And I have a lot of nervous energy, which was starting to build up in my butt. To put it politely, one might say I am in the shape of perhaps a pear. To put it impolitely, when I gain weight, one might say I begin to look like a toothpick stuck in an apple or an upside-down lollipop. So, based on my new thing-doing philosophy, it was time to join a gym.

The first thing I came to learn is that New Yorkers take the gym very seriously. I used to belong to Planet Fitness back at home, and I love their basic, no-frills business model. There is technically a Planet Fitness in my neighborhood, but it is roughly 1.5 miles from my apartment, and I know myself well enough to know I would never go there after working 9 hours. There are three gyms within ½ mile of my place, so I looked into all of them.

These are the facts about New York gyms:

  • They are expensive. But this is actually good for me because I’m a frugal Franny and I milk my money’s worth out of everything. If I’m paying $46,000 a month for a gym membership, you can bet I’m going at least four days/week.
  • They want your soul. Sign up for life or face the dire consequences!
  • They want to know about your fitness goals…so they can get you to sign up for more things for life and take more of your money.

I picked the cheapest gym, because I’m a 25-year-old and a Seamless prime customer, and I see no reason to change everything about my lifestyle.

I walked boldly into my chosen place of exercisement, raised my chin with queenly authority, and told them I would like to join. I filled out some forms and a very unfriendly woman gave me a tour, which helped make the whole ordeal virtually painless. I love fundamentally unfriendly people because they could not care less if you stay inside of your awkward cocoon. I handed her my credit card, promised them my life, and my future spouse’s life, and my future children’s lives, and I was very proud of myself and all seemed well…

Until she told me that all members get a free personal training session and could I come back on Thursday at 8.

…What now?

I just sort of nodded in response as my insides started twisting with fear. I had done what I had come to do. I had done a thing. And now I had to do another thing? One-on-one, with a stranger, for an hour, in which I would be demonstrating precisely how uncoordinated I am. I highly doubted the personal trainer would allow me to ride the bike at low resistance the whole time and call it a day.

For 48 hours, I was dreading this. I had to keep telling myself, “It’s just an hour of your life,” over and over again. I was still telling myself this when I walked into the gym yesterday. The first thing that happened was that I was grossly early. Which is usually the case for me, especially when I’ve been preoccupied by the very event for two days. Naturally, I hid in the locker room.

At first, I felt weird about hiding in the locker room. I had nothing to do in there but sit on the bench and play with my hair and look at things. Then I realized that many women actually go to the gym and do just this. They sit in the locker room for 15 minutes re-doing their pony tails and checking themselves out in the mirror and lightly stretching and sending gym selfies. I actually didn’t feel out of place at all. Then, the time arrived for me to check in.

The trainer’s previous appointment was running over, and I wasn’t sure how it would come across if I asked if I could hide in the locker room some more, so I stood at the front desk/smoothie counter and attempted to talk to the smoothie guy about my previous experience as a smoothie engineer and various fruit : juice ratios. While most of it was in jest, he was clearly perplexed, and this is why I don’t make small talk.

The trainer arrived and took me into a small, dingy room with nothing but a scale in it and I can’t help but think this is where nightmares are made.

“So, Jillian, why are you here?”

“Uhhhhh…” Something told me, “I was tricked,” was not an acceptable answer.

“I guess I’m looking to, uh, tone.”

He furrowed his brow at me and frowned.

“Well, that could mean a lot of things. Tone is a very general term. Can you be more specific?”

“I’m looking to tone my…upper body.”

I don’t know if that’s more the answer he was looking for or if he just knew he wasn’t getting anywhere. He then made me get on the scale to “see what we were starting with.” I haven’t weighed myself in years, so this was interesting. I won’t tell you the resulting number, but I will tell you that I blame the shoes.

He then handed me a machine that kind of looked like a Gameboy and a part of me started hoping this was a virtual reality thing and all of my training would be done in this room in video game form. It turns out the machine was for calculating body fat vs. muscle. Again, I won’t tell you the results, but I will tell you that his reaction was, “That’s weird.” And I’m pretty sure I heard it laugh at me.

We then headed out to “assess my cardiovascular strength” or something. I immediately felt completely vulnerable as I was surrounded by mirrors and muscly men who knew what they were doing. When he asked me to do a squat, it became very clear to me and everyone around me that I didn’t know what I was doing. Apparently, I’ve been squatting wrong for 25 years. He began to make adjustments that I guess were supposed to be helpful but just seemed like his objective was to make me as uncomfortable as possible. As I looked at my new position in the mirror, I half expected a baby to come out of me.

We moved on to lunges, which I’ve also been doing wrong for years. Evidently, the proper way to do them is excruciatingly painful. I will be going back to my old routine, thank you. Then, he made me step on and off a bench as fast as I could, which further proved my theory that I can’t do anything without falling. Then planks, which I actually don’t completely fail at. I will plank for days.

He asked me how hard everything was on a scale of 1-10. From a physical standpoint, the answer was 4. From an emotional standpoint, the answer was 12, but I don’t think he was interested in that. He made me repeat the circuit, this time adding weights, making it much more difficult. He made me do moving lunges all away across the mat, causing me to pass other gym-goers who I’m sure felt much better about their lunges after watching me struggle. Tight hips + crooked knees=one heck of a slapstick show. Jerry Lewis would be proud of me. He also made me lift 30 pounds of weight several times before planking.

And again, “How hard was that on a scale of 1-10?”

And in my frenzy of sweating profusely and my heart beating wildly, I once again said, “4,” because I am a masochist.

He laughed maniacally, as the devil would laugh, and accepted the challenge, giving me more weight, forcing me to increase my speed, screaming at me to be better, and I felt like I finally had met my conscience in the flesh. I fell nearly every time I did anything and collapsed onto the mat after my final plank. He leaned over me, blocking my eyes from staring directly into the unflattering fluorescent light. “We at 10 yet?”

I squinted at him, unable to speak, and held up a 4 with what was left of my finger strength. J. Awkward Prufrock can handle anything, bitch.

Anything that doesn’t involve a conversation, anyway.

He peeled me off the mat and took me back into the personal training room, roughly 35 minutes into my supposed hour of free training. He then proceeded to tell me that I clearly used to be very strong but now I’m an inactive hopeless case unless I find a way to increase mobility in my hips. I asked him if that means I should dance more. He stared at me blankly and then asked if I wanted to give him $4 zillion a month so I could do what we just did 3 days a week. Oh, you fool of a salesman. But I can’t say no to anyone, so I told him I would think about it, and have requested a copy of the schematics of the building so I can figure out how to avoid him at all costs.

He offered me a free “recovery” smoothie, for which I was grateful, as it is essentially a milkshake with chocolate health powder, and as I exited the gym, my quads throbbing, I patted myself on the back for not only making it through one thing, but two things. I think that makes me good for the rest of January.

Too Awkward to Fail: My First Week as an Accidental CEO

On January 1st, I became CEO of my company. This is not because I am a power-hungry stony bitch who wears a lot of pencil skirts and is determined to claw her way to the top of the corporate ladder, nor am I a hip, young engineer, with a pool table and tap beer in my office, who has figured out a way to make apps greener or something. I became the CEO pretty much for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’ve never been an overly ambitious person (ambitious people have to network). I’d always thought I’d end up a jaded lit professor at some mid-tier private college who spouted worldly wisdom in a 60-year-old-chainsmoker voice and gave everyone As because what does it even mean anyway. But I’ve always somehow ended up being in charge at nearly every job I’ve ever worked. This is because a) I cannot physically function without a system in place. I need to know when and where and how things are going to happen. Surprises are for extroverts. Give me schedules and reassurance! And b) I am very, very bad at saying no, especially to work, because I am too stubborn to admit that I am lazy.

To make a very long story short, my company was acquired by a much larger company as of January 1st. The acquisition was nearly an 18-month-long process filled with renegotiations, disputes, and a bit of grown men crying, but when it was all said and done, the new owner came to find he did not want the ex-owner (my boss) in charge. Then he met with me and asked me a question about finances, and I said something ingeniously along the lines of you-shouldn’t-spend-more-money-than-you-have, and badda bing…due to the age-old mixture of logic and spite, I was CEO.

I was technically asked but didn’t really have too much of a choice, and the position came with a bit more money, and I have essentially been living off of peanut butter and pretzels. So here I am, a CEO, and I feel really obnoxious about it. And after one week on the job, I can officially say I have no idea what a CEO does.

It’s true. I tried googling it and everything. I don’t really know what the nature of my job is. I just know Bernie Sanders hates me.

But like a true American, I suppose I’ll have to figure it out as I go.

Here are some of my observations based on my experiences of the last few work days…

  • CEOs delegate: I decide what gets done and when it gets done. This is actually something I can do. Time management is one of my two skills (that and rapping, obviously). The challenge here is being assertive enough to tell people to do something, and to occasionally do it faster and better than they are willing to. On top of that, I do not want to come across like an asshole. I do not like assholes. The people or the things (seriously, who came up with those anyway?). Thus far, this has resulted in a lot of stammering and confused sentences.
  • CEOs solve problems: Heat broken in the office? Either I talk to maintenance or everyone freezes. Freeze, it is! (Just kidding, I talked to them, but I did not like it one bit!)
  • CEOs make decisions: Keurig or coffee pot? Excuse me while I deliberate with myself for 3 hours.
  • CEOs talk on the phone: And evidently, it is often about things I know nothing about, like professional liability insurance, interest rates, and profit margins. My only hope is that I can confuse them with big words like “synergy” and saying things like “correct” instead of “yeah.” Still have yet to uncover the appropriateness of “okey dokey.”
  • CEOs sign checks: Which either makes me the most popular or most hated person in the room. I’ve always been too apathetic to be either, so this’ll be interesting.
  • CEOs look at spreadsheets: At this point, I’m just nodding a lot.
  • CEOs are the face of the company: Hope you like masks!
  • CEOs wear professional outfits: So I guess it’s time I learn how to walk in heels and if I’m an autumn or a summer. I still don’t understand a lot about fashion, and I especially don’t understand why I must get dressed up to sit in a cubicle. My computer has seen me at my best and worst and loves me just the same. I also could never get behind the “look good, feel good” mentality. Ya know when I feel good? When I get the extra fifteen minutes of sleep. But I am a CEO now, and so may my eyes be lined, may my blazer be pressed, may my pants be trousers, may my mirror be sturdy.

Clearly, I am currently faking it. Right now, I am sitting at my computer typing this with a furrowed brow and look of determination so my staff will think I am up to things of utmost importance. I really miss being an editor when I just got to read stories all day and nobody’s livelihood was in my hands. But I will not fail. I will climb the ladder very carefully in the hopes that I do not slip and fall in my insensible shoes.

That is not because I crave success. It is because I really don’t like it when people yell at me.