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.