I recently heard a bit of news on CBC about some research findings on how the experience of going to a public washroom is a very stressful, anxiety-provoking situation for many men. I didn’t catch the details, but I wasn’t surprised to hear about it, since I’ve certainly experienced a bit of anxiety, or at least awkwardness, at having to do my business in the company of strangers, or, even worse, colleagues. This semi-fictional account is inspired by the unfortunate and mildly amusing fear of public washroom usage… please note, it’s written from the perspective of a fictional person who suffers from what I’ve decided to call POOBAD (Paralyzing, Often Overwhelming Bathroom Anxiety Disorder):
0740: Arrived at work at my normal time. As usual, merely looking at the list of tasks ahead seems to have awakened my bowels. Will try to wait a couple of minutes, at least long enough to log on to my computer.
0743: Not gonna happen. Grab my water cup in case a diversion is required. Sure enough, just as I approach the bathroom, Bob from estimation rounds the corner. I subtly shift my trajectory towards the kitchen to buy myself time, smiling and nodding good morning to Bob as he enters the bathroom.
0746: Bob’s not out yet and I’ve already filled my water, drank half of it, and read the first couple pages of the newspaper. I’m going to have to go for it. As I enter the double doors to the bathroom, I see Bob standing at the mirror, washing his hands. “G’day Tim, how you going?” he inquires cheerfully, and loudly. My eyes dart across the row of stalls; one is closed, and I think I hear the shuffle of feet behind it. Dangit, Bob!! You’ve just given away my identity!! I think, but the response that comes out is more of a mumbled, “Yeah, good thanks, you?” But Bob, having accomplished his mission of sabotaging my toilet run, doesn’t seem to have been listening for a response, and walks out of the room whistling a happy tune.
Well this is just great, I think to myself, entering the stall furthest from the one that appears to be occupied and closing the door behind me. Now I have to wait for that other guy to leave – or at least flush – before I can risk making any noises. Meanwhile, my innards are beginning to sound like a runaway Geiger counter. After a few moments of silence it becomes clear that I’m either the only one in the room, or me and my companion are in a stalemate, neither willing to break the awkward silence.
And then, hark!! A toilet flusheth! (I knew someone was there, he was probably so quiet because he was finished his business and catching up on Facebook on his phone. Disgusting, I think, while contemplating my next play on Words With Friends.). The toilet flush will be brief, so I immediately relax the death grip my sphincter has on my colon.
Abort! Too loud!!, I scream inside my head, panicked. I have no choice but to exercise the limit of my willpower in order to hold back any more trumpet blares that may escape between the end of the flush and the beginning of my workmate’s hand-washing. I know he probably heard that one, but still, I must try to retain a shred of my dignity.
The tap comes on, Then I hear a soap dispenser squeezing out its contents, followed by the familiar sound of someone lathering their hands for just a fraction of the recommended time. I’m sure if my colleague knew how much effort I was exerting at that moment – the discomfort his presence was inflicting upon me – he wouldn’t bother fluffing his hair or whatever else was compelling him to remain in front of that mirror for an additional 15 seconds, each of which stretched into minutes, even hours, of explosive tension.
Then finally, with the sweet sound of the exit door sealing shut in my ears, I allow nature to take its course. I momentarily hope to myself that the outer wall is soundproof, but this concern is quickly displaced by the euphoric sense of relief. And I wonder: Does it have to be this way? We’re all human, after all. We all poo, don’t we?
And yet, deep down, I know this is how it has to be, or rather how it will always be, in a society in which a front of perfection has to be maintained. We may all poo, but bodily functions are just so unprofessional.
But since we’re on the topic, how about we make a deal, from now onward? If you and I, through a series of unfortunate events, end up in neighbouring stalls one of these days, let’s save ourselves the pain and just go for it, like we would at home, in our very own bathrooms. Maybe, instead of leaning or manipulating our butt cheeks in such a way as to minimize noise, we could just let ‘er rip and have a good laugh about it all. Why don’t we just embrace one of the very few habits we all have in common, this fundamental aspect of our very humanity?
0752: I return to my desk and set my water cup down; the very cup I will ensure not to drink from excessively for the remainder of the day, so as to minimize the number of times I’ll need to pee later on. After all, at the urinal, there is no hiding…