Potty Talk Part 1
You should know right off the bat that what you are about to read relates to a sensitive subject. To a topic of such delicacy that some people might even consider it taboo.
No, it’s not that. Get your mind out of the gutter. It’s worse.
You’re in your car, speeding down the interstate, hours from home, regretting that 96 ounce Big Slurp. The next exit is miles away when you notice an upcoming rest stop.
That’s right: I’m talking about bathrooms. And not just any bathrooms. Public ones. The ones that anyone can use. Complete strangers who have been who knows where doing who knows what with who knows who. Using the toilet. The same one that you just started to sit on. What? You mean you suddenly changed your mind and decided you can wait till you get home? Even though home is a 33 hour drive away?
I don’t blame you. And it’s not just the toilet seats. But I digress.
Modern plumbing was a serious improvement over the previous methods of waste disposal. Instead of dropping the stuff that comes out of our body into holes in the ground, we invented flush toilets so we could dump it into rivers instead. Which at least meant our bathrooms smelled better.
But the real problem remained: toilets involve the stuff that comes out of our body. And skin-to-toilet contact. Which isn’t a problem at home, where I personally know the bodies that use my toilets. (And know whether that strange ring on the porcelain is a mineral stain or a science experiment.)
But it is a problem in public places, where you don’t know anything about anyone who has ever used the same toilet. Or about their personal hygiene. Or if they have anything contagious.
You know the drill. You’re waiting in line. A stall opens. You surreptitiously scrutinize the occupant from head to toe as they exit. Yes, you do. We all do. We look at them and wonder. Do they look healthy? Do they look clean? Do they have any communicable diseases? Whoa – that one smells like they spent the night behind a dumpster. I think I’ll wait for the next stall.
But what happens if the room is empty when we get there? Who was the last person to park themselves on the porcelain throne? We have to guess.
Was it my fastidious Aunt Priscilla, the one who wears rubber gloves to brush her teeth and carries a ten gallon jug of disinfectant in her purse?
Or was it Stephen King, researching the possibility of infecting our water supplies with microscopic space aliens?
Or was it one of those homeless guys with three teeth who hasn’t touched H2O since 1998, the year he realized that the only reason Stephen King was still on the best seller lists was because he had infected our water supplies with microscopic space aliens, aliens who then entered and took over our bodies, forcing us to purchase his books?
Or, even worse, could it have been Cousin Harold? You know who I mean. You have one. We all do. That weird relative who you never invite to your house because if you did he might use your bathroom? Yup. Him.
But now you’re trapped, knowing you have no choice and knowing you really do not want to touch that toilet. You have one of two ways to address the problem: crouch vs. barricade. The crouch is faster, but more hazardous: 1. swing all dangling clothing up and out of the way; 2. lower body into a precarious squat, hovering 2 inches above the seat; 3. finish your business; 4. realize your scarf is dangling behind you. Assuming enough time – you have the option of building a toilet paper barricade: 1. rip off at least 4 two foot long strips of toilet paper; 2. accidentally drop them them; 3. rip off at least 4 two foot long strips of toilet paper; 4. layer the toilet paper on the seat , forming the traditional square shape or the more modern “U” formation; 5. exit restroom with a two foot long strip of toilet paper hanging down the back of your pants.
The toilet paper barricade does protect you against two other common public privy hazards: sprayers and empty toilet paper holders. Because the fifth Law of Science is that if you fail to check the dispenser, it will be empty and the sixth law is: if you fail to check the seat, it will be wet.
Nobody ever talks about these things but we’re all thinking about them. We can’t help it. We are helpless in the face of our irresistible compulsions to do certain things. Like looking into the toilet before we sit on it. And when we do, if we see anything that looks remotely like remnants from a previous user (a slight discoloration of the water, a speck of toilet paper), most of us will flush it.
This in itself leaves much to be desired. Because the handle has more germs per square inch then a Petri dish at the Center for Disease Control. Think about it. Everyone who has ever flushed that toilet flushed it after they finished their business. With that handle. And nobody. Has. Ever. Wiped. It. Off. Don’t kid yourself. Even Aunt Priscilla only cleans the bowl and the lid.
But instead of worrying about the handle, we worry about what somebody else might have left in the bowl. I’m not sure why. It’s not like what’s inside can leap out. Unless what’s inside is a rat. Or a snake. Or a squirrel. All of which have been appearing in toilets across our great nation.
You’ll be thrilled to know, if you didn’t already, that rats can – and often do – crawl up the sewer lines into your home. If that happens in King County in Washington State, the local government is prepared. They won’t come help you, but, knowing that the first thing you’ll do when you find a rat in your toilet is grab your laptop and google the subject, they’ve prepared a web page full of helpful advice. That mostly involves three steps: 1. Stay Calm! 2. Keep the Lid Closed! 3. Flush! 4. Keep Flushing!!!
Elsewhere, when confronted with squirrels in the same location, officers not only respond, they know exactly what to do: “As soon as I saw the squirrel, I knew I needed back up immediately.”
And the men in blue at the NYPD fully understand what a snake in the can really means: “Look, anytime you walk into your bathroom and find a big snake staring you in the eye, it’s going to spook you.”
But no matter what the reason, we flush. Even in the privacy of our home with no animals in the bowl. And despite the waste of water. Conservationists during a dry spell back in the 1970’s even came up with a catchy slogan to try to alter the behavior pattern: if it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down. Not surprisingly, they lived in California. For some reason, it never caught on. Which greatly surprised me because I firmly support conservation. Which means I try not to flush whenever possible.
Oddly enough, this annoys my family. I don’t know why, because no matter what we put into our bodies, it all comes out the same. The only thing that changes is the consistency. Except for beets.
Which I did not know the first time I ate them. But learned later when, eventually, I used the bathroom.
I never would have noticed but, being human, I looked. Humans not only look into the toilet before using it (especially if they’ve ever found a rat inside), we look into it after as well. I’m not sure why. I mean, really – we know what we just did – it’s not like we have to check to make sure we weren’t imagining things.
So, being human, I looked in the toilet. And immediately thought I must be dying. My parents should have warned me. (I think it was intentional.)
The important lessons from all this are: 1) don’t use public restrooms; 2) if you do have to use them, take Aunt Priscilla with you; and 3) in the immortal words of King County, “Stay Calm!” and”Flush the Toilet!”