Men are bathroom barbarians and there is not a female on Earth who would dispute this fact. Victims of their anatomies, they dribble and splash and produce sounds so mystifying that women on the opposite side of the door often wonder if there is an animal caged within.

And typically, there is.

When my husband steps inside the bathroom and closes the door, the explosion of sound is almost frightening. Neither the blast from a fire hose nor the concussion of ordnance can compete with the tumult of battle surrounding the rim.

According to this man, the bathroom is not a place for propriety. He asserts that whatever occurs physically within the privacy of the room is befitting the location. Decorum, he believes, is relative – and in the bathroom, non-applicable.

I beg to differ, of course.

Essential elements of some deeds regularly escape the confines of enclosed spaces. A sealed oven door, for example, cannot suppress the aroma of baking cookies.

I contend that the full effect of all bathroom activities cannot be harnessed within the walls of the room. Despite a closed door, the delicate senses of passersby can still be assaulted and the eyes of innocents can still water and sting when confronted by a bathroom blitzkrieg.

And so I plead for a modicum of dignity.

The body can be a cruel jailor, imprisoning gasses and fluids and solids despite their many protestations. When given the opportunity, these elements flee like school children at the bell – pushy and boisterous and rude, intent on being the first to reach the freedom of the outside world. And in the wake of their escape, they leave the residue of their very existence.

Which brings us full-circle: men are barbarians in the bathroom.

Weary, perhaps, of my constant lamentations, my husband has added seat lowering to his shake and zip ritual. He offers advance warning when I should steer clear of the area and he has mastered the courtesy flush. For these considerations, I am eternally grateful. We have an agreed-upon armistice, he and I, on the domestic bathroom frontline.

But at work, restroom détente has not been achieved.

My department is comprised of dank and windowless offices strung along a stark and impersonal corridor. It is a work zone filled with hard, clinical surfaces against which sounds bounce and reverberate. There has been no attempt made to decorate, soften or muffle the environment. In Feng Shui terms, the area emits Sha Chi – sharp and cold energy. By convention, individual office doors remain open and privacy is fleeting. Phone conversations, grumbling stomachs, deep sighs, the unwrapping of candy and the peeling of fragrant fruit…all individual activities are shared experiences, whether intentionally so or not.

There are two restrooms located at the end of the hallway. The walk down this gauntlet, past each individual office and to the bathrooms, is a wordless proclamation. Behind my desk, I glance up at people making the trek and despite my efforts to the contrary, I reluctantly anticipate the ruckus I know will soon commence.

I wait for the bathroom door to close. For the click of the lock.

And then…the ensuing bathroom sounds ricochet through the hard corridor like steel projectiles in a pinball machine. Coughs, grunts, commanding torrents and forceful flushes reverberate through the department. In my small office, I close my eyes and try to focus my thoughts elsewhere…to center myself in a happy place – floating upon turquoise Caribbean waters, or sliding on skis through the Montana backcountry. I try to ignore the cacophony at the end of the corridor. As the bathroom crescendo peaks and then finally quiets, I can only hope that sounds of the sink…the soap dispenser…the hand dryer…will precede the unlocking of the door and the return slog to the office.

This is not always the case, and there are some people with whom I refuse to shake hands.

Each bathroom contains a single toilet and a sink, and neither is identified as gender-specific. During my introductory trot down the corridor, this unisex arrangement caught my attention. Surely, I thought, the men used one room and women, the other – a logical and equitable arrangement befitting the professional environment.

But the toilet seat in each room was in the upright position.

I processed this disturbing visual. What of those raised seats? Perhaps because the rooms were not specifically labeled, a male worker had become disoriented? Perhaps someone had made an honest mistake?

Oh, my naiveté.

Because the male manager had decreed that the women should be “mature enough” to share bathrooms, the men watered wherever and whenever they wanted.

What crazy and obtuse universe had I entered?

Bathroom sharing, for women, has little to do with maturity. It is about tolerance. It’s about learning to grimace in silence as we lower toilet seats. It’s about side-stepping the yellow dribbles on the tile floor and pre-flushing the bowl. It’s about mastering, by necessity, the squat-and-hover technique. For while men may believe their aim is flawless, ask any woman. Men can write their names in the snow, but they cannot hit the donut hole.

Eventually, the women learned the location of a more remote bathroom…this one signed as a proper ladies room. We were thrilled by the more obscure setting, which offered blissful privacy and quietude. Through a closed door and at the end of an abandoned foyer, this restroom was rarely used and became the favored destination.

Until the reverse-flush episode.

I was not the victim of this plumbing nightmare, and I give thanks for this snippet of fortuitous timing. The female co-worker who flushed, but did not duck, went home for the remainder of the day.

Like the cavalry, maintenance arrived, and did important things with large wrenches. After much cursing and sweating, the clanging ended. The plumbers stood, hoisted their workpants up and into place, and announced that flushing could resume.

We looked at the maintenance cadre, at the offending toilet, and then at each other. Unconvinced, our hesitancy spoke volumes. Soundly spooked, we reluctantly abandoned both our private bathroom and our dreams of personal dignity. As time passed, we discussed the episode in hushed and horrified tones. We searched for bathroom privacy in the adjacent building of the organization, but found nothing. We considered the gas station down the street. We attempted a minor revolution and posted one of the unisex bathrooms with a LADIES sign, which the manager promptly snatched, ripped and tossed.

Eventually, we simply reduced our fluid intake. The ladies avoided both coffee and the water cooler. We survived the workday in a semi-dehydrated state. We adjusted and we endured and we tolerated.

Because we are women.

We give birth in rice paddies and we share bathrooms with barbarians.

This entry was posted in January 2011 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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