the sky is wicked huge.
flush a memoir As I retreat to a busy public restroom in the Boston Common’s Visitor Center, the first thing that hits me is the smell. The smell can evoke many degrees of disgust, except it will never be the smell of cleanliness. The single light is an artificial fluorescent bulb. It flickers slightly and projects a dull buzzing sound. A row of sinks encased by a wet, soapy counter stands in front of a lengthy mirror. The pink soap collects under its dispenser onto the surface. The tiled walls and the slippery floor are in an unimpressive condition of color, and the patrons have stains or scratches on the outside. I choose a stall. The first door I push open alarms me with the remains of a stranger’s deposit, and I flee in disgust. The next stall I chose has toilet paper stuck to the floor, and puddles around the toilet bowl. The toilet paper is well stocked in an industrial dispenser with giant rolls—this will have to do. The inside patrons have been vandalized by anonymous secrets and insults. Some have been painted over, but others have been left alone. This revealing trail reminds me that I am in a communal restroom, entrapped by the overwhelming influence of publicity.
We’ve all done it. We’ve planned, prepped, and schemed until we’ve designed the most ridiculously complex methodology for using the public restroom. We’ve researched statistics and probabilities and learned which stall is most likely to be the cleanest (the farthest one, of course), and we’ve practiced the most sanitary way to handle the filthy toilet seats. We’ve seriously deliberated pros and cons lists for either using the public restroom, or seeking out an abandoned tree. Everyone has already developed guerilla warfare for this necessary evil— that is, everyone except for me. For some reason or another, I haven’t spent as much time in public restrooms as others. Perhaps this is because of growing up in the suburbs, where public restrooms weren’t readily available. Or maybe it is because I’ve been lucky enough to avoid public restroom situations. This absence of exposure to the deeply solidified codes and conduct of public restrooms had left me playing the role of a tourist one afternoon after feeling the urge to go while on a walk on the Boston Commons near campus. Once I opened that heavy crooked door to the women’s public restroom, I became
keenly aware that I had entered a place drastically different from the one I had just left. The cause of this change in cultural impression from the outside to the inside is a social phenomenon where intensely private institutions are made awfully public. While using the public restroom that day, I offered myself up to this subjection with the abandonment of my own personal defenses. Upon entering this public space, I instantaneously made an averse sacrifice of vulnerability. This seemingly insignificant restroom by the Commons challenged my individual power. My survival through this ordeal was determined by my deception to hide personal weakness and devastating insecurities that threatened my illusory superior power in society. From my anthropological research that day, I discovered that public restrooms initiate tactics of deception and trickery in reaction to threats by public scrutiny. One woman in her 40s entered the restroom with a frightened look on her face. She walked with purpose and a keen sense of discomfort. This was precisely why she was using the restroom. The woman’s expression fell from her face as
Published on Apr 27, 2010