Sunday, June 21, 2009

Coulda, Shoulda . . . Didn't.

Becky? Is that you?

Since we're on the subject of bathrooms. . . .ok, I'm on the subject. You're just an innocent bystander.

Since I'm on the subject of bathrooms, this mercifully brief anecdote falls under the category of "Things-that-would-have-been-so-daringly-absurdly-excellent-if-I-had-actually-had-the-cojones-or-just-plain-mental-instability-to-do-or-say-them".

Leaving work late one winter evening, very few people left around the medical practice, I stop into the restroom as I often do before my long commute home. I usually use the one for employees, but instead choose the one for the general public. I enter to find I have my choice of any and all of the four available bathroom stalls, as the room is completely empty.

Though not physically handicapped, I make the obvious choice and opt for the modern and spacious, all-the-bells-and-whistles stall at the end---and why do they so often put the handicapped stalls all the way at the far end, rather than making them the first one? Is this some designer's passive aggression, getting even for the whole "best parking space" thing? I wonder.

Anyway, at this point in our brief yet delightful anecdote--the bathroom stall point--I must say that I'm aware that one of the first rules of writing is "show don't tell". But, for perhaps obvious reasons, I will here choose to do neither. I will also humbly request that you not employ your imagination at this juncture in said brief yet delightful anecdote, lest you render it considerably less delightful. I'm just sayin'. I can assure you that the particular details I will avoid here (and by "I" I mean, of course, "we") are not so important to get us to the glorious climax of this rambling. You just need to picture a bathroom stall door, me behind it, in an empty bathroom.

Got the picture? Good.

So, I hear the main door to the restroom open, and a woman enters. I hear her a bit timidly call out "Becky?" I freeze, she pauses for response. Then, a little more forcefully, "Becky?"

At which point I begin the long, low growl of rabid animals and the criminally insane, then crescendo that growl, ending through clenched teeth with an enraged "DON'T CALL ME BECKY!" *

At this point, it is somewhat important that you read up on what that little asterisk is all about.

*As mentioned earlier in the full-disclosure section, I did not actually have the cojones to do or say this, and the woman simply left.

Sometimes I like to imagine the look on the woman's face and the sound of her feet nervously scurrying down the hallway if I had more bravely seized this chance for a darkly comedic moment. Sometimes I imagine a scenario where instead of with pseudo-rage, I respond with plaintive whimpering from behind the door, and a quiet, resigned "Stop [sniffle] calling me Becky." Perhaps she apologizes, and seeks to comfort me as I do my best to convince her of the obvious; that I am, in fact, not Becky.

"[sniffle] . . .but I'm not Becky. I'm not [sniffle]."

"[handing a tissue] Of . . .of course you aren't . . .Dear."

"I'm not Becky."

Then perhaps while driving home bewildered, she realizes that I work with her physician and have access to all of her personal information, like address and phone number. I again imagine her face at this point.

Yes, there are times when I look back with regret for this missed opportunity to be a complete ass, this chance to erode the mundane. We live, we learn. Maybe.

I get ideas like this on a fairly regular basis, in a variety of situations.

My kingdom for some brass ones.


Just an additional note some time after the original blog post, to confess that I still have not the brass--just a couple weeks ago, a similar situation came up. This time, though, I was in the fitting room at Macy's. A woman came in and started calling out "Sissy . . . . .Sissy?" The temptation was again great to rise up and commence a faux-psychotic protest of the name-calling, but. . . .you know, it was Macy's, and that would have been more of a Target thing.

Bathroom Czar

"Number one or number two?" asks the Czarina.

My desk here at the lab happens to be across a small hallway from the restroom. People--even people who work here--are always asking my permission to use the restroom, as though I'm some kind of lavatorial gatekeeper. "Um. . .can I use your bathroom?" "Excuse me, I'm sorry to bother you, but would you mind if possibly, maybe, I could sort of, you know, use your bathroom?"

It's weird because, for starters, it's not my bathroom. I do not own it, nor have I even marked it as my territory in the (ahem) traditional manner. I think of it--and this is not false humility, I swear--as merely "the bathroom". It's also weird because I've been asked by the same people on more than one occasion. Do they really imagine that my answer today will be different from yesterday? "I'm sorry, but that toilet is only for use on odd-numbered days, you understand. I'll be happy to permit you to urinate tomorrow. So, run along. Buh-bye now."

Today, one of the staff from Ob-Gyn (across yet another small hallway) came here and, helpless and avoiding too much threatening eye-contact, practically mouthed "Would it be OK if I used your bathroom". I had to ask her to repeat the question, she was whispering so quietly, so submissively she might as well have cocked her head and bared her jugular vein for me.

What would she have done if I said, "You'll use that bathroom over my dead body. Take your bloated bladder somewhere else, honey"? And if I said that to everyone, would the hallway be littered with incontinent people, or pained crotch-grabbers on their knees, begging for relief? Would she have slinked away, dejected and thwarted? Would she have simply soiled herself? Or would her suffering cause a sudden breakthrough to Reality, and the memory that this is America, by God, where we can pee at will. . . sort of.

I feel so powerful, seated here, so close to the throne. Do people need an authority figure that badly? As a service to those who do, as a way of providing that official sanction they crave, I've taken to sizing them up before responding. I half-close my eyes, almost squinting as I look them up and down. The more desperate they appear, the more slowly and obviously I scrutinize--I'm providing them a sense of security, after all; a stamp of approval. One doesn't do such things lightly.

I then reply, "OK. . . .this time."


"Can I see some I.D.?"

I've not yet ever replied in a mysteriously cautionary whisper, "I don't think that's such a good idea", but I've been tempted.

I've come close to asking, "Number one, or number two?" in the hope they might then recognize the absurdity of their deference.

Likewise, "OK . . . but you've got exactly 2 minutes."

The latter response I stole (sort of) from a space-age, automated toilet-pod in Italy. It was at a train station, I think. I first had to pay .80 Euros then the door slid open automatically a la Star Trek. I expected Kirk or Spock to welcome me into this portal to gastrointestinal bliss. Instead, there was a sign inside with a stern warning letting me know that this door to the outside world would automatically open again in 5 minutes if I didn't just do my business and leave the pod. I pity the painfully constipated tourist who can't read Italian.

But I digress.

The funny thing is that the people seldom seem to get that I'm joking, yet almost always thank me when they exit the bathroom, no matter how much of an authoritarian dick I've been. 'Oh, thou art merciful and magnanimous indeed, Glorious Keeper of the Toilets". I find it so difficult to say "you're welcome" since the whole exchange seems so bizarre to me.

Perhaps they've arrived at employment in this medical office after many years in the Indonesian sweat-shop industry, where one might be allowed to pee once a week, and permission is required for all basic human functions, and we all know old habits die hard. But barring that, I just don't get it. The day I feel the need to feebly ask the first stranger I see for permission to pee in my own workplace, I hope that particular benefactor first takes me outside and gently slaps some sense into me, or buys me some Depends.

Meanwhile, I'm drunk with power.
Bathroom Czar. That's me.

Photo credit: LIFE magazine archives