|"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