There I sat. Pants around my ankles, trying not to breath out of my nose. I could stomach the smell of my own shit, but to have to smell my own plus another grown man’s…it was one of the many reasons I hated public restrooms. Another reason? Because there was never any goddamned toilet paper when you needed it. There I was, literally caught with my pants down. Ass wet, dreading the moment when I would have to interrupt the concentration of the gent next to me. Butt symphony interrupted, he’d make light of the situation by saying something cheesy like “I think I can spare a square”. Then he’d proceed to laugh at his cleverness and ask me if I had ever seen the episode of Seinfield to which he had just alluded. With my hand still under his stall like I’m trying to cop a feel, I’d say no, that I must have missed that episode. I would know for sure that I had never seen an episode of Seinfield in my life but I would feel that saying that would somehow be rude. A violation of the code of public bathroom ethics. So I’d shut my mouth and wait while he explained all of the details of the episode (with character names) when all I wanted to hear was the thudding of the dispenser as he rolled my toilet paper. Then he would hand me a few squares of the cheapest single ply toilet paper and ask me if it was enough. Ashamed to admit that the Mexican food I’d had for lunch had done a number on my stomach, I would tell him that it was just fine and thank him. He’d make another cheerful comment as he wiped his ass with an abundance of tissue and exited the stall and the restroom without washing his hands. Then there I would sit, trying my best to clean the mess with the ration of tissue. I would fold the paper neatly so I could get a few wipes by folding different ways. Efficiency. Then, when I knew the coast was clear, I’d hobble over to the next stall, pants around my ankles (but ass no longer wet) and finish the job.
But before I could interrupt my friend in the stall next to me, before I could ask him to spare a square, before I could reach out to the only person who could save me right now, he flushed the toilet and I heard the door to the men’s room swing shut behind him.
Uncomfortable things happen in restrooms. Awkward things happen in public restrooms. True story: I ran into a coworker on my way to the restroom one day. His name was Lonnie. Lonnie, from accounting. Born and raised in the Midwest, graduated from State University, married his high school sweetheart, wore brown loafers with socks that bunched at his ankles, had a dog named Beau, and wore thick rimless glasses which he placed on the nightstand each night before he made love to his wife in the missionary position. Lonnie. I should have kept my head down that day. I should have stayed the course and just went to the bathroom as planned. But I didn’t. I looked up. I made eye contact. The song and dance began. Like a cheetah stalking it’s prey, Lonnie patiently watched as I crossed the atrium of the building, heading toward freedom. But with every step I took, Lonnie countered with a better move. I tried to walk around the potted plants to put some distance between us, but Lonnie was good. Too good. The distance between us continued to close in as I tried my best to stare at my shoes. Eye contact again. I saw the ferocious twinkle in his eye. I knew this was my last chance at survival. I made a sprint for the bathroom door. But like the poor gazelle caught in the circle of life, I was caught by the eager greetings of Lonnie from accounting.
We stood in the atrium and chatted until the sun seeping in started to burn my back. I don’t remember what we talked about. Maybe work, maybe families, maybe the difference between fate and free will…it was all bullshit anyway. I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than the smell of onions on his breath and the pressure on my bladder. I chatted long enough to avoid being labeled the rude guy, and excused myself when the conversation was somewhere between awkward and uncomfortable. As I excused myself and feigned concern in how the rest of his day went, Lonnie, from accounting, took a step back as I took a step forward. But instead of stepping sideways and allowing ample room for me to walk, Lonnie step backward again. Lonnie was walking with me to the bathroom. Lonnie was backward walking with me to the goddamned restroom, all the while discussing the drama between the middle aged soccer moms in his department.So there I was, holding my dick at the urinal, feeling my right eye twitch as I tried to focus on anything other than Lonnie. I could hear toilets flushing and women chatting through the wall. And I thought to myself, is this what we’ve become? We are men. Strong, savage, barbaric men. We don’t chat in the bathroom. We just don’t. The women across the wall were probably discussing tampons and flowers and all the other smelly things women discuss. They were probably fretting over runs in panty hose or borrowing lipstick from one another. They might have even been talking about why it was a bad idea to give it up on the first night, or why the jerk hadn’t called like he said he would. They were probably wiping from front to back, comparing breast size, sharing shoes, freshening up, and walking the fine lines of sexuality. But they were women. This was excusable, allowable, even natural. Lonnie and I were men. This was inexcusable, not allowed, just plain uncomfortable. And then it happened. The awkward happened. Lonnie, who had just finished up at the urinal next to mine, pulled on the zipper of his saggy brown slacks, put his hand on my shoulder, looked right in my eyes and thanked me for listening. In the reflection of his thick glasses I could see myself standing with my dick in my hand. I simply shook my head up and down, and Lonnie returned to his cubicle on the 6th floor. My eye was still twitching. I had no words. No words. No other thoughts that came to mind to describe the encounter or my feelings toward the encounter. As I zipped my fly and walked to the sink, I thought to myself at least he washed his hands before he left.