Man in the Can

An unforgettable scene from “Trainspotting” (property of Channel Four Films)

Go anywhere that different generations of people regularly interact—like the campus of the small, private college where I work—and you will inevitably hear the same grumbling from one of the older folks: “I don’t know what’s wrong with the youth today, but we never…”

I’m sure you can fill in the rest.

Although I still consider myself to be a young man, the sad fact is that at nearly 42 years of age, I am no spring chicken (to use an expression from my neck of the woods… damn it, the clichés just keep on coming). In my mind, I’m still that young, idealistic go-getter with his whole life in front of him. Reality, on the other hand, is quite different. And all the warning signs are there: a habitually sore back and aching bones; a goatee speckled with white hairs and covering a double chin; an inability to stay up past 11:00 at night or to sleep past 10:00 the next morning, even during a vacation or holiday; a staunch refusal to turn the speaker to 10 (or 11 for all you Spinal Tap fans) and a preference for quieter tunes; and all sorts of other interesting changes.

If you’re a little older, then I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. And if you know what I mean, then we probably share another fundamental belief: AGING SUCKS.

Sure, there are those who would have you believe “The Golden Years” are wonderful, but even they know deep down in their brittle, calcium-deprived bones that it blows to get old. It’s like the Dread Pirate Roberts says in one of my favorite films, The Princess Bride: “Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

But I digress.

Accepting the fact that I’m older isn’t a huge problem for me yet—it’s possible I could only be at the mid-point right now—but I also find myself wondering (and worrying) about young people. Since I work so closely with them and tend to be more of a realist, I don’t find it tough to relate because we’ve all been there. Nothing shocks or offends or surprises me any more. And though I am always straight with them and try to steer them in the right direction—even if it means leaving college to follow their dreams or achieve their goals elsewhere—the reality is that some will succeed and others will not.

Where I come from, we have a name for this phenomenon. It’s called life. And yes, the place I come from is Earth, just like you. I hope.

Without much effort, I could ramble on about all the differences between “my” generation and the youth of today: What’s up with texting pictures of your junk to total strangers? Or going thousands of dollars into debt only to sleep all day and fail all your classes? Or loading up your Facebook page with pictures of you flipping the bird or dropping your pants? You think you’re going to land that kick-ass job once your prospective employer sees photos of you at some party with a beer in one hand and a bong in the other? Think again!

Don’t get me started.

Instead of wasting time with all of that, I would prefer to focus on a specific set of skills that seem to be lacking in our young men today. It isn’t pretty—and can often be quite stinky—but I am of course referencing BATHROOM SKILLS. And for a guy like me, who prefers neatness but is willing to lower the bar a little for public restrooms, the situation is worse than you can imagine. Consider my own workplace, the aforementioned small, private college.

Relief can be hard to find (property of Channel Four Films)

At most—and I’m sure someone will tease me later for not remembering the exact number—we have around 400 students on campus, the majority of them male. And since my building holds many of our classes, a lot of these students pass through each day. It’s a busy, high-traffic area.

Our young women have nothing to fear because there is a restroom on each of the two floors to accommodate their needs. Unfortunately, men only have one and it’s right there as you walk through the front door. Everyone uses it, and here’s where things get nasty both figuratively and literally.

I apologize in advance if I start ranting and raving. And if I happen to offend, I am truly sorry.

Whenever I walk in to this particular bathroom—and believe me when I say that I visit it as infrequently as possible—it’s almost as if I teleported to the School for the Blind. I’ve never actually seen it happen, but I envision students entering the lavatory with their business hanging out of their flies, spraying wildly and then fleeing the scene of the crime. In those terms, I would have to be the forensic expert who arrives later and attempts to piece everything together. The veteran forensic expert, I mean, given all my unfortunate experience with this public health issue [attempting to sound serious given the topic is pee pee].

It’s gross, but sadly that’s only the beginning.

Earlier today—and given that I only had number one needs, if you catch my drift—I reluctantly walked into this nightmare lavatory and found another horrifying sight: a toilet backed up with the “bad stuff” and in danger of crossing the threshold. As much as I hate to say it, this kind of thing happens so often that I barely take notice any more. Only this time was different.

Lined neatly along the toilet seat were little strips of paper towels, all of them roughly the same size and overlapping perfectly to prevent any skin-to-seat contact. As usual, the bathroom was poorly stocked and this poor bastard had to go all MacGyver on it. You older folks… I mean, more mature readers… should catch that reference. But he did it with class, spent some time on the details and at least started his business the right way.

Based solely on the evidence—which I hope has not been tampered with since I would be the only suspect—only two scenarios seem likely at this point.

In the first scenario, the subject starts off strong, but soon things take a turn for the worse. He pushes so hard that he blows out his O-ring. The shock slams his head into the wall and in a semi-concussive, even dream-like state, he simply forgets to flush and wanders away.

One can only hope that he remembered to wipe first, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. Actually, scratch that because I believe I did hold my breath for a short time there.

Scenario two adds a bit of normalcy because for the first few minutes—perhaps for most of the movement—everything is fine and runs smoothly. It’s even possible that successful wiping took place before disaster finally struck. With his ritual complete and his clothes in order, our subject attempts to flush five “gallons” down a two-gallon toilet and quickly realizes that “it ain’t happening.” Did that make me sound young?

He flees. I walk in. There’s poo-poo everywhere. You get the picture.

2011's winner was The Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois

The Cream of the Crap: Chicago’s Field Museum restroom (courtesy of Business Insider)

I also feel impelled to mention the “put the seat up/put the seat down” thing despite the fact that only men use this particular restroom. We don’t like to admit it, but we have all used questionable facilities at one time or another. Sure, we seek cleaner, more private venues when they’re available. But on the rare occasion, a perfect storm converges at the most inopportune moment and despite our best efforts, there simply isn’t time to find a new toilet. You just have to make do, and that’s no easy task in most men’s rooms. All you can do is pray the guys before you lifted the seat before spraying—which often is not the case—or start cleaning.

Then you realize there aren’t any paper towels and the soap dispensers are dry. Confused, shocked and angry, you make the mistake of standing motionless for 15 seconds and the lights suddenly go out to conserve energy. Aaaahhhh!

I have some other examples that I could share—some of which are even more disturbing—but I think my message is clear. To eliminate all possible confusion, though, I now address the young men out there with deficiencies in the bathroom. And you know who you are.

I don’t care if you were poorly trained, have vision problems, suffer from vertigo or nervous urination—if there is such a thing—don’t pay enough attention or simply don’t care. When you use a public restroom, please try to be clean and considerate so the next guy will do the same (i.e. pee it forward). If you want to piss all over the place, sit in your own urine, flood your bathroom with sewage or even smear yourself down in unmentionable substances in your own home, please be my guest. Most of us will never use your facilities anyway. Just don’t impose your bad toilet habits on the rest of us. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Of course, we should all keep something else in mind: someday in each of our futures, we won’t be able to control any of these bodily functions. We may even hire people to clean up after us. Who knows? When that time comes, I say piss and shit all over the place if you like. You may not have a choice. But for now, while you’re here and we all have to live together, please do us all a “solid” and keep it neat in public.

After all, we don’t want the next health pandemic to come from our bathrooms, do we?

Posted on January 30, 2013, in Advice and other tips, Life, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I feel your pain, I carry a supply of sanitizing wipes on me for such occasions. Nothing worse than the need to sit a spell and have no place you’d want to park your carcass…. Great Post!

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