Jan 2011 26

by Matt Dunbar

For many men, one of the most confusing facets of the transition from college to the workplace occurs not in the proverbial boardroom or conference room, but in the restroom. Navigating the many pitfalls of office social conventions is difficult enough without the constant fear and uncertainty that accompanies every trip to the office bathroom, not to mention the gnawing trepidation that follows the morning Grande Drip from Peet’s or the afternoon guacamole and chitlins pick-me-up.

Although utilized just as frequently, the workplace restroom offers the average male none of the treasured comforts of the apartment bathroom – most obviously, complete and total privacy. There is never any fear when using the toilet at home that your actions are being overheard by a gossipy coworker or disapproving (or, more disturbingly, approving) boss. That soggy stack of New Yorkers and the vintage 2003 Rose McGowan-adorned Maxim on top of the toilet shelf is yours and yours alone, free from the judgment and/or unauthorized use of Gary in accounting.

This loss of privacy would be fine if the workplace restroom was truly a public restroom, in the Dodger Stadium pee trough sense of the word. But it’s not. The workplace restroom lacks the reassuring anonymity and freedom of a public restroom, where at least in male-dom one is secure in the thought that you could do anything up to and including murder within the confines of the stall and no one is going to care. Those who have ever visited a beach or sporting event may rightly point out that a public bathroom’s liberating anonymity comes at a steep cost – typically in the hygiene department. But given the choice between an aspiring Jackson Pollack wielding his asshole like a paintbrush above the hand dryer, or making eye contact with my company’s CFO while pissing in neighboring urinals, I’ll take the Ed Harris butt art. Every time.

[Adrenalynn in Men’s Room]

If you’re like me, you’ve confronted literally hundreds of thousands of excruciatingly awkward moments while fighting through this netherworld of urinal cakes, Scott toilet paper, and weirdly foamy hand soap. Typically, these exchanges range from the mildly unbearable entry-exit nod to the terrifying silence that ensues when seeing a coworker who obviously listened to the stunning entirety of your Coletrane-esque performance in the handicap stall.

So what is to be done? How many promising careers of twenty-something copy editors and data-entry specialists must be destroyed before someone puts a stop to this madness? What is needed, and what I humbly submit below, is a simple primer articulating a clear code of conduct for the male workplace bathroom. Lord knows this would more valuable than the bevy of conflict resolution and sexual harassment trainings that precede full employment, and certainly less counterproductive.

First, as always, some methodological qualifications. In no way am I suggesting that the primer below is definitive. On the contrary, much like the Constitution, I hope it becomes a living, breathing and continually evolving document secretly tattood on Antonin Scalia’s midriff. Secondly, I am not arrogant enough to even speculate on the vagaries of the female workplace restroom, which I’m sure has its own complicated land mines. This guidebook is specifically geared towards males, although it may provide female readers with a rare window into the relentless scatological oppression we face on a day-to-day basis. So, without further ado…

[Adrenalynn in Men’s Room]

Avoiding the Simultaneous Stall Exit
The Simultaneous Stall Exit (SSE) – when two men spend 5-45 minutes in neighboring stalls, only to emerge from their respective activities at the same time – is the singularly worst thing that can happen in the male workplace restroom that doesn’t involve the words “clogging,” “falling,” or “missing and hitting yourself.” The crux of the awkwardness here surprisingly lays not in the visual, but in the audible. You’ve just finished listening to each other crap, and now you’re compelled not only to permanently match a face to those second order gruntings and fragrant emissions, but to exchange office pleasantries on the way to the sink. Just once I’d love to have this type of post-SSE conversation:

“Hey Joe, how you doing?”
“Fine Matt. How are you?”
“Pretty good, pretty good. Busy with the report prep, you know how that goes. By the way, that shit you took in there sounded pretty fucking intense, you sure you doing ok? I didn’t know it was possible for a human rectum to achieve fission.”
“Hehehehe, yeah I guess it was pretty brutal in there. I should really stop drinking the office coffee, that stuff tears my shitter up something awful.”

Unfortunately, that type of candid communication is frowned upon by the soulless arbiters of modern corporate culture. But luckily, SSEs can be easily avoided by abiding the simple “First One In, First One Out” principle, which stipulates that whoever enters a stall first must also leave it first should another person enter the neighboring stall.

This maxim ensures that SSEs will occur only under the rarest of circumstances. Be sure to verify whenever you enter the workplace restroom whether there is another person occupying a stall by quickly shoe-scanning, and then let your neighbor know your presence by shutting and locking your door with sufficient audible force. If you’re still unsure of whether this signal has been received, you can always “accidentally” unfurl a roll of toilet paper into the neighboring stall to announce your presence. This is an especially useful tactic when confronting the increasingly common iPooper, whose every bowel movement must be set to an iPod generated score by Massive Attack.

Illiteracy is the number one cause of constipation
Fact: Over 95% of all reading is done while defecating. Brushing up on your baseball standings, forcing yourself through A.O. Scott’s overwrought prose, or scanning your local alternative weekly’s escort ads is as integral a part to the male restroom experience as handwashing and the post-pee fly check. It is the reason I can instantly tell you the top three chemical ingredients in my girlfriend’s face cleanser (water, glycein, lauryl glucoside). But, here again, the workplace restroom is littered with often unforeseen hazards.

Never, under any circumstances, should you be caught bringing exposed reading material in or out of the restroom. Always keep it in a briefcase or manpurse or other acceptable restroom carry-on. When you leave your desk with your carry-on, act explicitly as if you’ll be entering a meeting or leaving the workplace entirely. For example, right before I’m about to head to the bathroom with my Atlantic tucked securely in my Manhattan Portage bag, I often yell across my cubicle, “Ahhh man, I wish I didn’t have to go to this stupid meeting on how to sneak in reading material to bathrooms….in Bermuda.” This always works.

It is also in perfectly good taste and frankly magnanimous to leave reading material for other bathroom patrons, as long as that reading material is clean and easily foldable. However, all copies of Maxim, FHM, GQ and other such “leisure” publications are expressly forbidden. In every workplace, there’s that one guy you just can’t trust…you know what I mean.

John Nash was a shoe-spy

Shoes are the DNA tracers of the male workplace restroom. Rest assured, if you’re not matching bowel habits to shoes, your coworkers most definitely are and exploiting that knowledge to their advantage. Unfortunately, as the neighboring stall shoe conundrum is perhaps the world’s most classic illustration of prisoner’s dilemma (both of us shoe-spy, both of us lose), there is no communally civil solution. What I suggest instead for any man weary of shoe-tracing is to simply pony up and buy at least 17 different pairs of shoes (depending on the extent of your IBS, you may need more). I myself rotate birkenstocks, sandals, penny loafers, and 14 different types of LA Gear to avoid as much shoe-poop forensic matching as possible.

These are only three precepts of what I hope will become the Magna Carta of male workplace bathroom primers. Please, if you have any of your own suggestions, feel free to add them.



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