Craig Heimbuch is seeing yellow at the lack of men’s room etiquette.
Public restrooms – and men’s rooms in particular – ain’t what they used to be. Watch a Bogart movie and you get the sense that public toilets were once bastions of Art Deco elegance and civility, with nattily attired men slipping the attendant a fin for the mints, the after shave and the freshly pressed towel. And, to be sure, there are still men’s rooms like that out there. It’s just that I never get to go in them. They don’t exist at the airport or in, say, the local mall.
No, most of the men’s rooms I take advantage of are dim, dank, oddly cold places with peeling taupe paint clinging to tin-thin metal stall dividers. The floor may or may not be moist and you don’t want to think too much about what exactly is making it so sticky. A necessary evil, those public restrooms. They are supposed to be there for our ‘convenience,’ but have you ever noticed that they are not really that convenient? I mean, you need a restroom while you are browsing the GAP, so why do you have to walk all the way back to the food court?
I digress. The point is that the men’s room is not a place you look forward to visiting. If you’re like me, you imagine the ladies’ room to be an oasis of comfortable chairs, soft indirect lighting and Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos being wafted softly through the lavender scented air. Why else would they seem so excited to go? And in groups none the less. The mythic ladies’ room is, in short, the exact opposite of the men’s room, of which the most positive feature is often the ongoing graffiti battle going on between two lewd, key-wielding teenagers hell-bent on sullying the name of each other’s mothers.
So, if no man in his right mind enjoys a trip to the loo, the least we can do is to try and make the experience as painless as possible for one another. And it’s with this in mind, my fraternal brothers of the public john, that I offer these seven simple rules to remember when it comes bathroom etiquette. They are easy to remember and should, if everyone adheres, make this necessary evil a little less painful – perhaps, even, enjoyable – for everyone.
Rule #1 – The Buffer Urinal
What’s more uncomfortable than rubbing elbows with a stranger while standing, legs akimbo to avoid the puddle, at the urinal? This is basic field strategy here guys. Dave Barry covered this years ago. You never, ever, ever, select a urinal directly next to one already in use, not when there’s a choice anyway. If there are three urinals to choose from, pick one on the outside. Leave the center one for the guy who may actually die if he doesn’t get to the bathroom. If the one of the outside ones is in use, choose the one on the opposite end of the bank. If both outside ones are in use and only the center one is available, wait. One of the other guys will be done soon.
Rule #2 – Announce Your Presence
If you are using a stall and have the place to yourself, it’s one thing. But as soon as you hear the door open, you need to make your presence known. Am I suggesting that you say ‘hi’ and introduce yourself? Absolutely not. No way. Instead, do a little cough. A sniff can be mistaken for the shuffling of a shopping bag or a heavy winter parka. Plus, you may not want to be inhaling through your nose. I’m just saying. A cough is more effective, distinct and has the added bonus of being absolutely, 100% impersonal. Let’s remember, you’re in there to get something down, not to make a friend.
Rule #3 – Ignore My Kid
This should go without saying. I shouldn’t even need to put it here, but, inevitably, there is a guy every weekend – at Costco, say – who breaks this cardinal rule and feels the need to comment about the fact that my kid either a) really has to go or b) “made it.” This second one is especially creepy. It implies the guy was monitoring my kid’s transaction somehow and is especially creepy when accompanied by a groan, the kind someone does as they stretch in the morning. My kids are my business. I don’t like the idea that they need to be in the men’s room. I’d rather use the family bathroom, but it seems like it is always taken when I need it the most. My children will have enough reason for emotional scarring. They don’t need Old Man Winter making a comment regarding their “pee-pee.”
Rule #4 – No Eye Contact, No Talking
Okay, I have had exactly one interesting conversation with a stranger in a public restroom. It was at a grocery store. He was old, a WWII vet who was waiting for his meds. He seemed a bit lost and confused and began talking to me as I was washing my hands. But that one incident does not make it okay to speak with or look directly at another man in the men’s room. It’s never okay. Don’t be the guy who walks into the bathroom and tries to strike up a conversation or says something like, “Whew, it smells like Big Foot’s tomb in here!” Even if it were funny, the situation does not call for comedy. If there is, for some extreme reason, an occasion that necessitates inter-personal communication, eye contact is strictly prohibited. Stand, stock still, eyes forward like a Marine on inspection. When entering and exiting, keep your eyes down. When standing at the sink, it’s okay to look at yourself in the mirror, but absolutely never should peeking at your neighbor be allowed. Ever.
Rule #5 – Clean Up After Yourself
If you dribble on the seat, leave a mess of water and soap around the sink or miss the waste basket with an errant paper towel, pick it up. This isn’t elementary school, this is a men’s room. You may be in a huge hurry to get out of there and I understand that, but come on, you’re an adult. Act like it. If you leave drops on the seat or a toilet unflushed, that automatically removes that particular facility from use for at least 10 hours. Have some decency. And while you’re at it, after you rip off some paper towel, wipe the push bar and start the roll out so the next guy can rip a piece directly off. Why should I have to suffer your laziness the next time I go to get some paper towel only to touch an oddly gelatinous coating on the handy push bar? Clean and dry, that’s how you should leave the place. Repeat the backpacker’s mantra to yourself over and over: “Leave no trace. Leave no trace.”
Rule #6 – The Proper Stance
Whether in a stall or at a urinal, keep your stance narrow and your positioning square against the target. In the stall, a wide stance could lead to unexpected touching or, worse in the case of Senator Larry Craig, a political scandal. It’s important at the urinal too. No one wants to touch boots while you’re doing that. And if you stand at an angle, you’re likely to incur civilian backsplash casualties. I shouldn’t have to wear a disposable poncho into the men’s room because you don’t understand that the angle of incident is equal to the angle of reflection. In short: AIM.
Rule #7 – Don’t Linger
I am as guilty as the next guy of spending, perhaps, a bit too long in my bathroom at home. A lot of times, it’s the only time I get to myself to read or get caught up on all the staring and doing nothing I have fallen so far behind on since the kids came along. But, not here, not in the men’s room. Those who linger here are waiting for something. What? A chance to mug someone? A new friend? A visit from aliens? How am I supposed to know? It’s not something I do. When it comes to the men’s room, think about Chile’s. ‘Get in. Get out. Get on with life.’ Put an end to the awkwardness and discomfort. Do your thing and move on. The men’s room is not the place to stop and smell the roses.
Photo of line of white porcelain urinals in public toilets courtesy of Shutterstock.