I arrive at Green Library in the morning, business as usual. I swipe my card, walk through the turnstile, and immediately head downstairs. Libraries have the most ingenious ways of scaring off half-hearted scholars: all of the best work is stashed away in rickety spires and dark basements, shelves and shelves like an optical illusion to a vanishing point. I steel myself for the worst of it and head down into the South Stacks. I had been down there once before for a previous research project. I remember the darkness, lights turning on as I walk past, and only finding the books I need through a treacherous maze. This time, my fears are somewhat alleviated by another student who had already lighted the way by his presence. My current path is well trodden and doesn’t require a database book search to find the shelf; it’s behind a door labeled “MEN.”
And there it is. I find the writings on what I was looking for: toilet stalls. I don’t have any business to do, but I set my backpack down and walked into the inside stall, sitting down, pants still on. All around me, the words and pictures tell me what bathroom culture is all about: a disposable seat cover labeled “FREE COWBOY HATS” and a declaration “Reed College #1, bitches!” People very clearly cared what was happening here. It wasn’t boredom with a pencil while on the toilet; the writings cover the walls far beyond where one could reach while sitting. I sketch copies of the wall into my spiral. There’s a fish, a teardrop, a giant penis, and oddly enough, in different pens, several notes express their interest in coming by late at night and meeting someone named “BJ.” Weird.
After finishing my sketches, I take one last look, and realize what I needed to do. I reach into my backpack and pulled out the dry erase marker I had packed this morning. Having never partaken in graffiti before, I am somewhat reluctant, but there’s no way to defile a boys’ bathroom with just a marker. I might not have found anyone’s home, but I have found someone’s story.
Dropping a deuce is a very private moment. When you’re in there, you have a single task and don’t want anyone to bother you. Other than idiots interviewing you while on the can, other people don’t want to bother you, either. It’s the same mutual respect that generally prevents traffic accidents and public nudity: no one wants to do it or see it happen. I think bathroom rituals developed because we don’t want these sorts of accidents. We chat while brushing our teeth, washing our hands, and even using the urinals. When you walk into a stall, though, you’re pretty much hidden from the world. Everyone’s a stranger.
Unless there’s contention for the bathroom. In that case, levels of acquaintedness definitely matter. In bathrooms around campus, toilets typically outnumber takers. I have, however, seen fully occupied bathrooms. Someone else will walk in, pause for a second, then walk out. At the LaIR next to Tressider Union, there’s a single handicap stall I use every Monday night. I can hear the door open, the feet stop, and the door clatter shut. That’s respect for the common man.
Respect has much less importance between friends, however. In a crowded house on a ski trip, it’s fair game to encourage others to expedite their business so you can get on with it as well. There’s the knock, then the friendly reminder that others are waiting, then the not so friendly reminder about the time, then the angry demand that you leave and do something unspeakable to yourself. I think this is just a case of mutual respect for rectums.