The restroom is not the Algonquin Round Table

I never imagined there would be a second installment in etiquette from me, a man who loves barbecue primarily because “no utensils” is a rule, not a suggestion, when eating it. Nevertheless…

Our office men’s restroom has a single urinal and an adjacent toilet stall to the right. Yesterday morning, I walked in and headed left, to do #1. I noticed, however, that there was already a man–let’s call him Jim Bob–doing #1 in the stall. He had left the stall door open. This isn’t an issue for men; if you’re merely peeing, it’s not unheard-of to leave the door unlocked. His back was to me, so why should I have cared?

At the urinal, I unzipped and let fly. Out of the corner of my right eye, I saw JB peering over the stall wall and looking at me. I glanced over, and gave a quick nod. He smiled.

Midstream for both of us, the restroom door creaked open. A co-worker, Pete, came in. And here’s where things got weird.

JB turned his head—again, he was still in the act of urinating—and said to Pete, “Hey now, you got a permit to use this restroom?” Now I turned around. Pete blinked several times. “Um, no,” he said, “I guess I don’t.”

JB chuckled. “Well, if I don’t see a permit on you, you’re not allowed to use the restroom,” he said. “I’ll let it pass this one time.”

“Um, okey dokey,” Pete said. He looked at me, as I zipped up and sprinted to the sink to wash my hands.

Too late. “Hey man, you hear that?” JB asked me. “This guy here don’t have a permit.”

“Uh, yeah.” I sling my hands across a paper towel and dart out. Pete wore a please-god-help-me look on his face, as JB (still peeing) began telling more lame jokes.

Maybe I’m a little crazy. But who in the world starts a conversation with a guy as he’s using the restroom? Apparently, JB does. It’s one thing to shoot the breeze if you’re both washing your hands at the sink or drying off. Once you’re, ahem, set, I just assume that you don’t really want to chat with me.

JB, who works on the other side of my floor, has a habit of restroom chat. A few months ago, he once began a conversation with me as I was sitting on the toilet. “How do you get away with not wearing a tie everyday?” he asked me.

“What?” I said, more in shock than because I didn’t hear him correctly.

“Your side of the hall, you guys just dress any kind of way,” he said. “I wish I could get away with it on my side.”

Most of the people on his side of the floor wear polo shirts and khakis, at least three days a week, so I figure this is another one of JB’s jokes that I’m not sure are actually jokes. “Uh huh,” I said brusquely, hoping to cut off the conversation. It’s embarrassing enough knowing that I’m polluting the room; I’m not gonna chit-chat while I do it.

After yesterday’s lecture series in the men’s room, I decided to ask Susan about this. I asked delicately, but her blue eyes lit up like sunglare when I mentioned it.

“We’ve got several Chatty Kathies in the ladies’ room,” she said. “I just don’t understand it. Who decides that this is the best time and place for a neighborly chat? Is there anything so important that you have to air it out on the toilet?”

Several? Other than JB, I don’t know who engages me in conversation in the restroom. “Is this more of a woman’s thing than a man’s thing?” I said. “Seriously, it freaked me out.”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I can’t go if someone’s talking to me in the next stall. I just can’t do it.”

As weird as this is, I remember now that it used to be much worse. In high school, the stalls didn’t even have doors. In theory, this was to prevent drug users from shooting up in the stalls unseen by teachers or hall monitors. In practice, this meant that 90% of the student body didn’t do #2 at school. I sometimes held on for a full day. At age 16, I couldn’t imagine anything more humiliating than someone walking in the restroom, swiveling his head right, and seeing me wiping my butt with recycled toilet paper.

But casually striking up a conversation with me as I’m doing so? Well, that comes close.

RELATED POST: I’ve previously expressed interest in the increasingly porous borders between public and private space. But the above is ridiculous.

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. He is the co-author (with Daniel Couch) of Bob Mould's Workbook (Bloomsbury, 2017). His work has been published in The Quarterly Conversation,, Bookslut (RIP), The Comics Journal, The Baseball Chronicle, and other periodicals. Twitter: @walter_biggins.
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