Janet Sheridan: Using public facilities
As I hurried down the line of stalls, I passed a young girl resisting her mother’s attempts to guide her into one: “No, Mommy, no! It’s yucky!”
Glancing over, I agreed. If I were asked to enter it, I’d howl, as well.
The only thing worse than public restrooms is their absence when needed. So I use them, but they test my mettle.
I can’t be sure a stall is empty without leaning over to look for feet. I used to nudge the doors to test for occupancy, but, too often, an occupant had forgotten to engage the lock, and the door swung open to the dismay of both parties. So, I bend my six-foot frame and peer.
Usually, when I find a vacancy, I also find a missing purse hook and a non-functioning lock. I hang my purse around my neck and stretch to hold the door closed with my foot — an acrobatic test of my limited flexibility.
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And when did flushing turn into an IQ test? Too often, I find myself in a game of “Where’s Waldo” as I search for the trigger. Once I locate the small black button in its hiding place, I prefer to press it without skin contact. I use my shoe-protected foot; a friend of mine with short legs always travels in long sleeves so she can use her elbow.
Hand washing is another trial: I expect an absence of soap, an empty paper-towel dispenser and non-automating automated faucets. I fear forgetting where I am and singing “Happy Birthday” — twice — the amount of time needed to ensure clean hands according to my elementary school nurse. People look at me. Once a lady at the next basin sang along like it was a party.
I’m fascinated by the restrooms at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Some of them have automated seat liners resembling plastic wrap. You hold a button down and watch the old wrap roll away and new wrap roll in — just for you. Somehow it seems vaguely unsanitary. How do I know it’s new and not just recycled?
In general, however, I find airport restrooms clean and efficient.
Restrooms encountered when traveling by car, on the other hand, can cause nightmarish flashbacks — except in Missouri, where I look forward to a particular rest area on the interstate. Open, curving halls without doors lead to a clean, well-maintained facility. But, the best part is washing up.
You insert your hands into a semi-circular opening in the wall. Comfortably warm water sprinkles them generously, followed by drops of sweet-smelling soap. After an interval (just right for singing “Happy Birthday” twice) more rain-like water descends. Finally, a gentle stream of warm air wafts over your hands until they’re dry.
You’ve touched nothing.
I’d like to end with this miracle in Missouri, but I must air a final complaint: why don’t the architects of public buildings allow more capacity for women’s restrooms?
In first grade, fun-loving Ronny Huff pulled me into the boys’ bathroom. Before I broke his grip and fled, I caught a glimpse of my male classmates gathered about a urinal, the most interesting thing I learned all day. But, I didn’t understand the advantage this practice gives men until I was older.
A friend and I bought season tickets for the Reno Opera. I don’t remember soaring arias or tragic deaths, but I do remember the line for the women’s restroom: elegantly gowned, carefully coiffed ladies on display, fidgeting in single file along the major hallway of an ornate building as the crowd sauntered by and the lights blinked to end intermission.
The experience didn’t ruin opera for me; my preference for Willie Nelson did. But, it convinced me that women should be in charge of planning women’s restrooms.
They probably already are — in Missouri.
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