The women’s restroom at my place of employment–the floor on which I work–has two stalls. One regular, one handicapped suite.
Because of the size of the suite, the resultant distance of the toilet from the stall partition, and the sight lines it creates, it is easy, when seated in the suite, to see the feet of the person in the neighboring regular stall.
So it happened I was sitting there one day, absent-mindedly admiring my stall neighbor’s pedicure, when the feet I was looking at turned to face the toilet and one vanished upward. The foot that remained on the ground registered a visible impact force immediately followed by the familiar sound of the toilet flushing.
The woman had clearly kicked the toggle handle to flush the toilet.
I didn’t think anything of it at first, except to silently, mentally register some amount of mocking disdain at her unreasonable germaphobia and the gymnastics she was willing to perform to indulge it. “I hope she breaks the handle and has to explain how she did it trying to avoid the germs of 30 other middle-class higher education administrators. I hope she is forced to come clean about her fear that the dean’s chief of staff has leprosy.” This thought amused me.
I started to think about it. I mean really think about it. I can turn even the most mundane event into a series of elaborate philosophical, political, psychological, and socio-cultural observations, speculations, or commentaries, often getting very worked up in the process.
So, as anyone who is my facebook friend knows, I took to facebook, complaining about the foot-flusher. I was not amused.
Over time, I continued to see her do it, and I got incrementally angrier about it every time, spending a good couple of days at a crack ruminating on this curious bathroom habit.
The most recent iteration of these posts began with the following facebook status update:
Discovered identity of that foul bitch who pushes the toilet flush handle with her foot. Going to start leaving filthy shoes on her keyboard. YEAH IT’S GROSS WHEN PEOPLE PUT THEIR FILTHY SHOES WHERE YOUR HANDS GO, ISN’T IT???
That’s right. Foul bitch with filthy shoes. I was indignant. Furious. I wanted to burst out of the handicapped stall and demand answers, give her a piece of my mind:
“KEEP YOUR FILTHY FUCKING FEET OFF OF HANDLES, PIGPEN. HANDles! HAAANDLES!!”
After examining my feelings on the matter, I was able to isolate three reasons why I so aggressively concluded she was a bad, dirty person worthy of this kind of ambush, and one reason why she she might not be.
1. First and foremost, the behavior is unnecessary and completely nonsensical under any and all normal circumstances. The sink where she washes her hands after executing this behavior is 5 feet away. Either she does not trust herself to keep her hands out of her mouth, nose, and eyes in those 3 steps, or this behavior has no rational justification. Nonsense and incomprehensibility have the power to make me blindly furious in a way that most anything else in the world does not.
2. She clearly thinks that the bathroom is dirty somehow and that dirtiness is undesirable, but rather than try to protect herself in a clean-ish way–a way that does not contribute to the dirtiness–by, say, using a small piece of TP as a barrier between her hand and the handle, she makes it theoretically worse by putting the dirtiest part of her body in the place the MOST people are likely to come in contact with. This makes her both thoughtless and a hypocrite.
3. Alternatively, she may be well aware that others will touch this handle, but she may simply think that her shoe isn’t dirty or that the people who use this bathroom, or all people, maybe, are dirtier than she is. So much so that even the bottom of her shoe is cleaner than they are. This, as mentioned above, is understandable if you’re flushing in the Greyhound bathroom and there’s a junkie passed out in the stall next to you, but it’s completely absurd on the administrative floor of the largest college of a major University. None of those grubby students come up here. Everyone washes their hands. People here have health insurance. Even if they have herpes, they’re on Valtrex, so just calm the fuck down, lady.
Thinking everyone is dirtier than the bottom of her shoe would make her some kind of posh elitist cunt, but I could have already sort of guessed about her materialist inferiority complex by her tacky Coach shoes, her severe, WASP-y countenance, and her emaciated–though meticulously groomed–appearance.
4. The fact that she IS extremely underweight for a woman her age might suggest there’s something else going on. Maybe she has some kind of weird combination anxiety/obsessive-compulsive/eating disorder. This is significantly more difficult to be mad at. It would erase frustrations 2 and 3, and though I’d still be annoyed because the behavior would be nonsensical, I would find it rational insofar as one might rationally expect something like this to be an expression of an obsessive, phobic, or otherwise anxious disorder.
I had managed to take personal, philosophical, and some kind of class-based, competitive social offense to this one simple act.
Never mind that, as a germophobe, she is quite likely a frequent and compulsive user of antibacterial hand gel, which is unnatural, evil, and a more likely–if not certain–come-on to the unceremonious end of the human race than climate change and nuclear proliferation combined.
Hand gel users, if I ever get MRSA, I’m coming to your house to roll around on your…everything.
So add “culpability in inevitable super-bug’s destruction of human civilization” to her list of transgressions.
All this from a chance observation during a morning pee.
But it doesn’t end there.
Since that facebook outburst, I have begun to see the foot-flusher in the restroom constantly. It is as if God and the fates have sat up, taken notice of my discomfort, and conspired to torment me with it.
I am in the restroom constantly because I am pregnant and my daughter dances frequent, enthusiastic jigs on my bladder. I don’t know what the foot-flusher’s excuse is, but as of this writing, on this 12th day of May, I have been to the bathroom three times. Twice, the foot-flusher has been in there. She and her peach-colored pedicure, kick kick kicking away at the poor, innocent toilet.
Yesterday, out of 5 trips, I saw her twice. So it appears to be escalating.
I don’t actually see her face-to-face every time, and I know from experience that the feet of the person in the suite are not visible to the person in the normal stall (she ALWAYS takes the normal stall), so she might not even know how much time we’ve been spending together lately under revealing circumstances. She may have no idea I’m there and that out of my obsessive need to comprehend, to know, to suss out, I have started watching for and marking her bathroom behavioral patterns, concocting theories, and speculating that she is mentally ill and/or addicted to laxatives.
The laxative theory is a recent development. Just this morning actually.
The first time I walked into the bathroom this morning, I saw her pedicure and immediately thereafter smelled (and heard) what she was doing in there at promptly 8 am.
As I sat down to pee, the scrubbing started.
Scouring, more like. I don’t know what else to call it.
It wasn’t wiping. It was clearly and distinctly recognizable as the sound of a person scrubbing at themselves with toilet paper. It wasn’t quiet.
It went on for at least 20 seconds.
I sat there, half mortified, half morbidly fascinated, my mouth literally agape, and listened to her apparently abusing herself with a wad of scratchy, dry, off-brand buttwipe.
It seems like it would hurt.
I mean, it seems like you could develop callouses or something. Abrasions.
No one’s anus could possibly be that dirty.
The second time I went into the bathroom, she was just leaving the stall. She smiled pleasantly and said hi. Normal congenial passing bathroom interaction (for women, at least). This was the second time in two hours.
She had no idea what I knew. That I knew all about her anxious, angry relationship with elimination, uncleanliness, and bathroom facilities in general. That I knew her pulled-together, tailored, boat-show appearance masked some terrible emotional disarray and/or a super disgusting colon. That it was painfully uncomfortable for me to look her in the eyes. I twitched a smile without showing my teeth and darted into the HC suite.
At that point it occurred to me that, given her apparent belief that she is exceptionally dirty (and given how much time she apparently spends doing close work with her hands in unsanitary nether regions as a result), she may not be flushing with her foot because she thinks we’re dirty but because she thinks she is.
Then it became kind of sad. A whole new field of psychological possibility, ripe for rumination.
Do many people do this? If you are a person who does this, are you able to make any rational argument whatsoever for doing it?
One thing’s for goddamn sure. I’m never going in the regular stall again.
Not because that’s the one she goes in but because I don’t want anyone looking at my feet. I can’t be the only one who watches other people. Someone could do it to me.
I have no idea why I’m telling you people this.
I think it has something to do with the conventional wisdom that says a liar is more likely to accuse others of lying, a cheater more likely to accuse other of cheating, and so on.
A person who is constantly watching others is more likely to become paranoid that they’re being watched.
We assume, by default, that other people think and act like us. That people do–or do not do–things for the same reasons we do, don’t, would, or wouldn’t.
A looong time ago, I wrote a poem. Someone agreed to publish it. It’s not a super great poem, not earth-shattering or anything, but I’ve always liked it. It was a serial, and the first section, called “Poem to be Read in a Busy Place,” went like this:
Go out into a crowd, sit comfortably,
read this poem, though not aloud.
It’s a secret, what I’m about to say.
Watch them walk, name the colors
of the same skin as it passes through
different lights, imagine the names
of their mothers and venerated pets.
Among them, one at least
has already noticed you.