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:


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.

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BECKY PALAPALA is the author of many unpublished poems, diatribes, and terse letters, which she holds captive in a homely tote bag in her bedroom. The poems that escaped can be found in online publication at Strix Varia, Paper Darts, and in other nooks and crannies of the internet. In 2008-2009, she served as a poetry editor for Ivory Tower. After an iliadic battle with higher education, Becky graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in the spring of 2010. She currently lives with her husband, daughter, and dog on the outskirts of the Twin Cities, where she pines for her rivertown home and attempts to befriend the rabbit that lives in her yard.

76 responses to “Somebody’s Watching Me (I Always Feel Like)”

  1. First, love the poem. Really and truly.

    Second, sweet Rockwell/M.J. reference with the title. That song will be in my head all day long. YES.

    Third, I agree with you on all counts. I hadn’t really thought about it before your Facebook statuses on the topic. But seriously… at least grab toilet paper and flush with your protected hand if you’re going to be all weird about potentially touching germs for three seconds before washing up, folks. It is so rude to scrape the contents of a shoe off where others will be touching. And nothing pisses me off faster than a case of I-think-I’m-the-only-person-in-the-world-itis.

    I can relate to this so hard, my friend:

    “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.”

    I go through this process this often enough that when I do, my husband now rolls his eyes and sarcastically says to me, “Did someone else just make The List?” (Yes, he makes it onto The List when he does this. I don’t like his tone.) The List is long, and The List seems petty at first glance, but The List goes deeper than that, as it mostly just comes down to having some fucking respect for the other people on the planet.

    Which is why this might be my favorite piece of yours yet. At first glance, it’s a rant, but really, it’s so much more than just a rant. It’s an invitation to remember that life doesn’t revolve around any single one of us, and a sneaky little reminder that someone is always watching. Well done, Becky.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      It is kind of a rant.

      Or it’s at least part rant.

      Of course, it being the case that I take these elaborate extrapolations and my own indignation as seriously as I do, it never even occurred to me to call it a rant.



      But you’re right. What’s angry-making about it is not the act itself (which is trivial–after all, I will go wash my hands, too) but what it means or likely represents. That behavior is an expression of something that is probably not petty at all.

      And also, did I mention that it makes no sense? Anything that doesn’t make any sense is damnable, period. People who can’t explain themselves to my satisfaction are simply unacceptable. I’ll have none of it. They should wander into the desert and die.

  2. Ahhh, the foot-flusher of FB status-update lore! My daughter for a third-grade science project once determined there were three-times more bacteria on the toilet handle than the toilet seat, and now perhaps we know why. Foot-flushers, bleck.

    Also, a friend recently sent me a bottle of OCD Hand Sanitizer (directions: “rub on hands and repeat and repeat and repeat”) to make fun of my germophobia (I don’t use it! Don’t roll on my everything!), but I will have you know that motherhood made me germophobic. I’ll be interested to learn if it happens to you. So keep me posted.

    • The third or fourth time I caught pneumonia from the horrific respiratory viruses floating around my son’s preschool, I, too, became germophobic. And I worked with the general public for the 17 years leading up to my pregnancy without worrying much about illness at all. I have found kid germs to be exceptionally brutal.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        But Tawni.

        What if those kids, being the humans who can’t be reliably trusted to wash their hands, caught their respiratory viruses from a shoe-flusher???

        The shoe flusher will wash her hands. I will wash my hands. Fine. No big whup. But John Doe, Jr. might not.

        And he takes it home and to preschool.

        So add “responsible for probably all vicious pre-school illnesses on the planet” to her list of crimes.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, there is at least some rational explanation to being more wary of germs when there’s a child around or, more so, when there is a child around who has frequent interaction with many other children and is not old enough to reliably, regularly, wash his/her own hands.

      A: Kids’ immune systems aren’t what adults’ immune systems are and no one likes a sick kid.
      B: Kids, unlike (most) adults, can’t be reasonably trusted to wash their hands after touching disgusting things or to even know which things are disgusting.

      But I should think, in the environment she was in, the foot flusher would recognize she wasn’t going to catch toddler flu between the toilet handle and the sink. I bet she doesn’t handle her cash with her feet.

      I mean, this is where the logic breaks down. Sure, toilet handles are dirty. But EVERYTHING is dirty. I mean, flushing with your foot is arbitrarily selective to no appreciable end. I doubt she opens doors with her feet.

    • Sarah says:

      I think motherhood has made me be more self-aware of my feelings towards germs but I don’t think it has shifted the balance more towards germaphobe.

      The five second rule still applies to most dry foods, i.e. pretzels = yes, apple slices = no. Playing out in the normal dirt then eating some chips with their hands, fine. We all ate dirt. We all used a ten second rule with ANY food if our parents weren’t looking.

      Yes they wash their hands after they go to the bathroom and after playing outside and after eating/handling sticky things (though that last one is more a protection for my furniture and TV remotes as opposed to their health). I think I’m trying to teach them to practice good, reasonable sanitary practices but that the end of the world will not come if a piece of lint got stuck to that M&M they dropped then ate. Note: This became much easier with the second child once I had seven years to reflect and analyze my mommy neuroses.

  3. amanda says:

    i worked in an office where everyone was a foot flusher. i was forced to become one, too. now it kinda creeps me out to not do it, because i immediately think of all the feet that have touched that handle. but the kicking? oh, no no. gently, Ladies, gently! or even better, hook the top of the foot UNDER the flusher and lift up! fewer germ transfers, less chance to be too rough… and an excellent calisthenic.

    great read, Becky! i like your transitions of thought and that you brought us to a surprising insight into yourself. that’s rock-star writing right there, little missy.


    • Becky Palapala says:

      Oh no!

      My very own Amanda?

      This is awful!

      It’s okay. We’ll get through this. We’ll get you some help. 😉

  4. amanda says:

    well, you do know about my OCD/PTSD/anxiety disorder thing, right? so at least i get some of your compassion…

    • Becky Palapala says:

      You know, I don’t think I did know that.

      • Amanda says:

        Well, different Amanda. I think I’m “your” Amanda.

        And I just study/work with those with anxiety disorders.

        Which it sounds like Foot Flusher definitely has. To the extreme.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Heh. Yeah. I figured that out after the fact.

          See, this is why people need gravatars. Because sometimes I am too stupid to look at the email notification and see what email address the comments come from.

          But in fairness, I didn’t know about other Amanda’s OCD/PTSD/anxiety disorder. I had realized by that comment that it wasn’t you.

  5. Sarah says:

    “Hand gel users, if I ever get MRSA, I’m coming to your house to roll around on your…everything.”

    This was my favorite line and for me sums up everything that drives me nuts about germaphobes. I had coffee with a friend the other day. After we got our coffee and muffins and found a table, she went to the bathroom to wash her hands because she had just handled money. We are constantly deconditioning our bodies’ natural antibodies. The germs are getting stronger without any help from us. Another example: My daughter has had 5 ear infections this past fall through spring. Two episodes ago, she got put on the standard amoxacillin and a week later still had a fever and was in pain. She now consistently gets put on Augmentin for her ear infections because, as the doctor said, “there’s something about day care borne bacteria that is becoming immune to standard broad-spectrum antibiotics.” Well that’s friggin’ comforting.

    I don’t want a bunch of pansy ass weaklings in my body fighting off the bad guys. I want antibodies with experience fighting off lesser bacteria, sparring for the inevitable big fights so they have at least a sporting chance.

    All that said, it does seem like there could be something much more psychological going on with your bathroom nemesis. My inclination would be to feel more sorry for and concerned about her. But, yes, there are more sanitary ways to handle one’s neuroses, i.e. as you said using some toilet paper to flush.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      My immune system is like Sparta.

      I grew up, fairly literally, in a barn, and I was a nail-biter. I can’t imagine the kinds of organisms I ate. My body must have constantly been at war.

      Now, I get seriously sick maybe once every 5+ years. My husband can vouch. The same illness I shake off in a day or two lays him out for a week.

      This is all while I was a smoker and he was not, too.

      I simply cannot envision myself chasing my child around with a bottle of Purell. I just can’t. I’m a girl with semi-rural, dogs-n-horses, river rat roots. I have been told my whole life that mud and dirt is good and one of the only sure ways to tell if you’re having fun. And I believe it. I believe I’m healthier for it, but that’s tough to prove.

      • Sarah says:

        Ah, yes, the dirty hands nail biting. Like a crunchy treat. Like fruit at the bottom yogurt. Like the surprise in the Cracker Jack box.

        Mama always said, “Life is like biting your nails after playing in dirt, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

        I was the same. Minus the farm. But add a lake and frogs and white perch and swimming in (and drinking much of I’m sure) fish poop and climbing large moss-covered rocks, etc.

        We survived and as you said are most likely stronger and healthier because of it.

        I rarely get sick. I think I catch every fifth or sixth icky that the kids/husband drag into this place. And even that I can shrug off defiantly in a day. Refuse to let it enter my body. I’ve got shit to do. No time to be sick. Interestingly, I got sick fairly frequently before my son was born nine years ago. My jacked up immune system seemed to happen quite remarkably exactly then. I’ve chalked the timing up to a mother thing – stubborn, busy, too busy taking care of sick kids/husband to be able to get sick too. But whether there’s an actual physiologic or psychological component to it I don’t know, I’ve just always thought it was cool and made me sort of a kick ass mom.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Now that we’ve talked like this, we will both be struck down by some rare flu that causes us to see Jesus and repent for our gloating ways.

        • Sarah says:


          Well, I’m probably just stubborn enough to tell Jesus tough shit, X has a baseball game and two tests to study for plus practice his trumpet for the spring concert later in the week, O needs a bath and is throwing another tantrum, and I have about five loads of laundry to do. So I’d like to see Jesus *try* to make me repent when I’m having that kind of a day.

          Okay, I realize I’ve now just dared Jesus to strike me with a deadly illness. I should probably shut up now.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          No worries.

          Jesus doesn’t do the striking down.

          That’s Old Testament God’s department.

          Maybe that part of the trinity was out for coffee or something.

          Good luck!

        • I’m a big, tall farm girl with a Scandinavian-German badass immune system who worked with the public for 17 years completely unscathed, and I’m tellin’ ya, I’ve never seen germs like the ones these preschool carrier monkeys deliver before in my whole life. I thought the first few years of my son’s life were going to kill me. I did seem to develop the fabled “mommy immunities” everyone promised eventually, however. *knocks on head*

        • Sarah says:

          Maybe my Karma will come in another form. Olivia was up screaming all night last night that her ear hurt. She’s been off antibiotics for a total of five days since her last ear infection. Guess she’s refractory to the cephalosporin class of drugs now too. Back to the doctor. Awesome.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Maybe she needs tubes in her ears. Do they still do that for kids who have chronic, vicious ear infections?

        • Sarah says:

          We’ve talked about it. The eustachian tubes are practically horizontal until three years old then they start to angle down helping drainage. Our plan for now is to wait since this is basically the end of ear infection season. The tubes are only good for six months to a year so we’d be talking about a whole summer of basically “wasted” tubes. Plus, I think this is more of a teething thing. The drool and constantly chewing on her fingers.

    • Gloria says:

      Yes, Sarah. YES! Hand sanitizer isn’t supposed to be used all the goddammed time! I keep some on hand for if I need to eat and can’t wash my hands, etc. But I’m not obsessive. I work for Public Health and Preventive Medicine. We’re the folks who brought you hand washing and all of those “Wash Your Hands/Lava Sus Manos” signs you see. And I’m glad that we did because, you know, we don’t have to die of or even get tuberculosis or other preventable diseases anymore. But there’s a frickin’ balance.

  6. pixy says:


    this is HILARIOUS! i can totally visualize you sitting there listening to her scrape her butt. something like that would make me think of a dog doing the butt scoot on the carpet to “stimulate the anal glands.” maybe she was just trying to get more poop out.


    ps – i press the handle with my teeth. i need to strengthen my immune system somehow. antioxidants don’t do it for me anymore.

  7. Gloria says:

    I’ve never witnessed the foot flusher, but now I know they exist and I was happier ten minutes ago when I was blissfully unaware.

    To plagiarize my own comment that I left on The Dust’s most recent posting (because I’m pressed for time and too lazy to come up with an original thought, when I already said it well within the last few days): I can’t bring myself to give germs that much thought – not while I live with Tolkien and Indigo, my 9 year old twin boys, who must, at all times, cart around every known pathogen you can get from the school, eating candy off the ground, and whatever lives in that giant hole they’re digging in the backyard. Sometimes ignorance is bliss.

    I have a boss – the head honcho – who literally uses hand sanitizer the way Cynthia’s mock bottle of sanitizer is intended. He doesn’t shake hands, he shakas everyone. He won’t shaka me unless I sanitize my hands first. Nor will he take an ink pen from me unless I sanitize it first. I thought he made everyone sanitize their everything before he touches them or something they’ve just been touching, but I found out recently no, it’s just me. I kinda want to cough on him all the time now, but then I remind myself that he’s mentally ill.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Wow. That’s impressive. And you work with doctors, right? I mean, this is a doctor?

      You’re saying he only makes you sanitize because of your twin boys? Or you don’t know why?

      I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from asking why, I don’t think.

      Again, my belligerent search for sense in nonsense.

      • Gloria says:

        I don’t know why. And I have asked and it’s hard to get a straight answer out of him.

        I have to wonder: how the hell do these people have sex? HOW?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Selective application. Like the foot flusher who then goes ahead and doesn’t think twice about the elevator button.

          I think in most cases where people aren’t certifiably OCD, it’s sort of arbitrary. Like, they’re germaphobes insofar as it doesn’t stop them from doing what they want to do.

          They’re perfectly willing to abandon or ignore their philosophy of pathogens as it’s convenient for them.

          I have to think even people with OCD do this to some extent as well, maybe more subconsciously. Not to say that OCD is convenient by any stretch, but neither does the fear behind it usually apply consistently in all contexts.

    • It’s just you? He won’t touch… just you? Oh crap. That’s hilarious, Gloria. You should definitely cough around him constantly. And when he’s not around, you should crotch his computer keyboard. Maybe lick the mouse.

      Unless he reads this website. In which case, you should totally respect his boundaries. Ahem.

      P.S. What the eff does it mean to “shaka” someone? I’ve never heard of that. It sounds vaguely upsetting, like when someone tells me they “like my aura.”

      • Gloria says:


        Also, I took a poll. There appear to be several of us that he’s especially fastidious with. And I HOPE TO GOD he doesn’t read this website.

        • Sarah says:

          That is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Seems like something Trekkies would do.

          I mean, at least go the Howie Mandel route and fist bump. At least that’s something that everyone recognizes and it doesn’t look like an obscene sexual suggestion.


          I’d take the germs over looking live an OCD perv.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Okay. As a Hawaiian-in-law, I can tell you that is not shaka.

          The President and I don’t agree on much, but we agree that this is shaka:


          Fingernails toward you, not away like its shown on stupid-ass “hang loose” shirts.

          Shaka is a one-person thing that does not involve touching. Like waving. You do it at someone, not with them or to them.

          So tell your boss to stop being a mainland haole git and just high-five people if that’s what he really wants to do.

        • G-Lovely: The hand sex happening in the picture you posted would make me totally uncomfortable. I’d rather chest bump the man than have him finger-rape me every day. I think I would have to cough a lot if I worked in your office. (:

        • pixy says:

          thank goodness i’m not the only one who thinks this looks like the shockER (shaka ha!, chaka khan!) a mutual shocker, but the shocker nonetheless.
          for someone so germphobey, you’d think he’d think before givin’ anyone 2 in the pink and 1 in the stink. metaphorically, i mean.

        • Gloria says:

          Becky – yes. I’d never seen it before. I think it’s his own modified shaka makes him seem weird/quirky/fun instead of phobic.

      • New Orleans Lady says:

        Ha! “Unless he reads this website….” lol

        Tawni, too funny.

    • New Orleans Lady says:

      Wait, let me get this straight…
      Only you? You’re the only one he makes disinfect?

      At first, I couldn’t stop laughing but now I’m getting kind-of pissed. Who does this guy think he is to assume that you are THAT filthy that even your pen will infect him with the plague. Give me his name address. I will send him a beautiful wooden box filled with pictures of children licking said box. That’ll teach him.

      Then, you can walk in while he’s looking in horror and say. “Ewwwwwww”.
      Then, you can start to demand he cleanse HIMSELF before coming in contact with you! He won’t be able to argue bc he knows that you witnessed his shame…


  8. Joe Daly says:

    Phew. This reminded me of a column that I started and then axed about a guy in my old office complex who didn’t wash his hands. I referred to him as Sir Edward Tinklehands. Even if I tried to sort of block him into passing by the sink on the way out, he’d dodge and weave past me. Drove me nuts, but not enough to kick the flushers.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      See, now. The hand-washing thing can get a little controversial.

      For guys, who in fact must handle the goods, it’s really a no-brainer.

      A woman can, theoretically, claim partial innocence and serve up a savvy redirection to another woman with a well-timed, “Hey, I don’t know what YOU’RE doing wrong, but I don’t piss on my hands.”

      I’ve used that once. In an attempt to offend and agitate a cousin who was giving routine lectures on handwashing to grown adults.

      Still, a woman has to touch the flush handle, the stall latch, etc.

      If she’s actually going to go to the trouble of avoiding touching all those things, she might as well just wash her hands instead and save some energy.

      Unless the bathroom’s on fire, folks, just wash your hands. It’s better that way.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    This made me LLOL. Awesome. I love reading and discussing office bathroom sociology, because I find it completely unnatural that humans are forced to do their business in close proximity to other humans whom they also see frequently in the hallway or even in their own department. I far prefer Europe, where stalls are almost always masonry from floor to ceiling so you are at least spared listening to ghastly sounds and looking at your neighbor’s feet. Ugh.

    I wrote a blog on MySpace once about this fascination. I know this is terribly inappropriate, commandeering your comments this way, but I don’t think it’s worthy of a post on TNB and yet I feel the need to share. So without further ado:

    The first rule of dropping off a load in the work bathroom is don’t go in there if someone else is already making a delivery. It’s a simple rule, and it’s effective, because I don’t care how many delivery docks there are, only one should be used at a time.

    The second rule is, if you must break the first rule, never use an adjacent dock. Never ever. If there are only two docks in the bathroom, leave immediately. If there is only one more available one, leave immediately. The docks are separated by only four feet and a black plastic wall that stops ten inches above the floor. This is nowhere near enough room to conduct your delivery in peace. What I find remarkable is how often people break this rule. Where I work there are three docks, and I have lost count of how many times someone will choose the dock next to mine even when the other, farther away dock is empty. Why in the hell would anyone ever do that?

    The third rule is eat responsibly. This way, when you drop off your load, you don’t make such a scene. If your load turns to liquid on a daily basis, your diet contains way too much fat. Try eating some fiber every once in a while. You don’t always have to go ahead and have that third chili dog.

    The fourth rule is don’t push your pants so far down that they puddle on the floor. The floor in a men’s bathroom is nasty. Don’t let anything but the soles of your feet touch it. If I can see any part of your hairy, white legs, your pants are pushed too far down. And for heaven’s sake, if you’re required to wear a nametag on your belt, don’t let the damn thing touch the ground. I can see your mug shot from where I’m sitting, and I don’t want to.

    The fifth rule is stop trying so hard. Besides making everyone in the dock area uncomfortable, your grunting and heavy breathing and squeezing are just going to hurt you in the end.

    The sixth rule is don’t have a telephone conversation when making a delivery. If you do, I’m going break rule number five and make all kinds of freakish noises until you get off the phone.

    The seventh rule is do not attempt to engage me in conversation while making your delivery. I don’t want to talk to you. I’m pretending you’re not there. I’m playing golf on my cell phone, and I may have a chance to break my previous record, so leave me alone.

    The eighth rule is, if you leave your newspaper in the dock after you depart, don’t take the sports section with you. You can take the “Living” section and “Entertainment” and even the front page. But leave the sports section so other delivery drivers can enjoy it.


    • Becky Palapala says:

      You can hijack my thread any time, Richard.

      Though I think what you have there is a list strictly for men. I can’t say that women’s rules are particularly different when it comes to executing a drop-off, as it were, but women have to go into stalls just to pee, too.

      And women will often converse, pass toilet paper, etc. between stalls while they’re sitting there.

      Even more curious, to me, than public restroom etiquette overall are the differences between men and women in public restroom etiquette.

      • Irene Zion says:

        I didn’t know you were going to have a baby. Girls are good. Boys are good too, but you’re having a girl. It’s nice to know who you’re having. We didn’t have that when I was pregnant. Wait. I’m not talking about toilet stuff. Okay. I didn’t know that the individual toilet stalls were called “docks.” I also didn’t know that the handicapped stall was called a “suite.” How is this information that everyone here seems to know and I never heard of it?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, I don’t know if everyone actually knows these euphemisms or if they’re just kind of accepting them.

          Like, I’ve never called a stall a “dock” or heard it called that, but I’m just willing to accept that’s what Richard calls them.

        • Richard Cox says:

          I don’t call it a dock, either. I was trying to be coy instead of baldly vulgar. Plus it sounded funny to me.

        • Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

          Coxy. Nice photoshoot with Ms. Dunst.

        • Irene Zion says:

          So is a “suite” made-for-TV too?

          @Lisa Rae,
          That picture was snapped of Ms. Dust and Mr. Cox when they were still in their early days together. He subsequently broke her heart and virtually threw her into the arms of another, and Greggie should note, not a writer!

        • Richard Cox says:

          I threw her into the upside down arms of a man-spider. She deserved it.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Irene, I picked up “suite” from an actual person, can’t remember who.

          So some people actually use it normal speech.

        • Irene Zion says:


          Ladies, be warned. Richard Cox is a Lothario!


          I used to just call them all “stalls.” When I think of it, that brings to mind barnyard animals. If I ever have to use toilet enclosures in my every-day speech, (I will first wonder why I have to do that,) and try to avoid using “stalls.”

  10. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Humans are so weird.
    Do you know what I used to do with the digital clock in my bedroom for all of my childhood insomnia? I created math equations to balance both sides of the colon.

    Like this.
    I spend another sleepless night in relative harmony, soothed by a sense of symmetry and order in the Universe.

    That’s a very straightforward example. I’m afraid demonstrating a solution to a more elaborately challenging time would require a sufficiently annoying quantity of algebra and/or calculus to inspire a fellow TNBer to send a team of psychoanalysts to my apartment with ether and a straight jacket.

    Anyway, this is a completely bizarre tangent.
    So is the foot flusher.
    Humans are so weird.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Self-soothing behaviors are often strange.

      Whether it’s repetitive stuff, like the fact that I was a nail biter for years and years, or if it’s just strange habits concocted to combat specific anxieties.

      They must be control-seizing behaviors, I think. Like, insomnia is a pretty out-of-control, chaotic feeling. I can see counting/running calculations combating that feeling. Being the sort of opposite of it.

      So, you know, it’s rational in a sense. At least in so far as you do it because it makes you feel better, even it has no effect beyond that.

  11. I’ve been waiting for the foot-flusher to appear here for a while now. Good stuff. I’m glad to know there are other people out there who over-think things, and to whom chance encounters just happen and happen and happen.

    I was a hand-sanitizer-user for a few months back in Korea. It happened after I got sick for about the millionth time and briefly entered the world of germophobia that so many foreigners in that country enter. I realised that I was getting sick because kids were sneezing in my face and coughing in my face, and then wiping their asses and not washing their hands and then using the same pencils and books as me… So I snapped and began using the stuff.

    And I stopped getting sick. Now I’m in China there’s just no point fighting it. I make use of my countless weeks of paid sickleave because there is no avoiding the wretched nastiness of the surroundings, from the pollution to the shit to the constant flying phlegm.

    • Irene Zion says:

      Does the air where you are have visible particulates? When we were in China we thought Victor had pneumonia, but when he got home his horrible hacking cough went away after a few days. I was coughing too, but normal coughing, not scary your-lungs-are-disintegrating coughing. This was a few months before the Olympics so things might have gotten much better. Have they?

      • Prior to the Olympics the govt actually “washed” the air, so the air you and Victor breathed was probably significantly cleaner than the usual.

        I’ve been fine with it. I have been going from Daegu to Seoul to Taipei to Kuala Lumpur… so I’ve been acclimatized to pollution. But Amy has been incredibly sick for the past few weeks with an awful cough. It might be a virus or something, but it could well be the pollution.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      It will be an interesting experiment to see if you gradually get sick less and less the longer you’ve been there.

      I mean, theoretically, that’s what should happen.

      Except instead of Purell holding the germs at bay, your body will. For free.

      No one likes being sick, but if you’ve got the sick leave, fuck it, right? This is, of course, coming from a person who has scarcely been seriously ill in her life, let alone with crazy belligerent communist germs.

      It must just be Japan where everyone walks around in surgical masks to avoid spreading/getting sickness? You should tell those Chinese they could really stand to take a page from the Japanese.

      They like to hear that.

      • In Japan they wear those masks to avoid spreading sickness, so generally (and these rules have applied less since swine flu and don’t apply on airplanes) when you see a Japanese person with a mask, it means that they’re sick. In contrast, Korean people wear them to avoid getting sick. It’s also a fashion thing… In China it’s just not that popular, although you do see a few very considerate people wearing them when they have a cold.

        One odd observation I’ve made about China is that they are quite masochistic, really. Contrary to Korea’s fierce self-denial and nationalism, Chinese seem to rather enjoy having people tell them what’s wrong with their country… For example, our university and local govt frequently invites doctors and lawyers from abroad to come and berate them thusly: “Chinese can’t drive, so learn to drive. You’re all dirty, so take a bath. Your food smells, make it better. In my country we can actually see the sky.” And so on. It’s painfully brutal, but they clap and cheer and say thank you for the advice.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          So they love to hear this sort of thing just to ignore it? You should offer to guest lecture: Your country is pestilent. Wash your hands.

          I meant, less than that they wouldn’t like criticism, that they wouldn’t like to hear “be more like the Japanese” specifically, just because of the two countries’ history, but maybe that isn’t even the case anymore.

  12. New Orleans Lady says:

    Confession: Aiden and I both use antibacterial gels.

    In our defense, it’s only after coming into contact with lot’s of other children. I just can’t help it. I see these snot nosed kids (WHY THE FUCK DON’T PARENTS WIPE THEIR CHILDREN’S NOSES?!) running and touching everything in the aquarium and then Aiden runs up and puts his hands in something slimy or sticky…gross! He pulls out his stuff and BAM!…crisis averted.

    It’s not like he doesn’t dig in the dirt or roll around with the dog after she’s come in from the river. That kind of dirt is ok.

    Which reminds me…
    There are 3 kids that hang out at my house bc unlike their parents, I don’t think 5 year olds should be able to take off on their bikes from sun up to sun down to go to some random persons house on a completely different street…ANYWAY…

    This one kid that comes over is extremely whiney and every little thing hurts him. I’m not used to this. Aiden is a beast. If he cries, it’s because he’s REALLY hurt and even then he just needs me to see it and then he’s good. No big deal. (He fell backwards off the porch yesterday into a rose bush. I was weak in the knees but he was fine once I saw that he wasn’t impaled by something.)

    “Rub some dirt on it!” I tell him. Even the girls that play over here are beasts. One of them ripped her toenail off and Aiden said, “Rub some dirt on it!” She did. Then went back to playing like nothing. Now, when the the whiney boy screams out in pain and I run to the door to find that it’s just bc his sister bumped into him, I get there just in time to hear the kids say, “Ms. Ashley says to rub some dirt on it! You’re fine! She says it’ll grow back anyway.”

    I love being the voice of reason.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Well, to be honest, I use them too.

      In moderation, where there isn’t a sink/soap available, that sort of thing.

      I don’t use gels on any kind of regular basis, but, for example, I take Sydney through an urban park for her walks, so I’m constantly having to dig garbage and dead things and other gross stuff out of her mouth with my bare hands. I carry gel with me on her walks for that.

      Even then, I use it once a month or less, I’d say.

      Reasonable use is fine, no different, particularly, from washing one’s hands. It’s the ability and willingness to use it excessively frequently that is the problem.

      I’m going to make all my daughter’s little friends call me Ms. Becky.

      • New Orleans Lady says:

        I didn’t like the Ms.Ashley thing at first and would usually correct them. Once the Miss was put away, the children DID play. If you are to be taken seriously as an adult around children, the Miss has to be in place.

        I didn’t ask them to bring it back but once I freaked out on all these little bad ass kids, they added it back themselves.

        • I love the Ms. and Mr. thing. (I love all forms of old-fashioned Southern manners.) I have my son address all adults as Ms. or Mr. as a sign of respect. I wouldn’t let him call you ladies anything but Ms. Ashley and Ms. Becky unless you insisted he call you something else. (:

  13. Art Edwards says:

    That’s a lovely poem, Becky.

    We can bond with our workplace restroom, can’t we? I have some favs over the years.

    Thanks for the intimate peek.

  14. kristen says:

    Nice poem. And I liked the additional words on watching/being-watched paranoia. Can be sorta crazymaking, never knowing w/ anything close to certainty how visible we are–and how exactly this visibility looks–to others.


    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks, Kristen.

      It was, after all, a potty story, so it felt strange to dwell on making it too much more profound than that. On the other hand, there was more to it than that or I wouldn’t have been so fascinated and compelled to tell people about it.

      Glad the “afterword” approach proved functional enough.

      This watching/being watched thing is a recurring theme for me. After I first moved to the city after growing up in a semi-rural suburban neighborhood where the closest neighbors were at least through a dense thicket of trees, I was obsessed with the possibility that the neighbors were watching/listening to us. Mostly because I was constantly peeping out my blinds and listening in on them. :-/

  15. Hank Cherry says:

    This was better than the rapture, and not just because the rapture didn’t happen, though that does play a part in it.

    Thanks. Written with my feet. Not really, that’s gross, my feet are gross.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks, Hank.

      Not sure I how I missed your comment until now.

      You raise an interesting point.

      I cannot stress enough that feet are not, in and of themselves, gross (at least in my opinion). I am generally impressed with dexterous feet.

      It’s the shoes. And especially on-campus shoes. The shoes that go outside and walk through puke piles on frat row. College campuses are gross.

  16. Mark Sutz says:


    I love stories about bathroom oddities.

    It started in 1999 when I was at a hotel for a family brunch and wandered into the hotel gift shop to get a pack of cigarettes and smoke one to cool the discomfort of being at an extended family brunch. I picked up a copy of Esquire and read David Sedaris’ fine and hilarious piece called ‘Big Boy’. It’s a poop story and had me laughing so hard that the clerk must have thought I was drunk at noon on the fine Mimosas at brunch.

    I’m adding yours into my mental list of bathroom stories that all make me wonder if the habits of people in public bathrooms are either a perfect judge of their character or out-of-character behaviors for otherwise normal people.

    And the watching of feet under the stall is something I’ll be thinking about the next time I’m sitting on a toilet in a public, multiperson bathroom.

    I tend to agree with your analysis about the foot flusher, though I do once recall doing it myself when I knew there was a line to get in the stalls and when I spied on the handle something brown, moist and possibly fecal. I kicked my Chuck Taylor’s on the handle and then exited the movie theater and ran the soles of the shoes under an outdoor spigot to clean them off.

    Anyhow, lovely, funny piece. Good luck with new bun.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      Thanks, Mark!

      Public restrooms are strange. That’s a lot of intimacy for relative (if not perfect) strangers.

      You never want to give anything away you don’t have to, I say. Get in, get out; no funny business, no conspicuous high-kicking behavior.

      I think I can make an exception for foot-flushing when there is actual, visible fecal matter on the handle.

      That seems reasonable.

  17. Erika Rae says:

    Dude. My mother taught me you were *supposed* to flush that handle with your foot. Of course, I never thought to ask why the hell it was so high up…

    I think you should do an educational video for YouTube, Becky. You will single handedly (get it?) save us from the next super-virus.

    • Becky Palapala says:

      You know, I have been in the bathroom and heard a mother instructing her children to do this.

      At the time, I hadn’t yet encountered the foot-flusher or fully analyzed the behavior, so I blew it off, but knowing what I know now, you might be eligible to write a memoir.

      I won’t save us from the supervirus, Erika.

      No one can save us.

      No one.

      (It would probably be a super bacteria, actually; bacteria are worse. No vaccines for bacteria. Just pussy, bloody death.)

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