Another compelling survey crossed my desk this week (those of us in the media are fortunate to receive vital, life-impacting survey results like this almost every day).
This new survey has to do with the bathroom habits of Americans. It was conducted on behalf of the National Association For Continence, who, as you know, are engaged in an ongoing vitriolic debate with their arch-rivals at the American Society For Incontinence.
The NAFC survey shows that the average American spends about an hour in the bathroom every day. I’m not sure whether this is all strictly toilet time, or if it also includes brushing your teeth, singing in the shower, and picking up the little subscription cards that fall out of all the magazines you’re reading on the bowl.
If it includes time in public bathrooms, they’ll have to subtract the large amount of time wasted while attempting to dry your hands with the forced-air hand dryer — which, in the history of humanity, has never sufficiently dried a single hand on the first run-through.
You are no doubt wondering about the methodology used to conduct a survey of this magnitude and importance. Turns out that some research company was hired by the NAFC to “randomly poll 1,001 Americans in shopping malls nationwide.”
Stop and picture that for a moment. You’re at the mall, somewhere between the department store perfume counter attack mob and the Cinnabon place that malevolently pumps the aroma of their sweet-smelling baked goods through the mall’s air ducts in such a way as to guarantee that your nose pulls the rest of your body directly to their counter.
Suddenly, a man with a clipboard approaches and asks in hushed tones if he can talk to you for a few minutes about your personal bathroom habits. Instinctively, you shout, “Security! I’m being accosted by a perv over here!” End of survey.
Or, perhaps you prefer to play a little game with him by replying, “Thank goodness! I’ve been walking around for days waiting for someone to ask me some bathroom questions! I can’t wait to share my most intimate toilet experiences with you! Please, ask me about urinal cakes and cushy seat covers and how many sheets of Charmin make the perfect amount to guarantee a nice clean tushy! Yes, let’s go. I want to tell you my most personal toilet habits and talk lavatory lingo!”
Instinctively, the polltaker would shout, “Security! I’m being accosted by a perv over here!” Again, end of survey.
Most people feel awkward talking about their bathroom habits. We’re not even comfortable using the bathroom in someone else’s house, because it means entering alien territory.
Remember when you were a kid at a friend’s house and had to go? Nothing was where it should have been. Your friend’s Mom used potpourri or something else to keep the scent clean, and you were going to befoul it. She had towels that were far too nice for your skin and nothing that looked like the Ivory soap you had at home. Instead, there was a bowl of shell-shaped things that seemed to be only for decoration. There’s a classic scene in “The Flamingo Kid” with Matt Dillon that captures that ambience perfectly.
I relived this horror recently when my wife and I were having dinner with some friends at a fairly nice restaurant.
At one point, I excused myself to use the men’s room. This is usually a hit-or-miss proposition at a restaurant, because the bathroom is more often than not located in uncomfortable proximity to the kitchen and, on a busy night in most places, gets about as much sanitary attention as your average gas station restroom.
This one was different. In fact, it put to shame every other bathroom I have ever been in. Once I had finished my business and returned to our table, I had to tell everyone how amazing it was.
The room was spotless, as if it had never been used. No splattered water marks on the mirror or anywhere. A candle burning in the corner (!). Liquid soap in a real silver dispenser. Magazines fanned out on the counter for your reading-while- seated pleasure (all the magazines were current and trendy — no two year old Newsweek here — you had a choice of Bon Appetit or something similarly upscale and obviously not chosen by a guy). Real faucets, not those find-the-sensor automatic gizmos that dispense water for nearly 3 seconds before shutting off automatically. If any place had ever lived up to the euphemism “comfort station,” this was it.
I was intimidated. Let’s face it, I came in here to make at least some kind of a mess. Did I dare even leave a drop of water on the sink counter after washing up? I got the distinct impression that as soon as I opened the door to leave, an employee would rush right in to rearrange the room and return it to its original pristine state, ready to serve the next customer.
At least there wasn’t an attendant in there. Talk about careers that attract no attention at a Job Fair. I can’t help feel sorry for guys who have that job, as if they’ve been punished for losing Hell’s Lottery.
Still, I speak for all men when I say that this whole bathroom attendant concept makes us ill at ease. We don’t want some guy hovering while we drop trou, like a plainclothes cop ready to bust George Michael.
Worse, the attendant always greets you with a “Hi!” or a “How ya doin?” This catches up by surprise because it violates the First Rule Of The Men’s Room: NO TALKING!
Guys want to get in, take care of business, and get out, without any hassles and without speaking a word. I have seen heated conversations between two men come to a complete stop at the door on the way in and then resume once they left, with nary a syllable exchanged in between.
I don’t know if there’s someone serving a similar function in the ladies room, so, as a public service, let me clue the women into what you’re missing.
In addition to his hovering responsibilities, the attendant has a display of carefully arranged toiletries for sale, from a bottle of after-shave to a hairbrush to a bowl of mints (mmm, yummy, men’s room mints!). I’d guess there’s more material sold via the aspirin-and-condom vending machine on the wall than through his countertop display, but he’s still set up to move some merchandise.
Next to it, inevitably, is the tip jar. Normally, you wouldn’t even think of giving the guy any money for patrolling the poop palace. Unfortunately, he has commandeered every paper towel in the place and is holding them hostage like an American spy plane crew that’s crash-landed in China. While you may be able to wash your hands unassisted, you can’t dry them without your pal handing over a two-ply.
Is there a more disturbing level of commerce than this? Aside from being paid to do a bathroom habits survey for the National Association For Continence, I mean.
One last thing to ponder: if all restaurant employees must wash their hands before leaving the bathroom, does that include the guy whose job it is to clean that bathroom? And then, once he cleans up the mess he has just made, does he have to wash again, thus creating a new mess?
Put that in your bowl and flush it.