Silly Soapbox: The Rectangle of Filth

The Rectangle of Filth.  AKA, public restrooms.

I don’t enjoy them.  Really, who does?  (If you just raised your hand, shame, shame on you.)  Even little children hate them – have you ever seen a little child in a public restroom who isn’t covering their ears with a slightly terrified look in their eyes?  I believe little kids are more sensitive to the darker spiritual forces in this world, which makes me think we should all enter public restrooms trepidation and respectful fear.

Even though I attempt to avoid them as much as humanly possible, the facts are: I have three kids, and I’m pregnant.  Thankfully, my two oldest boys are now fully capable of handling themselves in the bathroom unassisted, but with a three-year old and a bladder that’s fighting for real-estate with an ever-growing fetus, it’s nearly impossible for me to run errands without having to enter what I like to call The Rectangle of Filth.

Entering a public restroom is a risky endeavor that makes my blood pressure sky-rocket, my palms sweat, and my stomach churn.  It’s a race to get in and out of that putrid enviornment as fast as humany possible – which is never fast enough, especially with a pokey pre-preschooler in tow.

My daughter has learned to make a game of it – the sort of game that rides on my nerves the whole time.  She keeps one hand firmly planted on one ear to protect herself from the noise around us, but with the other, she takes days off my life.  Thanks to my insistent repeating of the phrase, “Don’t touch anything.  Don’t touch anything!” she now enjoys putting her little, chubby finger as close as she possibly can to the stall door, the toilet paper dispenser, anything, and say, “Wook, mom.  I not touch anyfeeng!”  She’s also been known to utter a few “Hoopie, hoooooopie!!” at me, which is the ‘scary’ ghost sound she likes to make when something is creepy.  For those of you who think three-year old’s humor can’t possibly be sophisticated enough to mock, you haven’t met my daughter.  She clearly finds my discomfort in public restrooms a source of entertainment.

There are two scenarios you can face upon entering the Rectangle of Filth.  The first, I like to call Russian Roulette.  You’re faced with an otherwise empty restroom, and all the doors are closed.  You must choose one to kick open (because we only open doors in public restrooms with either our feet or our elbows) out of the availiable stalls.  If there are five stalls available, there’s a 99% chance that 4 of those stalls will be unusable due to a plethora of conditions that we all can easily picture in our minds.  And there’s a 75% chance that the one acceptable stall won’t have any toilet paper.

If, by some stroke of luck, you manage to find the acceptable stall first, and it’s equipped with appropriate amounts of toilet paper, you breathe a sigh of relief, open, close, and lock it with your feet/elbows, and get down to business, promising yourself you’ll play the lottery later that night.  Because really, finding the first stall in acceptable use condition just doesn’t happen.  Ever.  It’s literally the luckiest day you’ll have all year.

The second scenario is called the Que from Hell.  There’s a line.  A long line.  Your daughter is almost-but-not-quite touching everything and everybody saying, “Wook, mom.  I not touch!  I not touch!”  You’re seriously considering a straight-jacket made for toddlers just for these moments, while trying not to dwell on the fact that waiting in line means one thing:  You’ll only get a chance at one stall.  A stall that was previously occupied by somebody’s derrière immediately prior to yours.

Here’s the icing on the cake.  Watch the person coming out of the stall that you will soon occupy.  THEY LOOK GUILTY!!!  Why?  What on earth were they doing in there that they should look guilty about?  It can’t be the act itself – we all do it…so what were they doing, and why do they feel so guilty about it?

This is so much worse than the Russian Roulette scenario.  Sure, in RR, you face the danger of having to see a multitude of things that can kill your appetite for weeks to come, but this guilt that strangers carry out of the bathroom stall with them…it keeps me up at night.  What were they doing in there?

I have no solution to the public bathroom.  Handwashing and anti-bacterial gel once free of the Rectangle of Filth are all I can come up with.  But I do have one favor to ask:

If you find yourself in a Que from Hell experience, for goodness sake, when you leave your stall, LEAVE IT WITH CONFIDENCE.  Don’t inflict more stress upon the masses who are waiting patiently to relieve themselves in the Rectangle of Filth.


29 thoughts on “Silly Soapbox: The Rectangle of Filth

  1. Julie Glover says:

    Hilarious post! I totally relate. Personally, though, I would like to find the person who invented the toilet seat cover and give them a big hug. That flimsy piece of tissue is brilliant – especially when you use about 3 of them like I do.

  2. Anthony V. Toscano says:

    This is not just hilarious, Myndi, but your tale of “Twahlay Twagedy” has forever defined the term High Concept for me.

    My similar experience has to do with puddles and salt-sweet sea air. I live near the ocean, and men’s shoreline public “restrooms” (don’tcha love that term? I’ve never rested while visiting the public variety; no magazines that interest me). Well, those beach-side nightmares oftentimes sport puddles on their cement floors. The trick to maintaining your sanity while relieving your body of unavoidable stress is to bend your mind into believing that *all* of those puddles are just spillage from the surfers who changed out of their wetsuits and into their tuxedos.

    But the aroma sings a different tune.

    I use the Tiptoe To The Toilet method of approaching my intended destination. It looks much like a graceless waltz when properly executed.

  3. jbw0123 says:

    Zig zagging between laughs and wanting to offer unasked for comfort and advice like, that alcohol-based sanitizing gel really works! It cuts down on infections in hospitals and according to studies by– um, yeah. Great blog. By the way, if you’re ever in town, twitter me for an a-list of the best public restrooms; you know, the ones that are lightly visited, full-length stall doors, flattering lighting and automatic everything.

  4. Gene Lempp says:

    Hilarious post, Myndi! The guy bathrooms can be far worse. When in the queue from hell, as a guy, part of the fun is trying to figure out who has good aim and who doesn’t. eck.

    Wonderfully written post 🙂

  5. timlobrien says:

    Great post and something we can all relate to. I used to dread taking my two children on trips during the holidays. They are getting older and it is not such a challenge, but when they were both younger I had to take my daughter into the men’s room with my son. Not a pleasant experience for any of us!

  6. Coleen Patrick says:

    Myndi this is such a funny–but true post! Remember that scene in ET when they come into the house with those hazmat suits and tunnels? That’s what i think public restrooms need!!!!

  7. No Reimer Reason says:

    My biggest pet peeve is all the women “hoverers” out there who do not WIPE THE SEAT when they are done, because the seat inevitably gets hit when you hover. Even those lovely tissue paper covers can’t help the next unfortunate person that much.

  8. asraidevin says:

    Always choose the first stall if possible. It’s the least used. I read it somewhere once a long time ago.

    Laughing. I shall never go into a public restroom without thinking of it as a Rectangle of Filth.

    Ye tho I walk through the rectangle of filth
    I fear no germs, for hand sanitizer art with me
    Thy soap and thy seat covers lull me into a sense of secruity
    Thou preparest a stall before me well stocked with toilet paper
    Thou annoinst my hands with soap. Hopefully when I flush the toilet will not runneth over.
    Surely goodness and cleanliness will follow me all the days of my lives
    and I can pee at home from now on.

  9. Rachel Funk Heller says:

    Myndi! great post. I can recall a particular rectangle of filth here in Honolulu in what used to be the downtown woolworth’s. the bathrooms were in the basement and they charged you a dime to use it. If you didn’t have the right change you were in deep ka-ka. Literally. Worst bathroom ever. Good thing, years later, they demolished the building.

  10. Patricia says:

    Oh Myndi – the rectangle of filth is priceless. I shall forever call a public restroom the rectangle of filth. I’m not quite as creeped out about it as you apparently are, but I do get the heebie jeebies whenever I have to use a gas station unisex bathroom because there simply is not a McDonald’s or Starbucks around and my bladder simply explode if I have to wait for the next acceptable fast food establishment.

    Nice post.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  11. Karen McFarland says:

    Well, I think you just about covered every aspect of the joys of using the “Rectangle of the Fifth” Myndi. Yes, children and public bathrooms are definitely a recipe for disaster. We germ-a-phobics apparently are not alone. I too live near the beach. Try using the public restrooms during the International Surfing Championship with a gazillion people around. Yuk!

    Love the poem Asrai!

  12. alicamckennajohnson says:

    OMG this is so great! What about using those Clorox wipes? You keep some in a baggie in your purse. And yes a three year old can mock you.
    When we went to Vegas- hopefully the only time I ever have to go- I liked seeing the interestingly decorated bathrooms.

  13. Prudence MacLeod says:

    Yep, Clorox wipes, and Myndi, I always leave with a wink and a smile for everybody still in line ’cause I know i’m feeling better than they are. great post. Thanks for the chuckle. Prudence

  14. Debra Kristi says:

    I am so laughing at Asrai’s Psalm right now. LOL

    Fabulous high concept post Myndi! I think you nailed it! 😀 I hope your daughter doesn’t develop some odd fascination like mine did and start telling you every time you walk into a new establishment that she has to go potty. Mine did. It was a lie! She just wanted to go sit in the bathroom. Who does that?

  15. Naomi Bulger says:

    Oh, don’t. You have made me laugh and cringe! I remember once, waiting outside a cafe in New York for a friend using the restroom inside, she came running out and said “Quick, let’s go!” Apparently she had been somewhat… unwell… and the toilet had taken one of those charming and unfortunately common NY turns of filling up rather than flushing down. There was no plunger nearby. As we ran away, she said “There was a person waiting!” with a mixture of horrified guilt and impotent giggles. I hope that person wasn’t you and your daughter!

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