For the past five months, I have been working in downtown Victoria’s Central Building. It is a hell of a piece of architecture: marble floors, old-style elevators (it was built in 1900) and offers a great view of the city. Working here has been a great experience for me. One of the few drawbacks of the building, however, is that there is only one washroom for every two levels of offices. I have noticed, during my residency here at the Central Building, that there are peak hours of washroom use. For example, if you are sitting on that toilet between 10:00 AM and 10:08 AM, you had better expect to have someone knocking on the door.
A certain etiquette has developed to deal with this minor irritation. If you are in the washroom and hear someone fumbling with the lock, you are to say in a polite, yet firm manner, “Occupied”. Upon hearing this, the person who is trying to get in should return to their office, since it is kind of awkward to have the person be able to put a face to your smell. On a few occasions, I have violated this unspoken rule, standing outside the door while the person finishes up. Usually the person looks quite sheepish as they exit; their eyes, apologetic.
Today, I decided to take a Monday Magazine with me into the washroom. About five minutes in, I heard someone attempting to unlock the door. “Occupied” I said as I turned the page, but instead of the usual silence of resign, I heard a voice come from the other side of the door. “Dude, I really gotta piss!” The voice was almost frantic. “Ok. Just finishing up here…” “Umm, could you please hurry?” At this point, I almost snapped.
A violation of the etiquette had clearly just taken place. I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about occupying the washroom, nor should I feel pressured to exit. I sat there perplexed for a few seconds before digging my heels in. “Um, there are certain things you can’t rush, man. I will be out in a minute.” I folded the Monday Magazine and placed it upon the toilet’s cool ceramic tank. “Did I just hear a newspaper in there?”
I was caught. I have always been secretive about the fact that I like to read upon public washroom toilets. My common practice is to stick a magazine or paper into the back of my pants before heading down the hallway to the washroom, lest anyone think that my time in there is less business, more leisure. This bastard was privy to the fact that I had smuggled reading material into the washroom at the expense of his precious bladder. A confrontation seemed inevitable.
Counter-intuitively, I found myself stalling as I washed my hands. Instead of using the paper towels, which are provided, I used the hand blow dryer. I didn’t do the usual “thirty seconds and finish the job with my jeans” thing, either. I rubbed my hands together at a comfortable pace until they had dried. I was hoping to God that he would have left, but I could hear him breathing behind the door.
I opened the door and smiled, pretending to be oblivious. He was visibly angry: “What the fuck, man?” “Why, whatever do you mean?” “You—taking your fucking time in there, what the fuck? Its not a fucking library.” “I wasn’t reading” (lying is my default in times of conflict). “Bullshit, you weren’t, what the fuck is that? He pointed at the Monday Magazine on the back of the toilet. “That isn’t mine” “Bullshit. You’re a real fucker.” “I’m sorry. I was reading. I read the whole magazine as a matter-of-fact. I was reading this one article…” My plan was now to talk at length, avoiding the topic of conflict. I knew he had to pee. I knew that he wanted nothing more than to close that door and relieve himself. He wanted it even more than he wanted to make me feel shitty about taking my time in the lou. I had him. I continued to talk: “about this new play that’s happening in Fernwood, it is about dwarves…” He gave me this look, a mixture of confusion and disgust, before slamming the door in my face. I was victorious. As I walked back to the office, I swear I heard the rustling of paper come from the bathroom.