Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My parents are so proud.

Today I want to discuss something near and dear to my heart: bathroom etiquette on the job, and with that, something I think would horrify Emily Post: “poop-offs”. That’s right, I said poop-off.

Pooping at work is inevitable – we spend a good nine hours there daily and eat god-knows-what at our desk – but I still find the jaunt to the bathroom butt-clenchingly shameful and angst-ridden. You see, I work on a floor with mostly women – and I pass the same gals to and from the bathroom. To get to the porcelain god(dess), I pass my HR colleagues, then the Finance ladies and take a left at marketing. They are all women (except for the singular soul who sits right outside the women’s bathroom – poor boy – I’m quite positive he’s on to my prolonged bathroom breaks).

Going to the bathroom at work is a highly-calculated endeavor. First, I assess the time. If it is 4:30 pm, and I know I’ll get home by 6:00 pm (given no traffic, but that has obvious risks, let me tell you), I ascertain the severity of my sphincter-spasms. Yes, girls, sphincter. Usually, I have no choice and have to get to the bathroom in a very timely fashion. Matt, on the other hand, can “hold his poo”, and claims he can even – wait for it – “suck it back in”. (I have high hopes our children will have this bodily gift – what better thing can we bestow on them?)

Once I determine the inevitable, I cruise by the bathroom, checking it out. Or, in more dire cases, I shuffle rather indiscreetly to my destination. Once I get to the bathroom, I do a thorough overview. Are there any other women in the bathroom? No? That’s all I need – this is valuable time and no way am I going to waste it. I immediately proceed to my business.

Let me take a moment and talk about what you should do if there are women in the bathroom. First, ascertain their whereabouts. Are they just about to leave and applying lipstick? Then you’re probably safe; I say wait it out. Urinating? Safe again – they’re coming to a close on their bathroom visit. Sitting in the back stall feigning a cough? GET OUT IMMEDIATELY. You’ve just isolated a pooper. They are patiently waiting for the other bathroom patrons to leave (in my case, not-so-patiently, cough, cough) and are doing whatever they can in that 4x4 stall to act nonchalant. For some women it’s a toe tap. For others, a light cough. The more sophisticated among us will crinkle some toilet paper. Professional poopers employ all three.

When I isolate a pooper, I don’t even pretend I was entering the bathroom to check if there’s lettuce in my teeth. I just get out, lickidy split. It is the right thing to do. You then have two options: go back to your desk in defeat and wait ten minutes (for good measure), or, try another bathroom. I work in a four-story building that has a bathroom on each floor. You might think, “My god, you’re in a bathroom Mecca! A virtual Shangri-La of bathrooms! You have four at your disposal!” NOT SO FAST.

I have a cautionary tale for you. I once thought that too, and started using the second-floor bathroom for my elimination escapades. I was a poop bandit, reaching the second floor on a back stairwell and slyly sashaying to my destination. I loved this bathroom; first the lighting wasn’t nearly as ghastly. Secondly, I could usually poop in peace in the warm glow of that bathroom. (This was disserted territory; a bathroom for the taking!) Thirdly, there was an industrial-sized can of Lysol in the stalls. What more – I dare ask – could a Crohnie want?

Those were good times; I used that bathroom for a year and a half. Now, sure, audit sits on the second floor and SOX is what again?, but I never thought they’d be on to me. I mean, they’re busy working on spreadsheets and crunching numbers like good little accountants! But because of the nature of my job, I know a lot of folks in the company since I staff them on recruiting engagements, and they apparently know me. And that’s when it happened: a pipsqueak, shiny new hire said, “Boy, Kathryn, you’re up here a lot!” as I exited the bathroom. About ten other accountants followed his weasel gaze, and there I was. A little flush from my recent bathroom activity, and a little more flushed from being called out on it.

What is a girl to do?! I took the stance that I usually take when I mess-up at something, or when I most recently almost overflowed a toilet at a fancy wedding: I own up to it. “I KNOW!", I said, feigning excitement. “That bathroom down there is always FULL, with all those WOMEN!” (High voice.) “Really?” he replied, eyebrow high, nose wrinkled. MY GOD MAN, let it be! Does he have no bathroom etiquette at all? When you see a girl repeating making a beeline to the toilet, you keep your trap shut! So now when I have to go, I usually just use my floor’s facilities. I figure, why get the whole company suspicious when I can just raise eyebrows on my floor?

Lastly, I want to discuss poop-offs. A poop-off is not to be taken lightly. First, the definition. A poop-off (noun) is when an individual finds him or herself in a public restroom with another individual, and when they are both waiting for the other to leave so they can, you guessed it, poop in peace. It’s a tough place to be.

Education is the only way to combat poop-offs (see the above, where you should immediately leave if you suspect a fellow pooper has already claimed pooping rights). If I do find myself in this situation, I employ the coughing, the toe-tapping, and the paper-crumbling technique. You know: just to get my point across that I’m just settling in, and am not going anywhere. If that doesn’t work, I have to make a decision: find another bathroom or do the poop-and-flush (with cough for added measure) technique. At this point I get very stubborn (I was here first!), and usually use the latter. You would think the other women would think, “Jeez, she’s a free spirit (sort of), doing her business, I shouldn’t be as shy, too!” and then we could both simultaneously do what we came there to do. A poop free-for-all, if you will. But that is never the case.

I once asked Matt if poop-offs existed for men, and he said he use to subscribe to the poop alone mentality, but then said hell with it, and now freely poops when, and where, he pleases. The freedom! But, I added, “Do you ever get embarrassed from the farting noises?” and he said there’s generally some farting noises going on in a men’s bathroom anyway, so it’s okay.

So, I ask you ladies: let’s join together and get off our high-horses about bodily functions. They are real, they exist, and if you’re healthy, hopefully you’re cleaning out that colon everyday, anyway. To the women who already subscribe by this mantra, my hat’s off to you. But for the rest of us? I still hold out hope, as I sit there, in a crowded bathroom.

One last thought: If you see size 11 (don’t laugh) J.Crew flats tapping awkwardly on the ground, please leave.


  1. One techinique you could utilize would be to take advantage of the bathroom cleaning schedule. I know at my work the bathrooms are cleaned every other day at 4:00. Not sure how usual it is for cleanings to be so predictable, but I know I can count on a few minutes of solitude around 4:15 when my only companion is the sweet scent of bleach.

  2. Our bathrooms are cleaned at night, so unless I'm working 'til 8, it does me no good. Come to think of it, I hope they're cleaned...they're a bit gnarly.

  3. Fantastic post! And oddly in sync with what the subject of my next post was going to be. I really don't understand why we as humans design public washrooms this way! I was once in a restaurant which had about 10 individual wash ROOMS each with a solid closing door - a real door, a sink, garbage and paper towel disposal. Add a can of freshener and it would be paradise.

    I think the entire concept of these metal partitions is an abomination. And, washrooms should have loud exhaust systems or at minimum some music playing. *sigh* My work used to have a single stand along wheelchair accessible washroom with it's own solid door, sink, exhaust system. But they permanently closed it due to slobs leaving messes. Grr!

    Public washroom design needs to be re-thought from the ground up.

  4. BrightSide,

    Yes, I should of covered this, and I absolutely, whole-heartedly agree: bathroom design is inherently flawed! The metal partitions are a cruel joke; you're right. And I think loud exhaust should be mandatory - like an airplane...loud, white noise.

    The restaurant bathrooms you described sound like heaven, by the way.

    I once got caught in a store bathroom with two 13-ish girls. Girls that age are cruel and they laughed at me, snickering and heckling. Even though they were silly, rude kids (and acting like a normal bratty kid), I was still mortified. There is just something that is inately very, very private about going to the bathroom.

  5. First off, I see a Pulitzer in your future. Second, always carry a book of matches. Wave the lighted match around the toilet as there's something about the sulfur in the match neutralizing odors. It works, and no, no one will smell the match burning. Rude 13-ish girls? Use your size 11's and squash 'em. Seriously, I would have some witty and cutting retort at the ready for ill-mannered brats of any age. Mom

  6. Well, if writing about poop gets me a Pulitzer, then I think I've found my beat.

    Poop = Pulitzer. I like that.

  7. Oh how I miss bathroom discussions and adventures with you. I think of you ever so fondly whenever I have a particularly grand movement at work.

  8. I know who this is! Anonymous, I miss our jovial bathroom humor. Aw, those were the days...