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Friday, March 18, 2005

Against the Laws of Bog

Washroom-1.jpg
The Bogs. The Cludgie. The WC. The Khazi. The Cottage. The Oothoose.

Circled inside the compressive horrors of Asimov's Caves of Steel, the Lavatories - vast communal halls where ten-tier tenemented citizenry gather for ablutions. The populace divides by gender, and behavior. Gentlemen rigid and straighteyed and mortified, march in here, utterly silent, looking neither to the left nor to the right, seeking in ritual a solitude otherwise denied. Ladies, always contrary and sinister behind closed doors, roll and gyre and jumble into there; singing, chatting, gossiping in shameless, shocking sociability. A future returned to a past: to the past of the Gorbals.

Ugh. Don't you shudder just to think of it? Of conducting all your triple-S necessities in public, amongst your neighbors? My wife scoffs, laughs at me and men - as all wives do - for our ridiculous psychoses? She can not understand us, will not understand us, our reticence, the cloying shyness of our public business? Refuses to believe stories of the washroom? That there are no stories of the washroom! Eyes front, mouth Schtum! legs slightly parted, cheeks tightly clenched. Stare daggers at a pale-painted wall, forget to breathe. Silence. She will not believe that, were it your long-lost brother long-thought dead and rotted in Amazonia stood next to you, that you would not speak a hushed "Hello!" Never there, not at the urinal? A grunt, perhaps, a nodded acknowledgment at the washbasin? But rather like an officer of The Guards who wears his hat to breakfast, a gentleman at piss does not wish not to be engaged in conversation. Nessun parlare.

I wondered, when I read that book, whether the Laws of Bog were universal? Whether men stood uneasily at urinals across the globe, to micturate in silence? I'd thought - I'd expected - that it was at least as american as it is an anglo phenomenon? That here too, would be as there - at least in this regard?

It looked, at first, as though public restrooms in America - for it is only the public lavatories we are addressing here, a man's private thronery being his own domain, where he may and does act as he pleases - that public restrooms in America were equal to their British counterparts? That here, too, a man will keep himself very much to himself? At casual glance it is indeed so, or very nearly so: walk into a Men's Room in America - in California, in New York, New Jersey, New England, North Carolina, Louisiana, Illinois, Oregon, hell, even Texas - the same rules hold; decorum, privacy, silence and solitude. A little lax around the edges, sure, a little too familiar - one may nod at acquaintances upon approach, for example - but on the whole sound. "Sound as a pound", as I might once have said?

But.

But this would not be the Xenoverse if everything in it were completely aligned or completely opposed to the world we left behind? Here in the Xenoverse we fasten on difference, on tiny skews, inconsequential deltas whose chaotic effects far exceed their weight; in short, we fix upon the little things that keep us off-balance, remind us that we're alien?

There are three distinct zones in any public washroom, physically demarcated, at whose boundaries social repression increases logarithmically. Out-to-in they are the Wash Area, the sinks and dryers and paper towels, a kind of decompression chamber where tongues may wag and flap; beyond that, the steady rank of Urinals, of which we have already spoken. Further still, deeper, the sanctum sanctotum of the Stalls. Quiet as the grave. If urinals are ten times tougher than the hand-basins, then stalls are ten times harsher still? Here all sound - whether voluntary or involuntary - must be suppressed; here no birds may sing. While you are here, as balded monks in meditation, you must not be.

Washroom-2.jpgIn the Old World unscrupulous men, shirksters, workshy skivvers often took advantage: they knew that they might spend whole workdays there, reading the daily newspaper, secure from all discovery? They knew that fist-clenched charge-hands would hunt them knocking everywhere, everywhere but there? Honest men avoid the stalls completely. Honest men - responsible men, family-supporting men - prefer to hold it in all day than visit there? Attendance at stall, they know, is an act of desperation, of absolute necessity. Look closely: in Britain - in Japan too, far as I can tell - a stall is a cell, hermetically sealed from visual inquiry. A door, once closed, admits no crack of light where those outsider may peer; and fills the space down to the floor. A three inch floorside gap at worst. In british stalls you are assisted in your privacy.

But, oh my Gawd not here!

In every public washroom I have been there is at least a twelve-inch gap, floor-to-door or wall, all the way around! A gaping maw a full foot high! I find this hugely disturbing. So much so that I can count on one depleted hand the number of my visits spanning six years wide? I simply cannot bear to sit there. It flies against all holy Rules of Bog: a tiny stall that ought to hide, that ought to offer solace and security, instead exposes man's most secret private place to all who happen past! The inside of our underpants, People! - a sight kept secret from our mothers, denied to-this-day our wives or girlfriends - laid boldly at our ankles, revealed Shazaam! as though a silver-plated feast whose dome has torn away in flashy flurry? It matters not one whit to us that we are many many years matured beyond our fearful skidding boyhoods? That nowadays our tighty whities dazzle blue as Daz in every part? That nowadays we sport us rainbow-colored boxer briefs that, still, are always shiney clean? Never, ever, can such a thing be shown. Whatever extremity it was that pushed you to the stall, it magnifies a hundredfold within, concentrates attention towards gripping kegs at knees, into not permitting anything to fall below the line. There are no relaxed expulsions there.

This hideous openness - what to make of it? I blame it on the movies. It must be law, a building regulation, that public lavatory stalls sit one foot above the floor for movies? So teachers, cops, or hitmen can surely creep along the farthest wall scanning for our hero or our heroine hiding there? Who never sit but always crouch with shodded feet upon on the rim, in order to escape discovery? All stalls are built that way so movies work?

Perhaps not? Perhaps instead I have completely misunderestimated the situation - not entirely beyond the realm of likliehood? Perhaps this cult, this U.S of A, perhaps it is evolving past old european precedents by designing the future incarnation of stalls - of stalls so prohibiting that one day no man shall ever use them? Perhaps these americans, so much more puritan than I in other ways, perhaps they do not want me there at all - perhaps they're saying: "Take your slurry with you Home, you Bearded!"

I'd be happy to oblige.

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