{ Ritualistic Practices Observed While Using Public Restrooms }
Jennifer Meccariello

Using a public restroom is a commonplace and strange event. Everyone has to use them, yet experiences, rituals, and behaviors range from the lax to the very regimented. The whole process can be broken into six steps, commonly shared between sexes and among the various styles of fixtures, receptacles, and floor plans found in these very necessary rooms.

The Entrance
I start by surveying the room. How many stalls? The general date of production on the hardware and fixtures of the sinks. What kind of drying apparatus: paper towels; hot-air blowers; an automatic towel pull-down machine, perhaps one that not only allows you to pull it down, but mechanically sucks it back up, allowing for extra-clean toweling? I tuck this knowledge away, able to make an informed decision about hand-washing once I emerge from the stall. This assessment takes roughly seven seconds.

Male, 29: If there are partition urinals, that's usually a pretty good bathroom, but it doesn't happen very often. I get the stage fright, so I try to find a urinal that's two or three spaces away from someone else, if it's a big bathroom. I do unzip while I'm walking to the urinal. It saves time. Why not?

The Choice
If the restroom is similar to one commonly found in a cineplex or turnpike rest stop, there are several different ways to choose which stall you will use. Because there may be well over ten stalls, it is generally better to use the stall closest to the door, if available. This is a good rule of thumb because it goes against most women's thinking: the first stall will be the most used, so avoid it. Do not avoid it. It is the loneliest stall. Loneliness equals cleanliness.

urine troubleMale, 23: I think the only thing you actually look for in a urinal is how much urine is actually on the floor below it, because it tends to puddle. You don't really like the low urinal, the little-kid-slash-midget urinal—you can pee in it, but you could also pee on top of it if you're not really paying attention.

If the first stall is occupied or someone has defied logic before you and left residue of their illogical behavior, I systematically go down the line of unoccupied stalls, kicking open each door to get a feel of the general level of filth contained within.

Female, 23: [Speaking of restroom at her work] To the right are three small stalls, but I never like to go in them because someone is always in them. To the left is a line of longer stalls. I always look at the small stalls first because I like to wash my face and brush my teeth at those sinks more because no one will see me. But I always walk back there to check just in case. Then I go to the stalls on the longer part of the wall; I either go to the very first stall or the very last one. I don't like the middle stall. I don't like the handicapped ones, either, because more people go in them.

These are my restroom turn-offs:
1. An unflushed bowl
2. A bowl that looks as if was perhaps flushed, but to no avail
3. No toilet paper

Situations that can be worked with to produce a comfortable situation:
1. A wet seat
2. Trash laying about on the floor
3. A broken toilet paper dispenser or gaping sanitary napkin receptacle.

Male, 23: The rule for choosing a urinal—there is a certain, set process. If the ones on the end are open, take the ones of the end. If they're not, you want at least a one-urinal buffer space. The ends are ideal. If there's five and the ends are being used, I go in the middle. If there's five and slots two and four are being used, I'll use one or five. If one, three, and five are being used, I'll check the stalls. If two and five are being used, I'll use one. That way you can turn a little against the wall and shoulder-block them out.

This is, of course, in the case of a multi-stalled facility. In the case of a smaller restroom, the choosing portion of the regimen must be eschewed, and I simply move on to preparing to alight the throne.

The Hook
It is important to pause and note the position and height of the courtesy hook, once you have safely locked yourself inside your small space. (If there is no lock or if it is broken, the entire elimination process is, of course, hindered by the vain attempt to keep the door closed. You can't spend too much time worrying about this—it will, inevitably, fly open at some point, or will be pulled open by another woman.) Is the hook too high, making your purse and coat prime targets for swiping? Is it on the side or down low on the door? Is there one at all? For the former situation, a coat may be hung on the hook, but a purse must be stowed either on top of the toilet paper dispenser or on the back of the toilet. If this isn't an option, I simply hang it around my neck. Ideally, though, the hook will be shoulder height, either on the back of the door or on the right wall.

Female, 25: If there's a hook, I'll use it. But a lot of times, I'll just put the handle of my purse around my neck. Especially if I'm at a bar.

The Receptacle
Once I have safely stowed my belongings, I focus on the seat. First there is a general wipe-down requiring a fistful of toilet paper, regardless of seat condition or cleanliness. If the seat was dry to begin with, only one wiping is required. If the seat had droplets on it for whatever reason, a second swabbing is performed. Then I pad the seat with toilet paper. I do not hover—I find it barbaric, uncomfortable, and it contributes to the aforementioned droplets. (Ellen DeGeneres based an entire stand-up bit on this—I suggest watching.)

Male, 24: If it's wet, I wipe it down. But I do not sit on toilet paper.

If the seat is oblong, three pieces of toilet paper are used, one on each side and one in the middle, regardless of whether the seat is joined in the middle-front section or not. If the toilet is old, it invariably has a round seat, and in this instance toilet paper must be lain over the entire seat to protect the back of your tush. This takes approximately one and a half minutes from hanging up my coat to finally sitting down.

Male, 26: The big thing is, when you go to the bathroom, the first decision you have to make is if you have to urinate or do you have to defecate? And if it's a defecation situation, first of all, is the bathroom clean enough? But ultimately, what no one else seems to do, which I think is weird—we call it "building a nest" where I come from. You take as much toilet paper as you possibly can and wad it up into a huge, enormous ball and you drop that into the toilet so that you're not going to get any splashing. It will, conceivably, clog the toilet.

At a former place of employment of mine, there was an automatic toilet seat that, once pressed, would, for lack of a better word, blow a fresh plastic-wrapping around the toilet seat, taking away the entire process of cleaning the seat. It was amazing.

The Flush
After I've finished business, flushing is a no-brainer: kick the handle. I transform myself into a tae kwon do heroine and boot it, not matter how high or low, big or small the handle.

Male, 23: I never, ever flush a public urinal because they never, ever work—it just puts more water in there that never drains. And I don't want to touch that whole thing. If I'm using a stall bathroom, I hit it with my foot.

Washing Up
Hand-washing is a ritual unto itself, but I am ahead of the game because of my advanced knowledge of the sinks, etc. Washing with soap is the only acceptable method, unless there is no soap or the dispenser is just deemed unacceptable for a number of reasons: it is broken, clogged, or cruddy, or any combination of both.

Female, 19: There's a sink at the far end in the corner that has the soap container open instead of having a built-in pump, and I use that one because the other sinks don't have soap. I hate the faucet taps. Sometimes I'll clean them off because I can't stand looking at those.

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