The Flush Heard 'Round the WorldDid you ever look at something commonplace and wonder about it? I have, just today in fact. I wondered about bathrooms. Almost every culture has them, but there seems to be an unending variety of equipment, sophistication, comfort, and so on.
Perhaps I've frequented the wrong places, but I've seen an unusual assortment of odd water closets.
In Kentucky, I patronized a theatre with a maroon-tiled pissoir of pure weirdity. In an amazing twist of architectural whimsy, the urinals were mounted one across from another on a series of chest-high walls. The effect was that while you unloaded your overpriced soda, you looked directly into the eyes of a similarly engaged chap about a foot away. Even grown men, who are generally treated as immodest chattel when it comes to the facilities, found it unnerving.
I once attended a party at a women's, although originally a men's, college dorm. When I entered the gents, I was taken aback to see the sparsely-used urinals converted to a new life among the women. The clever gals turned all 10 into very functional planters. Daisies and poppies sprouted from the unused bowls and a few even sported healthy crops of ivy. I could never understand how the ladies kept the flowers alive though. The party proved that men still used the urinals as intended - places to deposit the digested remains of the beer they drank in the keg room next door.
As in many things, Italians are avant guarde. Bathrooms are no exception. I once spent a week in an Italian hotel with an entire bathroom tiled and drain-equipped to transform it into a gigantic shower. In an astonishing display of efficiency for Italians, you could do your business on the toilet while showering. Talk on the phone too for that matter. I always longed for an Italian hat trick of simultaneously crapping, showering, and telephoning in a single session. Unfortunately, I didn't know anyone to call.
In Turkey, I saw the first of the innumerable "bombsights" you can find throughout the Mediterranean. Those unpleasant pit stops generally consist of a small hole in the floor with a footpad on each side. In my experience, only the finest places provide toilet paper or flush the hole regularly with water or disinfectant. They bring new meaning to the phrase, "That place is like a Turkish prison."
Traveling by train in Turkey exposed me to a bombsight with a twist. While squatting over the hole, I felt a distinct breeze across my nether regions. Looking down provided a rare treat - the sight of railroad ties rushing past the open hole in the bottom of the train car. I pitied those who lived close to the tracks.
I once read that Japan has the world's largest number of outhouses per capita. They may not have as many indoor crappers, but they make up for quantity with ingenious quality. Some Japanese bathrooms sport digital toilets that can automatically flush, provide toilet paper, play music, and waft freshly-scented talcum over your tender bottom. I was always afraid of them. I'd seen enough machines run amok to picture the whirring, whizzing monsters as somewhat demonically robotic visions ala Rosie the Robot from The Flintstones. I imagine they could chomp some serious ass if they went wild at the wrong time.
I've been in bathrooms with the doors removed to prevent workers from leisurely reading the newspaper instead of toiling in the shop. I've used my grandparents' ancient, handcrafted outhouse, replete with genuine Sears catalog wipeage. I once suckered a not very cosmopolitan companion into closely peering into the pot of a bidet while flushing it. I've narrowly escaped the toss of a chamber pot in Sicily and used the gold-plated facilities in a Saudi prince's airplane. I've even taken a little bathroom booty over the years. The matching tops from two Greek bar urinals now acts as bookends in my computer room.
Yup, every society has them and I've been fortunate enough to see the world's best. I'm a lucky man indeed.
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, May 07, 2006