"The Case of the Faceless Bathroom Bandit (and my PPA)"
When I was fifteen and attending some sort of school function in a small town near Asheville, North Carolina, a World War II veteran stood beside me at a neighboring urinal and made eye contact while telling me about the war. Rather than listen to his story about some battle he had fought in, the steady stream of his eighty-year-old urine consumed my auditory senses. The war might have taken his sense of social manners, but it had left his bladder intact. I tried to match him, stream for stream, but not even a tinkle would come out no matter how hard I pushed or pleaded with my bladder. Even worse, his military suit and his story's implication that he had killed people reinforced my feelings of inadequacy, ramping up the pressure to get just a respectable stream out to prove that the following generation had not turned into totally emasculated little boys. Despite my best efforts, the longer his story went on, the more people waited at the urinal behind me. Staring down at the porcelain bowl, I could swear that I could see some of the last user's piss begin to evaporate.
As he wrapped up his story, I gave my dick a couple of fake shakes and flushed my urinal, hoping that no one noticed my deception. I walked around until I found another less populated restroom and slunk, shamefully into a stall, believing I could finally pee in seclusion. As the dam finally broke loose, I heard the door open, but paid it no mind as the stall gave me some illusion of privacy. Shattering this illusion, a laugh broke out above me. I looked up to see an upperclassman holding himself up over the stall's wall and looking down with a sadistic grin. I tried to cover my dick, my stream now stopped, but this would prove too little too late.
"Saw your dick," he said, laughing, while letting himself down off the partition. Others began to laugh too—other upperclassman, no doubt. I had no response other than a sort of surprised, king of angry, but mostly confused grunt. I could not finish peeing until I heard the door close behind them and their laughter recede down a hallway. I had just been the victim of a bathroom drive-by.
Nine years later, I've found myself in a standoff between three police officers and an alleged, faux-shitter while waiting to use a bathroom on the Santa Monica Pier in LA.
"Hello, anyone in there?" a police officer states, wrapping on the door with his knuckles. "This is the police."
"Hey? Yeah. I'm here."
Somehow, I've gone from covertly watching street performers, filled with guilt at having no cash to give them, to wondering if I'm about to be in the middle of a shootout over the length of time someone has spent in the restroom. The cops and the two other men who are waiting for the bathroom behind me are all crammed into a narrow alleyway that houses a row of individual, one seater restrooms (1) with a ratio of at least 18 female to 3 male stalls. (2) The amount of supply cannot keep up with the demand, and has, no doubt, contributed to this standoff happening in the first place.
"Sir, we have reports that you have been in the bathroom too long, and before that, you were in another one. What are you doing in there?"
I've long been plagued by Public-Piss-Anxiety (PPA) that leaves me avoiding urinals to shamefully sequester myself in a stall.
It now dawns on me that this man might not be someone with bowel troubles, but a public masturbator, illicit drug user, or bathroom bandit who simply wants to watch the world burn as men outside piss their pants waiting for the toilet. Like all bathroom degenerates, he uses the middle toilet, no doubt a conscious choice placing him close to as many people as possible. I silently envy this man's self-confidence or lack of social awareness that allows him the ability to both use a middle stall and feel no shame at spending a police-fetching amount of time in it. Unlike this man's seeming comfortability with spending a considerable portion of his life in the bathroom, I have never had such lack of shame. I've long been plagued by Public-Piss-Anxiety (PPA) that leaves me avoiding urinals to shamefully sequester myself in a stall where I lose any semblance of publicly performed masculinity (although I still stand GOD DAMNIT), as I know all of the other men in the room have identified me as small dicked, weak-streamed weakling. Other anxieties of mine I can trace back to their root, but my PPA seems to be almost God-like—that which exists without beginning or end.
"I'm pooping," a slightly pathetic, but surprisingly confident voice replies.
"Sir, we're going to need you to come out of there or we're coming in."
Coming in? I'm much too close to this escalating situation, and the cop is clearly not buying this "I'm pooping" story. I start to look around for potential escape routes before they bust down the door. I'm imagining a scene from a movie where the SWAT team brings one of those miniature battering rams to knock down a front door, and as soon as they do, a torrent of bullets meets them. I really do not want to die this way.
"I'm pooping!" he says, his voice now increasingly exasperated and self-righteous at the prospect of being raided while taking a shit. If he has a gun, he will go out believing he is a martyr for the cause of constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. As someone with less than optimal bowels, I feel his status as a martyr would be somewhat justified for all the wrongs committed by a poop-shaming society.
While the cop turns to his backup to discuss what should be done about the Santa Monica Pooper, I think back to when I was twenty-two, teetering on the side of a jet ski in the middle of a placid, empty lake with my pecker out trying to empty my near overflowing bladder filled with light beer and water before the rest of the bachelor party found me. I couldn't help feeling like I was in some sort of reverse panopticon, with countless peeping tom's watching from the woods or over-priced vacation homes to see if my yellowed stream would grace the warm, brown Virginia lake. After almost losing my balance and falling into the water multiple times, I decided that the only privacy I would have would be to either make land (3) somewhere to find a tree or jump into the lake and piss my swimsuit. I immediately dismiss the latter option. Another mental block I have does not allow me to relieve myself easily while submerged in water—I fear a baby minnow will sneak in midstream and make a home in my urethra. Yet the more I thought about the former option, the less attractive it got. I was sure the shore would have snakes, and the jet-ski wasn't mine, (4) so I jumped into the water, pulled down my bathing suit (because I'm not an animal), and, finally, after a period of mental gymnastics and labor, raised the temperature of the water surrounding me by at least 2 degrees.
After I made it back to the pontoon boat where the rest of the bachelor party was drinking, swimming, and pissing in the water, invariably from both the side of the boat and in the water (swimsuits still on, the animals), I handed the jet ski to someone else and climbed aboard. No one asked me what I had been doing, but still I announced I had finally found a place to pee. My friends congratulated me, but also threw in some shame after I told them that I had to pull down my pants. I didn't know why I had told them this bit of information so readily—for the joke of it all? For my inability to process shame healthfully? For the fear that peeing in the lake had given me some sort of infection, would inevitably send me into a coma, and that when my friends found me immobile on the kitchen floor that night I would need them to know where my sickness had come from? My little brother broke that train of thoughts as he said something about parasites climbing up my dick. The future groom started to argue with him saying that a lake in Virginia wouldn't have it and that what he's talking about is only in South America. (5)
I listened to them argue and sat back in a seat on the boat, turning to a new anxiety. I wondered why I would choose to risk a parasite up my urethra rather than exposing myself to the possibility of someone else seeing my fully exposed member. I concluded that I am of weak character and confidence. I could be the face of the body-negativity movement.
I wondered why I would choose to risk a parasite up my urethra rather than exposing myself to the possibility of someone else seeing my fully exposed member.
Back in Santa Monica, I don't have to worry about a tadpole making a home in my urinary passageway, but my body has once again come into danger as the cop has turned away from his backup and moved back to the door.
"How long do you need?" the cop says, playing along with the "I'm pooping," story. "There are people waiting."
Shit. I'm one of those people waiting. Now the officer has indicated that I have a stake in this fight, as if I might have ratted him out or, for some reason, cared about his time spent on the toilet. If the man leaves the stall, I could be marked a bathroom snitch, or at least an enemy. I look around to see if anyone has left the other two bathrooms yet—no one has. I don't have a place to hide.
"Give me a minute! I'm pooping."
"Okay, sir. One minute." Deathly serious up until this point, the cop shows a slight smile at the absurdity of telling a grown adult that he has "one minute" to finish pooping. Is this the career that this man wanted when he joined the police force? Who had he upset to be placed in charge of the Santa Monica Pier's restrooms? The restroom cops back away from the door and talk amongst themselves—probably discussing strategy about how they are going to raid a tiny stall without losing anyone or causing unwarranted civilian casualties. With the cops away, I'm less concerned about getting caught in the middle of a shootout and more worried about being falsely-identified by the alleged, faux-shitter as the guy who sold him out. I don't know if I'm worried about my physical safety or that I may never be able to redeem this faceless bathroom-bandit's opinion of me. I suspect it might be the latter option. I don't like what this might imply about me.
30 seconds remain before judgement day, and my mind turns to when I was twenty-three years old, just beginning a new relationship (though at this stage, it would be a few months until we actually called it that) with my now-girlfriend. I had been sitting on my toilet for at least ten minutes, while she sat on the couch a few feet from the door. The conditions for me to be able to pee like a normal person had been met: the fan was on, the door locked, and I was able to sit to pee without any ostracization. Yet, I was unable to coax out a drop. I knew she must have thought that I was shitting, but we were not yet at the point where I would dare do that near her. I felt the shame mount as I moved further and further away from any acceptable bathroom time—whether that be for shitting or pissing.
For a moment, a glimmer of hope showed itself as I dribble a few piss-poor drops into the bowl, but then the faucet closed again, and was left to continue to push. I wondered if I could rupture my urethra or bladder by straining too hard. (6) I tried to use some reverse psychology on my bladder, by standing up, relaxing myself for a moment, and then focusing all of my energy into my urinary passage way, but this did not trick my subconscious. Apparently, years of shame, anxiety, and bad luck when it comes to bathrooms would not so quickly resolve based on some cheap, on the fly, psychological maneuvering. Defeated, I sat back down, bent forward and rested my head in my hands. Finally, I felt the sweet release of an internal faucet turning. As I finished, I wondered if it was better to (A) not mention why I've been in the bathroom so long, (B) tell her that I was having stomach issues, (C) tell her the truth that I haven't been able to pee this entire time. I've been in the bathroom long enough to be in severe, clinically dangerous diarrhea territory and I was not sure if this is one of those things that cannot just be politely ignored. Besides, I generally deal with my anxieties by calling attention to my insecurities before anyone else can. By the time I left the bathroom with my mind made up that I would tell her the truth, she had fallen asleep. I was so grateful at that moment, I think I fell in love.
With approximately fifteen seconds before the Santa Monica Bathroom Patrol turns into Santa Monica SWAT, the door unlocks, and my heartbeat picks up, as I choose between either a totally disinterested or fuck-the-pigs-you-should-be-able-to-shit-in-peace expression, but the door doesn't open and I've wasted 10 seconds of my life thinking about something completely pointless. As the final five seconds of the minute wind down, the cops do not seem to be keeping their word, as the timer has run out and no assault has yet to begin. Perhaps the faux-shitter knows that by leaving the door open, he will buy himself some time before being forced from his throne, or maybe the cops never actually intended to keep to their timetable. Intense psychological warfare is playing out right in front of my eyes, and most disturbing, I don't know who's winning (though I suspect I, an innocent bystander, might be close to losing). As a stall opens up and I race into it, relieved that I will not be falsely identified as a restroom-informant.
I do not feel optimistic about my ability to perform with the setting and people surrounding me, but upon exposing myself to the toilet bowl, I feel the sweet euphoria of a full-stream splash into the basin.
At twenty-four, with the trauma of these memories and many more at the forefront of my psyche, I approach the toilet and observe my surroundings: toilet paper on the floor, piss strewn haphazardly about, graffiti on the walls, but a fully enclosed space with no chance of any human or snake to come under a partition. Despite the safety of the enclosure, a new set of anxieties present themselves to me in the question: how the hell am I supposed to pee with the bathroom bandit beside me (though we are separated by a full wall), a line outside the door, and three cops only two feet away? Despite these comforts, an opening at the top lets any restroom-patron hear pissing and shitting from the surrounding bathrooms regardless of gender. I do not feel optimistic about my ability to perform with the setting and people surrounding me, but upon exposing myself to the toilet bowl, I feel the sweet euphoria of a full-stream splash into the basin. I know the cops, the faux-shitter, the women in the bathrooms close by, and the men outside the door waiting can hear my raw phallic power. After my golden waterfall runs its course, I exit the bathroom convinced that my anxieties have been conquered. I look around for the cops and the bathroom bandit, but the situation has seemed to resolve itself in the 73 seconds (approximately) that I have been conquering a childhood demon. A little disappointed, I leave the pier, never knowing the fate of the bathroom bandit, but more than disappointment, I feel confident in the future of my bladder.
Later that night while waiting in LAX for my plane to board its flight to Raleigh-Durham, I piss in a urinal twice (only in the corner, but still), signaling my affliction's defeat, but on the flight itself, this hope gets dashed, as I try to pee moments before takeoff. My pissing takes the form of a game of "red light, green light" as a stewardess bangs on the door telling me that I need to get to my seat, so they could begin take off. I complete the journey, but I don't do it in a way that I can be proud of.
Two days later, as I piss in a trough (7) at a local college bar, I'm unsure if I've had a breakthrough. I check the door hoping that no one will walk in and piss beside me with no partitions present. I'm able to pee, but I'm also aware that if anyone came in, I would stop midstream and make a quick exit before our streams could be compared. This knowledge combined with my stop and go tinkling on the plane convinces me that I have not yet been cured. I leave the door and order another drink. (8) I console myself at the bar while waiting for my beer, telling myself that even if I'm not totally cured, I still pissed in a Santa Monica Pier Restroom with a faux-shitter beside me, cops waiting to forcibly enter, and countless other people at all sides of me. Even if not a complete break-through, perhaps I can still celebrate this small victory. Yet, I know that I will not pee in public again tonight and not because I will not have to. I will hold my bladder until I can be completely alone with a strong stream dropping into the basin before me, as I sit scrolling through my phone. I should celebrate my victory instead of dwelling on my relapse, but, you know what? I'm a little pissed.
1. Think a slightly classed up porta-potty as there's no danger of tippage, but its lack of proper air filtering, over-use by a variety of shady characters, and its inability to shield the general-public from your most private of sounds keeps it in the class of peeing-and/or-diarrhea-only-establishments
2. This is not entirely accurate, but it is emotionally true.
3. "Make Land" is not a phrase I use regularly. I'm not an 18th century pirate (Thank God. No way I could pee over the side of a ship into a nest of sharks.).
4. I can only imagine that I would cause a shipwreck if I tried to land the jet ski on the shoreline. I will not be the next Robinson Crusoe due to my PPA.
5. This friend is largely correct, but I should note that I would describe him as a lakeophile and is not an entirely unbiased source when it comes to lake knowledge.
6. Despite having my phone, I did not look this up, nor have I attempted to since. I've taken an ignorance is bliss approach to my bladder. I think it might deserve a good rupture for all of the emotional pain it's put me through over the years.
7. Why these have not been banned remains an enigma to me. Like Confederate monuments, they deserve a museum rather than to be displayed prominently for public use. They are a piece of regressive history—not a tradition to be kept alive or celebrated.
8. The cliché of someone trying to drink to forget their problems despite the drinking being the source of their problems is not lost on me as I order my oversized beer.
Christopher Shaw is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and has a master's degree in English along with a B.A. in English and a B.F.A. in creative writing. He currently works as an editorial assistant at an editorial management company in Cary, North Carolina.