November 20, 2007

Is It Wrong to Urinate in Private?

Print More

Every time I enter a public restroom it’s the same thing: I look for an empty stall and check to make sure the toilet’s not all clogged up and that there is adequate toilet paper. But first, I bend down a little, to inspect for people’s feet poking out beneath the bottom of the stall door. Sometimes the stall doors and walls extend all the way to the floor, and I am out of luck. If it is a large bathroom and there are many stalls, I’ll try to check all of them for feet. That way I can find myself a stall with an empty stall “buffer” on either side, for some added privacy. Sometimes the bathroom is totally empty, and I can bypass this check entirely and get straight to business. Yes!
But then, sometimes, all the stalls are occupied or clogged up, and I am left with a urinal. There was a time when I could use these things with ease, urinating carefree. But that is no longer the case.
I like my privacy now. Even when I have obtained a non-clogged stall with adequate buffer space and sufficient T.P., I am still occasionally fearful. The locks on many public restroom stalls are often old and flimsy, and I tend to regard them with distrust. Sometimes I will have to lean on the door with my free hand while doing my business in order to ensure complete seclusion. I have even, on occasion, done this in the privacy of my own home. Of course, this plan has backfired before when the stall door was designed to open outwards, so that when I went in to lean it flung open outwards, leaving me to fall pantless onto the bathroom floor.
I sometimes wonder what I am so worried about. I have always assumed that it is natural to want some privacy while relieving myself, though perhaps I occasionally take this notion too far. But I wonder why we feel the need to urinate in private in the first place.
Surely our cavemen ancestors had no such concerns. It was so difficult just to find enough rocks to bludgeon a woolly mammoth in time for dinner, there is no way they were concerned with properly secluded bathrooms. No, they just enjoyed their grilled mammoth and afterwards, when it had worked its way through their system, went defecating wily-nily around their caves.
The ancient Romans, as I recall, would do their business into strategically placed wooden buckets. When the buckets got full, they would just dump them out the window onto the street. Geronimo!
I don’t advocate this practice. I’d like to be able to walk down the sidewalk without having to worry about what might be falling from above. I just think perhaps this concern for privacy may not be all that natural.
I wonder when private bathrooms first became common practice. I remember reading one story in The Great Brain series of children’s books about the time when Pa ordered the town’s first “water closet” from the Sears-Roebuck catalog. “An indoor outhouse!” the townspeople sneered, “No way I’m going inside your smelly home!” But it worked, and Pa Fitzgerald was vindicated.
Those books were set in Utah near the end of the 19th century, so perhaps this is when bathrooms became a common thing in every household.
I don’t want to knock the incredible ease of indoor plumbing or bathrooms and all the conveniences that come along with them. But I do think they contribute to creating a sense of discomfort with activities that are, after all, perfectly natural.
So maybe I should address just public restrooms. If we weren’t so embarrassed about our bodily functions, those stalls would seem like a tremendous waste of space, I think. Perhaps some sort of trough system would be better. Everybody could do their business out in the open, without shame, into the same communal waste canal. It would save space and not waste so much water. But then, this might be too much work, to remodel all those restrooms. Maybe just for future restrooms. The point is, maybe we should not be so private all the time. This is true outside the restroom too, I think. Like it says in the Bible somewhere: don’t hide your light beneath a bucket. Of course we have lampshades now; we have moved beyond the oil lamps of those ancient days. But still.