Notwithstanding the stunted adult male who still delights in assailing his friends’ senses with the sounds and smells of his bottom – something I never found amusing, even as a not particularly mature teenager – all matters posterior are generally kept to oneself (and, to varying degrees, to one’s partner).
The public lavatory, however, is the no man’s land of the buttocks, the domain where none of the usual rules apply (and I am not even talking “George Michael”).
I have always considered it a matter of some irony that, in the UK, this place is also known as the “convenience” and as the, unmistakably British, “Gents”. Indeed, at Menorah Primary School, NW11, I would hold my young bladder for an entire day to avoid its offensive odours (not least the emetic pungency of the urinals’ disinfecting chlorine bleach).
Truth be told, I have never truly got over this phobia.
In one’s forties, however, the public toilet cannot be altogether avoided. This is especially true at the Israeli workplace, like mine, providing bountiful – and more or less free – buffet lunches (if you get my drift).
The male managers here (of whom I am, regrettably, one) have at their disposal a WC containing two urinals – as always, chewing gum and pube-infested (a treat that the fairer sex misses out on) – and two cubicles.
The seats in each cubicle are less than a couple of metres apart, with a sizeable gap beneath, and an even larger one above, their half-inch partition. Owing to this uncomfortable proximity, in the event that the “Occupied” sign is displayed in either cubicle, I generally prefer to come back later.
Once enthroned, however, company cannot always be avoided. And I dread the sound of the opening toilet door, marking the end of my solitude and privacy.
Naturally, however, I attempt to psychically influence the entrant:
“Go for the urinals . . . pleeease!”
As I hear the adjoining cubicle door swing open, however, I know that my fate is sealed.
It is not socially acceptable, even in Israel, to attempt to identify and make small talk with the person on the other side. Anyway, how would one break the ice . . .
“Hello. Who is that?”
Even more unusually for Israel, it is not even “done” to talk on one’s mobile phone.
But why all the unnecessary awkwardness? I say lower the partitions, and enable defecators to at least see each others’ faces and chat as usual. What could be wrong with that? One wouldn’t then have to sit, in embarrassed mutedness, while all manner of eruption, emission and plopping are occurring just a few feet away.
Indeed, so uncomfortable am I in the toilet cubicle that I often find myself holding my ears to at least partially insulate my senses from this most oppressive of experiences.
Then there is the dash for the exit, to avoid the dreaded mutual revelation of the identities of the hitherto anonymous protagonists.
If I hear tissue-rubbing on the other side, however, I know that I have missed my chance, only emerging after my company has exited. The very last thing one wants is to end up at the wash basin, forced to confront the perpetrator of the ‘offences’ in the basin mirror.
Again, what would one say to him . . .
“Shekoyach!” (well done)?
No. That is most definitely an eventuality to be pooh-poohed.