Nobody likes to talk about it. Awful things happen in there. Things that create traumatic memories - like war, or seeing your grandmother naked. But my therapist says we have to bring these painful subjects out into the open, confront them, acknowledge that they exist, because that's the only way the healing can begin. So, it's time to face them: the twisted things you and your co-workers do in the office bathroom.
I'm not proud to bring this up, but I've spent more time than I'd care to tell you as a temp in various prestigious financial institutions in New York City. And temps are the corporate equivalent of the plantation house Negro, or the Victorian butler: so lowly, so insignificant, that they are never noticed until needed for something. They are not human. They are merely agents through which real people execute distasteful "To Do lists." And, after completing a requested task, they fade back to complete, impenetrable invisibility. An office temp's outfit (khaki pants, button shirt, facial expression that shifts from boredom to bewilderment) is the world's most perfect, most evolved camouflage. The Army, I hear, is testing a new uniform that features a nametag and clothes from the Gap. And sure, living that way will crush your soul into a pure, tiny diamond of bitterness, but it has its perks. For instance, you can conduct your own undercover investigation into the conduct in the little boys room and report your findings to the world - after changing all the names to avoid a costly lawsuit.
Now, I work at Worldwide We Like Money International Fund Group, or We Like Money, for short. You've heard of us. There are some pretty powerful players walking these halls. Men who, in their custom suits and Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, bestride the narrow world like so many nattily dressed colossuses. Or would that be colossi? Well, you know what I mean. They're important and they dress nice. But they all have to pee from time to time. They all have to take a dump. And when they do, you learn their bathroom secrets.
There's Senior Vice President Mike Merewether, who belts out a stentorian "Hello!" to every person inhabiting the restroom when he walks in (including those behind closed stall doors, who Mike recognizes by shoe). He treats his trips to the crapper like a rope line at a political convention. Who knows, maybe he's gearing up to run for office. Or maybe he just likes the way his baritone sounds as it crashes around the tiled walls like bricks thrown in a dryer. Either way, it's clear he grew up in one of those families without any bathroom privacy, where Mom might ask, "How was school, Honey?" while she sat, comfortably pissing, door sprung wide open. Perhaps it was a family without soap too, because after Mike flushes and calls out a booming "See ya," (with the echoes of his greetings still haunting the room like persistent, friendly ghosts), he always hits the door without ever managing to wash his hands.
There's Jack Bucky, one of the most senior partners of We Like Money, who has absolutely no shame about strolling into a stall, dropping trou and blasting out an astounding, wet, bowl-shaking duece. And when he re-emerges - a tad winded but otherwise the picture of contentment - he's just as nonplused as when he went in. Once, during a particularly cacophonous poop, I swear I heard him whistling. How do you look a man in the eye again after you've heard that? And how does he face his audience when he walks out? Perhaps it's just one more unspoken entitlement that the wealthy and powerful grant themselves: "You will bring me coffee. You will pick up my dry cleaning. And you will listen to my disgusting bowel movements." The more I think about it, the more sense this idea makes. Most of us wouldn't think twice about "dropping some kids off at the pool" with the family dog at our feet, so why should Jack Bucky be concerned that invisible temp boy is in there when he opens the bomb bay?
But my favorite bathroom secret has to belong to Anthony Pecorino. Anthony's not an executive with the company. He's a research associate, so he's only slightly more visible than I am. I never see him in a suit, but he does wear a tie, which he knots so precisely and so savagely that the little silk ball sits angrily at his throat like a second adam's apple.
Oh, Anthony. Poor, poor Anthony. It seems Anthony has a little problem with germs. He's a little germ phobic. And I guess that's not too uncommon, when so many of us carry around little tubes of antibacterial goop to slather on our hands before meals or after we pet the dog or, I don't know, touch a monkey. Anthony's normal routine is this: after he meticulously washes and dries his hands, he pulls down one last paper towel and uses it to protect his freshly disinfected hand as he opens the bathroom door. He balls up the paper towel and palms it discreetly once he makes it to the hallway.
Now, Anthony's germ phobia strikes me as sadly futile in a city like New York, where there are more bacteria parts for per billion in the air than oxygen, where you can stand on a subway platform and play spit on the rats. But it's not totally crazy. And it's not as foul as Jack Bucky and his poo symphony.
But last week, Anthony took his germ thing to a whole new level. While I pretended not to notice, Anthony took a paper towel to the urinal, unzipped, dug out his little buddy, and peed while he held himself through the paper towel. He was afraid to touch his own weiner! He treated his jimmy like a toilet seat! I couldn't believe it. When he was finished, he flushed with the same paper towel-covered hand - a gesture that I had to admire, in spite of myself, for its well-planned efficiency - and then I had to abort my spying mission because he looked my way.
What a sad state of affairs for Anthony. I imagined him bringing a girl home, but refusing to touch her without paper towels wrapped around his mitts. I imagined the girl, horrified, forced to wear latex gloves before she's allowed to get near his unit. Of course, Anthony has hips like a woman in a classical painting, hips which he likes to accent with really tight pants, so he probably doesn't have to worry about the whole "bringing a girl home" problem. So, I felt better for him after I considered that.
The bathroom is the great corporate equalizer. Even CEO Chuck Gordon has to saunter into that bright little room and, under those cheerfully humming fluorescents, do his thing. He picks his nose while he pees. When he does, he reminds me more of that smelly kid from school than a chief executive. And when you're a temp zombie subsisting on a diet of boredom and vending machine Doritos, it's nice to see the Chuck Gordons of the world reduced to smelly kids. It's nice to know their yucky bathroom secrets. Nice in a petty, juvenile way, but still. Nice.
And how did I get to be such an expert? Well, isn't it obvious? I can't do a number two until I'm alone in there. That's my secret. How do you think I managed to witness all this stuff?