I’ve been out of the blogging world (I can’t stand “blogosphere”) for a few days for reasons I will not explore at this time. I will say only, I went to a rather unusual memorial and ended up sitting on a cactus. My life is a rich and varied pageant.
I will, however, write about the trip back from the memorial. My friend Kyle Chaney and I carpooled to get to the event. Kyle is a good driver and much more familiar with Albuquerque than I. That’s why what happened on the way out of town was so great. Kyle wanted to stop for a bathroom break before we hit the highway. I’m always for such practical plans. He just jumped off I-40 and headed in a random direction and ended up at a Circle-K neither of us knew.
It looked pretty well-maintained and nondescript when we parked, but things changed once we stepped inside. In the middle of the store was an open cooler display of various cheap beers and fortified wines in 44 ounce containers. There was a line at the counter of folks wearing rump sprung polyester shorts and one of them had that little top-knot so in vogue these days. Hideous. There was a broom and upright dust pan full grayish oddments standing just beside the counter. The place had an unusual perfume, a musty melange with top notes of old cigarette smoke and dust, a midrange of Colt 45 and coolant, finished off with the base of perspiration, urine, and ammonia. But what really made the place special was the bathroom.
It was a unisex bathroom with a push hasp on the inside of the door. The tile work was top notch but you wouldn’t notice that until you first noticed that the mirror had been scratched with great energy with words it’s best not to record here. The toilet had the seat up and a glistening sprinkle of what I would call “boyish inaccuracy” on the floor in front of it. On the wall was a condom dispenser that had descriptions of what types of condoms could be bought from it–ranging from something referred to as “like nothing at all” to basically a bullet proof “vest” for the more health and safety minded. At least they had soap in the soap dispenser.
When we left and were back on the road, Kyle made an apology and said that he didn’t know why but he could always find some place terrible like that for a pit-stop. I said not to worry about it. It was not the worst place I ever saw. I had used worse. Obviously I had been to Europe and had been to campgrounds, so I have seen some stuff. Then I thought, well, if you’re strictly talking about roadside public bathrooms in buildings, that one might be in the top five. I’m not talking about latrines or port-a-potties. Those are guaranteed to be terrible. I’m not talking about home bathrooms or semi-private bathrooms. Those are torture for other reasons. Nope. In the great world of quick-trip rest-stops with the public in mind, that one was probably my fourth worst.
Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, and I couldn’t think of anything good or beautiful in the world, and I couldn’t forgive myself for all the ways I have failed to give my students concepts that would save them, I decided to make a list of my top five worst public bathrooms.
Number 5 is an outlier. It is the girls’ restroom that was at Gadsten High the semester I taught there while their regular English teacher was in the hospital. The stalls were made with the doors too close to the toilets and the walls too close to the toilets. I remember thinking, “I may not be able to get out of this.” They also had the old-fashioned super low toilets so that when you sat down you fell the last three inches and your knees were near your ears. You learned sympathy for Gollum in that bathroom. Sitting like that is bound to make you villainous.
Number 4 I’ve already given you. Number 3 was the old bathroom at Clines Corners decades ago. They had metal walls with thick brown paint. Only fifty percent of the stalls had toilets that would flush at all. The smell seemed perverse. That was probably heightened by the incredibly filthy graffiti scratched on the walls, all over the walls, like some obsessive-compulsive maniac spent every hour finding new and horrible ways to insult every female within the community. I hated those stalls, but I had to use them a lot. They scarred my psyche.
Number 2 (ha ha) was on the same highway. In Vaughn, there used to be a unisex bathroom with the air of a square prison cell. It was painted an industrial white, but there were inexplicable stains everywhere. It had just the one toilet in the corner, and often they were completely out of toilet paper. This is part of what made it horrible. The other part was the rusty drain in the middle of the steeply raked concrete floor. This probably contributed to the horrifying experience of having the toilet tilt and wobble when you sat. It was terrifying. Complicating that was the distinct possibility the toilet would not flush at all, and the long line outside the door would have the opportunity to examine your deposit along with their own. And the smell. The smell was an assault, like being slapped in the face with a dirty diaper. Yet, it wasn’t the worst.
Number 1 was a gas station in Tularosa. I don’t think it’s there anymore. I hope it isn’t. I only stopped in this one once. This one had a toilet but no sink. Understand, this scenario might as well be a woman describing hell. The bathroom was perhaps three feet wide with a toilet but no sink. No woman would use a room like that unless she was desperate, and if she is desperate, she is going to NEED A SINK. Understand, this was a room inside a building. It was supposed to be for public convenience, but only a man would think it adequate. Heck, if I were a man, I would have turned around and gone behind the building. Men can do that. Women…only some can, and only at gunpoint.
All right. All right. I think this may be my single grossest entry. If you made it to this, drop me a comment. I promise I’ll respond.