Teaching public rest room etiquette is difficult when your commode is watching

Robo-urinal Few things can make you look stupid faster than being outsmarted by a public urinal. Especially when it occurs in front of your four-year-old son to whom you are trying to impart rudimentary public rest room etiquette.

I don’t know if potty training is a seasonal thing, like the migration of geese or fluxuating interest in the Kardashians, but I’ve noticed a lot of people talking about potty training their children lately. Apparently, there was a lot more dancing around the May pole nine moths ago than I knew about. Regardless, all this talk about Fruitloops in the toilet got me thinking about my son graduating to the use of a public urinal eight years ago.

We had no problem with the initial stages of our educational process, which began with the proper entrance, i.e., avoid all eye contact and enter the rest room as if you had called ahead and reserved a specific commode. If one isn’t open, go directly to the nearest sink and wash your hands until something becomes available. The trick, of course, is to avoid washing you hands for so long that you appear to have severe obsessive-compulsive disorder.

The reason we did all of this was to create inconspicuous “busy time” in order to avoid any unnecessary waiting in the rest room.


Because being in a rest room is a lot like being on an elevator. Lots of strangers avoiding eye contact while occupying a limited space. The difference is that, on an elevator, you’re probably not going to see someone with their pants down should the door suddenly fly open. I didn’t feel my son was ready for this aspect of the human experience, and in all honesty, even at age 38, neither was I. So when we saw an open urinal, we left the hand drier and quickly moved on to the next crucial lesson in rest room etiquette:

Staring at the wall in front of you while doing your business.

My son was admittedly at a disadvantage here due to the fact that he was unable to see over the top of the urinal. That left a pretty boring view of white porcelain, which, I’m proud to say, he managed to keep constant eye contact with. In fact, he was so good at it I think he might’ve hypnotized himself. My point is that he did very well and earned himself an unfettered flushing opportunity — at which point we both realized there was no handle. In fact, there didn’t appear to be any flushing mechanism whatsoever.

My son was deeply troubled by this, so I explained that some toilets flush automatically by watching you with a “magic eye.”

He nodded, and I knew, thanks to me, that my son now believed commodes were watching his every move. He didn’t say this, of course, but I could tell; mostly by the way he turned his back to the urinal and looked over his shoulder before zipping himself.

To demonstrate that things were okay, I took his hand and we stepped aside waiting for the flush. After 30 seconds or so, nothing happened. So I stepped in front of the urinal, then moved away.


I waved my hand in front of it.


Ran at it.

Hopped up and down.

Commanded it to “flush!”

Still nothing.

By now my son was watching me from the far side of the rest room. And even though I knew today’s lesson had already deteriorated into an experience setting his potty training back two years, it was now a matter of principle. If nothing else, my son would know that his father wasn’t a quitter! Hopefully, in the years to come, he’d be able to draw on the strength of this moment — and how it took a janitor waving an empty mop handle to finally convince me that there was no need to flush since, after all, it was a new waterless urinal.

That’s right.

No water; no flushing.

And no way I’ll get my son back into a public rest room again before he’s 40.

Especially not with all those commodes watching.

(You can write to Ned Hickson at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

41 thoughts on “Teaching public rest room etiquette is difficult when your commode is watching”

  1. don’t forget the sinks. they are watching us also. how else do they know when to have the water running to wash our hands.
    can you imagine if they did the same thing with the toilets, and it flushes too soon!

      1. They do have automatic toilet flushes – it always scares the crap out of me when you stand up and the darn thing flushes before you finish rising. Splashback – yeuch.

        1. I HATE those things too! They never give enough time to stand up before flushing, leaving you feeling like you just finished a slide at Wet-and-Wild water park. I was going to make a reference to riding the Log Jam but thought better of it. Partly because you probably aren’t familiar with it, but mostly because using the phrase “log jam” and toilets together in the same sentence is really icky :p

          1. We have log jams here too – both kinds. Especially in my house, where we are off the mains and have a cess pit! Lovely weekend chore.

  2. Nothing makes me more awkward in a public restroom than being able to see the legs of the woman next door. Their sight just makes the whole experience real for me: the noises, the smell, everything. Until then I can just pretend that I am on this island, left to my own thoughts, epiphanies waiting to happen.

    1. I totally get what you’re saying… of something waiting to happen. And nothing freaks me out more than looking down and seeing a woman’s legs in the stall next to me…

    1. That’s it — I’m done! There’s no point in carrying on with this blog when I have already reached what will certainly be the pinnacle of my achievements as a…….
      ….. oh, wait… I have yet to receive the coveted Eye of Newt Gingrich lanyard! Rest assured, Gregor, that I will continue to write, never forgetting the Eye of Yak is upon me. Sincerely, though: Many thanks 😉

  3. Whilst normally I think men have the advantage in the whole being able to pee standing, not being caught out a long way from the nearest toilet or worse, having to sit on a seat pre-warmed by another strangers butt or wet from their lack of aim (yes, women too can aim), I am glad that we don’t have the other problem – entering a male rest room must be like entering a sound or movement activated minefield, one wrong ‘move’ and who knows what will hit the fan.

    1. Hahahaha! It’s absolutely true, and it takes some training to over-ride your instinct to turn when you hear someone come in or step past you, especially when you’re in a stall…

  4. And here I thought women had restroom challenges! My poor son has no idea what’s waiting for him. I just might have to steal your “magic eye” explanation. It’s a perfect way to describe the automatic flushing toilette system. My little guy still gets freaked out about the whole thing. That, or he gets so close to the toilette that he runs the risk of getting sprayed by the water!

    1. Hahaha! That’s a definite risk factor! Especially if you’re less than four feet tall. The stall toilets aren’t much better, even if you sit down, because they NEVER give you enough time to stand up before they flush. If you’re not careful, the suction can literally pull your pants off. The paper “cowboy hats” that you can lay on the seat can provide just enough clearance to eliminate the chance of getting sucked to the seat like a tennis ball to a vacuum nozzle.

  5. Would you be so kind as to outline to me how I re-blog this wonderful piece? What I do after I click “Press This” perhaps? And if it’s permissible to share it?? I’m still laughing …

    1. Thanks, Judy 🙂 I believe there’s a button at the top of your screen near the “follow” button that says “reblog this.” I think you just push that and follow the instructions. If not, then I think the ‘Press This’ button will do essentially the same thing. Is that vague enough for you?

  6. You have a thing for toilets? Tipical guy. You can speak against it but I know how you guys like your time there. There is some sicret that you do not want to share with us women, but the smile where you come out of there is just… Come on, tell us

    1. Guy Rule #33 dictates that I cannot share the Restroom Secret with anyone who 1) isn’t a male and 2) is under the age of 16. That is the age where the wisdom of elder men is passed along to the next generation, revealing how, with enough concentration, you can momentarily teleport back in time exactly one second… wait, did I just blow Guy Rule #33?!? Dang it!!

  7. I work baseball and share one bathroom with all men except my one other colleague (and sometimes she isn’t there), and I WISH some men paid attention that OUR bathroom doesn’t have automatic flushing…. they may have forgotten that there is a “magic eye”

    1. Arrrrrrh! That’s a real peeve of mine with my boys. I started working early with them on putting the seat up, flushing and putting the seat DOWN when they’re done. I’ve gotten them out of bed in the middle of the night just to wipe the seat or put it back down. There may not be a “magic eye” where you’re at, but an “evil eye” might work just as well. Either that or start sprinkling water on the toilet seat when you’re done. 😉

  8. Hahaha damn, for the first time in my life I will stop being jealous of the simplicity of using a male restroom vs. a female one. What a trauma!

    I hope that doesn’t stop you from using them completely 😉

  9. I’m pretty sure that there should some kind of memo sent out through the secret male news network (SMNN) when changes in technology like this dry urinal come out. I, for one, will not be asking any questions in the restroom if I have issues. It would easily eliminate some truly awkward moments!

No one is watching, I swear...

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