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!”
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)