Thursday, December 9, 2010

Toilets I Have Known

 In England, the British Toilet Association (no joke) hands out an annual and, apparently, much coveted award to the best public bathroom, or "loo," in the kingdom. Inspectors fan out across the realm and choose the winner based on cleanliness and decor but also seek, a "wow" factor, such as holiday decorations and fresh flowers. Why not? I have been to enough horrific and terrifying public bathrooms to be open to anything that might motivate their improvement and maintenance.

When I was younger and more limber, I was less concerned about public bathroom quality. In the 70's, finding a public bathroom was tricky....museums and movie theaters were a possibility but mostly, seekers were turned away. When you finally arrived at Grand Central Station (the Port Authority bathrooms were too dangerous, besides being less centrally located) and marveled gratefully at the sheer magnitude of the main floor women's room, you soon realized that several stalls had been converted into apartments and were, therefore, inaccessible. Complete with pictures taped to their walls and assorted belongings stacked within, homeless women had taken occupancy of some choice locations. Sad but civilized, we co-existed. I haven't been to the women's room in Grand central for many years but I doubt that practice is tolerated today. 

When I had small boys, I had little choice but to learn where they could "go."  Traversing the streets of our busy Bay Ridge neighborhood, a young mother quickly developed a sense of "pee-friendly" establishments and made use of them on a regular basis. It did not take a genius to figure out that it was very easy to blend into a wake at a local funeral parlor, plus in the summer it always nice and cool in the McLaughlin or Campbell Funeral Homes. My boys knew how to blend in and sometimes, I'd sign the guest book as a means of saying thank you.

I developed relationships with local bartenders as well. With very few exceptions, we were welcomed in for a smile and a pee. After all, at the time these were neighborhood bars, open by ten in the morning and doing brisk business by 11. Then a "short beer" cost a quarter and slices of tired bologna and white bread were put out around noon for the patrons to soak up the alcohol. My boys and I would enter the smoky, darkened bars from the sunny streets and, squinting and blinking, would use the black and white tiled bathrooms, undisturbed. Many of the barmen greeted us like visiting royalty--we declined the bologna sandwiches but enjoyed the comraderie.

Finding a public bathroom in any major city can be tricky. With the advent of fast-food chains in cities like New York, some of the challenge has been removed but old-school seekers, such as myself, sneer at the glossy availability made possible by Burger King and mcDonalds.

A hard won pee is much more rewarding than an easy one, I say.  "Susan Says..." congratulates the pub, JD Wetherspoon on their win this year. Keep the good work up and the toilet seat down--an excellent motto to live by in general.

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