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Philosophy in the Loo.

Philosophy in the Loo. By Julie Seyler.


Bathroom graffiti was an art form in the ’70s, and nowhere was it more varied and interesting than in the men’s rooms at Rutgers University. Of course, there were the crude illustrations of exaggerated phalluses, assorted orifices, and the two, conjoined, drawn with varying degrees of skill. But it was the wordplay that got me. I recall a wry trilogy of quotes:

“To be is to do.” Socrates
“To do is to be.” Sartre
“Do be do be do.” Sinatra

Today, online, they sell t-shirts that display those quotes.

Or a couplet, beginning with this plaintive cry in a looping, extravagant script: “My mother made me a homosexual!”

To which some wag replied: “Cool. If I send her the wool, do you think she’ll make me one too?”

There were also pithy declarations: “Patty Schasty does the nasty.”  

Which could be viewed as a slur. or an endorsement, depending on your point of view. Ms. Schasty’s purported phone number accompanied the post, but I didn’t take it down. I wonder if anyone ever calls those numbers? It’s like a country song about loneliness – your phone number’s on the bathroom wall but you still can’t get a date.

Once I saw a listing of 40 slang terms for female genitalia, all in different handwriting. They ranged from disgustingly misogynistic to poetic, and after a week had spawned a companion list, equally extensive, covering the male organ. Puerile?  Absolutely. But fascinating, too, to see how much mental energy people expend on the subject.

One incident was particularly disturbing. I was in the basement bathroom of the main library one afternoon, using the facilities and enjoying the artwork on the stall wall.   To my right, above the roll of toilet paper, was the notation, “Right here Wednesday 4 p.m. good time had by all!”  As I toyed with whether that was a historical note or an invitation to a future meeting, someone noisily entered the adjacent stall. I realized with a jolt that this was Wednesday. I checked my watch – 3:55.

As my new neighbor went about the usual business, I wondered: is this anyone’s idea of a romantic setting? I made ready to exit, but as I hastily pawed at the roll of paper I hit the separating wall twice, making noises that a hopeful suitor might easily interpret as an eager knock.  My heart sank – there seemed to be a corresponding rush to paper on the other side.

I quickly exited the stall, strode to the sink with eyes downcast, and began washing my hands. The occupant of the adjacent stall appeared alongside me, and began to do the same. I considered furtively glancing to my right to see if he was checking me out but realized that if he were, and if he saw me do that, wouldn’t he think I was checking him out? Is that the drill?  Furtive glance followed by knowing wink followed by an invitation to my stall or yours?  Yikes!

Luckily, he finished washing his hands, and simply walked out, clearly not seeking a rendezvous. I left quickly too, afraid the true author of the scrawled invitation might show up slightly late, searching for love. I had washed my hands thoroughly, but I still felt slightly soiled.