As foreshadowed in last week’s post, I came away from my drive to Ohio (and back) with a new observation about public toilets. And yes, you shall be reading about it now. Are you sitting down?
It has taken some effort to keep it PG; I hope you’ll appreciate that. And, oh yes, the men may have a harder time relating. I hope they will read it to the end.
You know what public toilets look like, how they work, what to expect. The question then, is: do you sit or squat?
Way back in the “good old days,” (i.e., the late 1950s to very early 1960s in my case), my grandmother often took me on day trips into New York City from my home across the Hudson River. Unfailingly, she would advise me to squat over the toilet seats during those inevitable visits to the public restrooms.
I learned easily, pulling my little girl panties out in front of me (as I wrote in my memoir, At Home On the Kazakh Steppe) and bending over for balance. Importantly, for this story, I thought nothing about this at the time. It was simply how one did “it” when in a public bathroom. It was “normal” (since everybody did it). What was there to even think about?
Into adulthood, I continued to squat and on the rare occasions when I did not, I was generally sorry. Need I embellish?
So it was, on my drive home from Ohio last month, that I suddenly realized I no longer squatted in public rest rooms. And, I hadn’t for at least a year, maybe five years. I may quickly glance down there first, but I haven’t met an uncomfortably damp seat in a very long time. This, inevitably, got me thinking.
I decided that this is an omen that bodes well for our country.
Stay with me here, I may be scraping the bottom of the barrel, but I need
ed this omen.
First, it speaks to me of the power of the individual. Yes, it does.
Consider: It takes ONE PERSON who refuses to sit, one person who squats and misses, to ruin it for those who follow. So, as long as we are all sitting, we keep the seat
clean dry for those who follow. We each take a risk that we may be “wrong,” but as long as we all take that same risk and sit, the actual risk gets smaller and smaller.
Second, this microbial smorgasbord bodes well for us as a community of homo sapiens who wish to
thrive at least survive together.
Did you know that public restrooms are not as dirty as you might think? Well, I didn’t either. From the online University of Chicago Medicine comes a report on a study by Jack Gilbert and his colleagues (all listed among my tags), enticingly called, Ecological succession and viability of human-associated microbiota on restroom surfaces.
In lay terms, lead author Gilbert says, “I go into a public restroom now and think, microbiologically, this is same as my living room, or the same as my bathroom at home. They’re just somebody else’s bacteria and not mine.”
Microbiologically. That is the critical word. Isn’t it microbes that we exchange each time we shake hands with someone or, better yet, kiss them? It’s something we homo sapiens have been doing for eons, thereby minimizing the likelihood that an unexpected microbe will wipe us out, as was done, our history tells us, far too many times in the era of world wide exploration.
By sitting on those public toilet seats, we’re expanding the capacity of our species to cohabit with a wider range of “strangers” — a welcome sign, it seems to me. Hand shakes, kissing, toilet seats: a natural progression?
I’m going to take it and run with it. It’s the best I’ve got. You?
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