Friday, 19 May, 2006


I've about had it with public bathrooms.  After four years as an IT consultant stationed in a dozen different professional buildings, and almost 10 years traveling around the country periodically, I think I'm qualified to express my disgust at the way that public restrooms are maintained.  The shoddy conditions of these facilities is a combination of several things:  poor design, indifferent management, incompetent maintenance people, and, sadly, the unsocial habits of a few visitors.

Do you know how many office building bathrooms suffer from poor ventilation?  We've been building indoor bathrooms for over 100 years.  You'd think by now that whoever designs these buildings would have realized that shit stinks.  Really!  I don't care how often you clean a bathroom or what kind of noxious chemicals you use, without proper ventilation the room is going to smell like feces and stale urine.  Any architect who designs a building that has improperly ventilated bathrooms should be forced to have his office in that bathroom for a year.  I guarantee he'd never make that mistake again.

Some property managers try to mask the insufficient ventilation by installing automatic "air fresheners."  Installed in an unobtrusive corner, these things periodically spray a measured amount of some nasty, sickly-sweet perfume that invariably does an incomplete job at eliminating the odor.  The result, rather than "springtime fresh" or some such, ends up smelling like somebody pooped a pine tree.

Things took a big turn for the worse when those damned automatic faucets were introduced.  You know, the kind that turn on when you put your hands under them?  That particular "innovation" is a perfect example of the "just because you can do something doesn't mean that you should."  I guess that the people who decide to install these technological aberrations are more worried about saving water than they are about their customers' or tenants' comfort.  The damned things were kind of cool from a geeky point of view when I first encountered them, but I soon discovered that they have fatal flaws.  If one malfunctions, it's impossible to turn it on.  Forget getting hot or cold water.  Nope, you get whatever lukewarm temperature (usually close to room temperature) that the management wants you to get.

Automatic flush toilets followed quickly behind the automatic faucets.  These are delightful fun.  There's nothing quite like leaning forward on the toilet seat and having the thing flush.  Oh, yeah.  My butt needed to be showered with whatever was in the bowl.

I don't really have anything against the automatic urinal flushers except I can't totally dispel the idea that the sensor is taking a picture of my privates while I'm standing there.  I know it's an unreasonable fear, but some people are afraid of clowns and I don't laugh at them (or the clowns, come to think of it).  I wonder if there's some name for that fear.  Peepeepicaphobia?

Somebody needs to tell building maintenance supervisors or whoever orders the liquid soap that goes into the soap dispensers that there is an ideal viscosity that should be used.  If the soap is too thin (i.e. liquid), the soap comes squirting out so fast that it splashes off your hand and all over your suit and tie.  The lotion soaps come drooling out slowly and you end up having to press the lever twice in order to get enough in the few seconds that you have to wash your hands.  The rest of the double squeeze drips out into the sink over the next five minutes.  It's not uncommon to see a huge glob of lotion soap in the sink underneath the soap dispenser spout.

The other day I encountered an automatic soap dispenser.  Loaded with a too-thin soap mixture, this wonderful device managed to splash soap on my coat much better than I had been able to do by myself.  It's quite the achievement.

Just to make sure that they annoy everybody as much as possible, management has now installed automatic paper towel dispensers.  The old ones were kind of fun in that they'd happily dispense paper as long as you kept waving your hand in front of the sensor.  I guess the owners tripped to the fact that people like me were being entertained by the dispensers and they requested that manufacturers make some modifications.  Now the thing will dispense whatever length is programmed in and you have to pull the paper off and wait a few seconds before waving again will dispense more paper.  I wouldn't mind so much except that the dispensed towel is usually about .8 square feet--just enough to get most of the loose water off your hands.  You need at least two and often three towels in order to dry your hands.

Still, the automatic towel dispensers are better than the electric air blowers that are supposedly there for you to dry your hands, but serve only as amusement for kids who want to see how far it'll propel their spit.  To be fair, they also help us get our pants wet.  An electric hand dryer in a public bathroom is management's way of saying, "We put our convenience above your comfort.  Tough."

I'm still waiting for automatic toilet paper dispensers, although they might not be necessary.  Those toilet paper holders that only allow a 3/4 turn of the roll before reaching the stop are pretty effective at preventing a user from getting enough toilet paper.  I especially like it when the roll gets about halfway exhausted and I have to fight to get even one square.  You can always tell when somebody has had difficulty with the toilet paper dispenser.  He comes out of the stall looking like he's ready to kill somebody.  It's likely that the guy you think is spending too much time in the stall is really waiting for everybody to leave so that he can slink over to the adjacent stall and get enough paper to finish the job.

Have you seen those automatic toilet seat covers?  The seat is a flat rim coated with a plastic sleeve.  Press the button and a fresh clean sleeve of plastic extends to replace the old cover, which is reeled back into the device.  One can only trust that the plastic is discarded and not reused somehow.  Sitting on one of those things is distinctly uncomfortable.  I guarantee that anybody sitting there will spend no more time than is absolutely necessary.  I don't know anybody who prefers these marvels of modern technology over the traditional flushable paper seat covers.

It only takes a handful of inconsiderate idiots or people with poor hygiene to turn even the most meticulously maintained bathroom into a stinky cesspool.  From the way some people behave in the bathroom, I'm sometimes surprised that they didn't do their business somewhere else.  I often wonder if these malefactors are familiar with how to use common everyday bathroom fixtures.

There is absolutely no reason I should walk into a stall and see that somebody has pissed all over the toilet set.  I do realize that guys get in a hurry from time to time, but by golly if you can hold it long enough to unzip your pants you can certainly hold it the extra few seconds it takes to lift the seat.  No, you don't have to touch the seat with your hands--just catch the edge with your foot, kick it up, and let loose.  One shudders to think what these Neanderthals who piss on the toilet seat do when they encounter a toilet that has the lid down.

Are you really in such a hurry that you can't spend an extra 1.3 seconds to approach the trash can and drop your paper towel into it?  Do you really have to try tossing a wadded-up piece of paper 10 feet across a crowded room, likely hitting somebody else in the head and almost certainly not hitting the hold in the trash can?  There's just no reason not to drop the towel in the trash can--you're going to walk right by it.

People, please review your basic hygiene before your next trip to a public bathroom.  If you want to piss all over the seat or see how big a puddle you can make on the floor, do it in your own darn bathroom.

And property managers, please remove all those automatic time- and labor-saving devices that do nothing well except annoy those of us who just want to use the bathroom.