This is an ode to the public washroom.

Let me explain.

Womens' Washroom Sign

I had high hopes when the washroom of my new office building was being built a few years back.  The only good thing about our old office washroom had been the “magic” mirror, so named because it seemed to make everyone look taller and thinner (albeit with misshapen heads).  Other than that, it was a 1960s relic with chipped toilets and dingy corners.  But this new washroom, oh I could see it in all its glory, even before it was built.  And, I had all kinds of tippy-toe-tree-top-World’s-Tallest-Freestanding-Building hopes for it on account of:

I got wind of the fact that the project had a female interior designer.

Somehow–sexist me–I thought all this would add up to (sound the angels) The Workplace Washroom of My Dreams.


Let me give you a tour.

To begin, we have gigantic mirrors with fluorescent lighting which, when I stand under them to wash my hands, make me look as if I haven’t slept in three months.

  • Check out those bluey-purple circles under my eyes that weren’t there when I left the house this morning!
  • And, that sallow skin tone that makes me look as if I have been living in a swamp bog!
  • Ditto for my few, measly grey hairs, which seem to have multiplied since lunch into a phosphorescent bouquet which could light up the night sky!

Okay, so I don’t love the mirrors.  There’s no escaping them because they are wall to wall.  And my trauma is perhaps exacerbated by the feeling of betrayal from my own kind–the female designer, also known as She Who Perpetrated These Atrocities.

Obviously, the solution is not to be so very, very vain, hope I don’t have anything stuck in my teeth, and simply avoid looking in the demon mirrors, whilst entering The Washroom of NOT MY Dreams.

So, these days, I quickly nip into one of the three stalls to do my business.  I can’t remember which stall the Mythbusters discovered was the most used but, what’s a few extra germs anyway, when I’m about to be tormented in so many ways?

Stalls (3)

Even though I don’t believe that we’re a particularly thieving group of university staff, for some reason, the toilet paper is protected like Fort Knox.

It is locked away–yet so tantalizingly close–on two gigantic rolls, “dispensed” by (incarcerated, is more like it) the plastic casing around them.  Locked away, even though the paper is not “cottony-soft” or “velvety-thick” or any of the things I see on television commercials.  No, no.  This is institutional toilet paper, which, if you’ve ever been in an institutional washroom, you know ranges from a wax papery-like texture to wafer-thin tissue paper.

Toilet paper dispenser

We are a publically-funded university, so we have the see-through, must be less than 1-ply kind.  It’s basically onion skin, except thinner and much more fragile.  It’s not low-fat or even no-fat toilet paper.

Nope, this is Toilet Paper Free.

Apparently well worth incarcerating like Fort Knox, however.

Picture this fragile, delicate onion skin, wound around and around and around a behemoth roll of toilet paper.  Of course, you probably don’t have to picture it.  You’ve seen them.  Giant rolls of toilet paper, the likes of which probably require special safety training before one can install them.  You could throw your back out with these monster-truck tires-sized babies.  Heaven forbid we pay someone to check the washrooms regularly.  Instead, we invent the Texas-size toilet paper roll.  Each roll must weigh in excess of 250 pounds.

Well, almost.

giant toilet paper roll

There is loads of toilet paper on the rolls so, I do my business, then stick my hand up inside the “dispenser” and I pull.  But each time I pull, my fingers come up empty with only flecks as my reward.  I try again.  Surely, this can’t be that hard.

I’ve been doing this by myself for well over 40 years.  For heaven’s sake, it’s right there!

The roll is so large that the whisper-thin piece of paper can’t withstand the strain of being pulled, without collapsing into a million, teary pieces.

Oh wait ,that was me.

I try pulling it slower.  Faster.  Gentler.  Firmer.

I try spinning the roll, without pulling.

I try spinning the roll the opposite direction, without pulling.

I try pulling again.

I whisper, “please, please, please,” under my breath.

I whisper something else under my breath.

My kingdom for an entire piece of toilet paper!  A full square.  Just something more than a shard or a shred.  It’s all locked up, tormenting me, laughing at me.  Haha!  You can’t get at me, the toilet paper taunts, even though your arm is halfway to your armpit up in the “dispenser”; even though I’m right here!

Now, you might think:  hey, I’ve been camping.  I can make do without toilet paper in a pinch.  Or, maybe:  I’ll just hold it until I get home.

But then, you may or may not know that women make up approximately 50% of the population and let’s say 50% of those women are in their reproductive years.   That means there are roughly 3 gajillion women, each of whom has a few days in every month or so (or sometimes, twice a month if they are in their wonderful 40s!), when they are spending time in the stalls completing feats of agility and skill (little did you know).

Ever tried to change a tampon in a public washroom?

I’m pretty sure that washroom designers have forgotten that this might be a frequent activity.  Because, other than the little steel box lined with a paper bag in each cubicle, there’s no evidence that they have thought about the roughly 3 gajillion women spending time in there to complete feats of agility and skill.

It’s the Cirque de Soleil of toilet paper in there, I kid you not.

The toilet paper dispenser refuses to dispense any toilet paper even though, tantalizingly, there are two gargantuan roles on the “dispenser”.

So there we are, tampon swinging in the wind.

It’s tampon acrobatics, that’s what it is.

Two toilet paper shards to our name, our spare hand shoved up to the elbow inside the “dispenser”, desperately rolling and rolling and pulling ever-so-gently and praying and pulling and coming out with…

Flakes.  Flecks.  Confetti, of toilet paper.

Meanwhile, the tampon is in the other hand, swinging in the wind, acrobatic-like.

I don’t want to get too graphic here but it honestly starts to look as if a serial killer has been in the stall.

Yes, a serial killer and Tampon Cirque de Soleil but, not one BLESSED SQUARE of toilet paper.

Hand Dryer

To make matters worse, we have a washroom policy that forbids paper towels (just blowy hand dryers) so if you need to clean up the toxic spill or crime scene you’ve just created..well, flakes or flecks of confetti toilet paper is your only option (and you’d better hope you’re not in a hurry because Every. Single. Time you stick your arm up to the elbow in the “dispenser” and gently, gently, cringing-ly pull it, it will shred and give you approximately 3 more flecks of tissue).

But finally, please don’t ask us the details, you are sorted and you, yes please, thank you very much, go to wash your hands.  They are gouged and scraped and full of red marks from the tips of your fingers to the ends of your elbows from the Cirque de Soleil serial killer and your forays into the depths of the “dispenser” but these are merely battle scars.

By now, you really want to wash your hands–thoroughly, up to the elbows and with soap– and while the sinks are good and large, the faucet is so short, that to get your sudsy hands under it, you end up sticking your fingers in that icky hole that sinks have (EEeuwww).


What is that icky hole for anyway, except to be…icky?

I explore this question frequently during the day, as I am washing my hands under that puny little faucet, my fingers grazing the gunk that is in the mysterious hole of ick.

Such are the traumas of the public washroom.

Magic mirror, I miss you.

Copyright Christine Fader, 2015.  Did you enjoy this post from A Vintage Life?    Share on Facebook       Tweet