I used to be an expert on public restrooms, favoring them over their slightly more private two-stall counterparts. The more public, the better. I guess, to use an analogy, I prefer to be part of a symphony played in front of a large crowd to playing a solo for an audience of one.
And also: I don't even own hand sanitizer.
So it is always a surprise to me when I return to the public restroom at the transit center and see it for what it is: A fecal-colored playground for weirdos. Somehow I always forget this right until the second the door swings open and no one hands me a free tampon, spritzes me with Aveda product, and brushes the cat hair off my coat.
Nope. My memory has failed me. This place is a shit hole.
Today I shared this space with an older woman. Her cane was laid out across the counter top. She was attacking her hair with an old-school hairbrush. The flat kind that goes thwack thwack thwack as it rips through one's mane, 100 strokes each night while perched at the vanity before bed.
I avoided eye contact and went into a stall.
One of the most significant issues with public toilets is the U-shaped toilet seat. People don't have these in their homes. There is always that opportunity for a stumble when lowering oneself to a sitting position. That one spot on the thigh comes in contact with the cold and exposed ceramic lip of the rim. Or, as I like to call it, the urine backboard.
I hate when that happens.
My 30 second respite from the world was interrupted by this woman's personal metronome of deep grunting heaves. It was like she had crested a summit. Moan. Thwack thwack thwack. Moan.
My God, I thought. Is it mating season for the water buffalo already? She's just brushing her hair. What does she sound like when she plays tennis?
I was washing my hands, as I tend to do in bathrooms where someone is watching me, and she spoke.
"Do you like my hair like this?" she asked.
I paused. I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be comparing it to. Was she going to click open her coin purse and pull out a plastic accordion of photos dating back to 1945? The history of her head? I certainly liked her hair more than I liked the groaning. But not as much as, say, Audrina Patridge's hair. In fact, I'd had the same haircut as this woman very briefly when I was in fourth grade. Granted, I started growing it out the second I left the barber shop. Yes. Barber shop.
"Yes," I said. "It's very cute."
"Are you sure?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "Why? Is it different than before?"
"No, not really," she said.