04 January 2011

Bathroom Reader

In a less than ideal start to 2011, my first shower of the year was cold.  And when I say cold, I mean brass monkey, three dog, heart-stoppingly frigid.  It was also pitch black.  We lost power for a bit in that part of camp, and the water didn’t heat – I’m mildly surprised that it even made it out of the faucet.  Anyway, it got me thinking about the state of our restrooms here in theatre.  Please indulge me – this post is more uncouth than normal.  I promise to up the intellectual quotient in next post.

One would think, living with communal bathrooms, that etiquette would dictate a live and let live policy.  Yes, we’re showering in the same room, but I’m not going to look at you, you’re not going to look at me, and everything will be just fine.  Much to my chagrin, this is not how it works in practice.  Shower connexes are rife places for over-sharing, and I don’t mean just hair-care rituals – displaying new tattoos, inquiring about family, even commenting on bathroom habits are all apparently fair game.  One friend, formerly of the SF and whose old habits die hard, was informed by a fellow bather that he didn’t need to take combat showers.  Intrusive and creepy are the by-words of shared bathrooms, I guess.

That said, not all of the washroom norms are abrasive; some are simply bizarre.  Is not uncommon for women to play music in the bathroom, setting up some speakers and rocking out, whether for the duration of their pre-bed shower or just while putting on mascara in the morning.  I like to think of it as Club Female Only (all women’s restrooms have large signs proclaiming they are just that.  There are never any signs on the men’s rooms, though).  I think it ranks as possibly the second strangest music-related experience I’ve ever had in a restroom.  The first, of course, being in a club in Barcelona which boasted its own DJ.  Two guys evidently preferred this DJ to the one on the main floor and were kind of bopping along, never mind that they were in the way of the paper towel dispenser.

The ladies restroom nearest my B-Hut does duty not only as the occasional club, but also as the local book-and-movie exchange.  Whenever someone either rips out, she usually can be counted on to leave certain goodies behind.  Romance novels and chick flicks are particularly popular, though I did pick up a Grisham to leaf through at one point.  Although I don’t feel inclined to leave the books I’ve finished, generally holding on to them for a re-read, I do pass on my New Yorkers and Vanity Fair.  They seem to be popular reads.

Where the bath-connex by my hut is passable, I can’t really say the same for that by my office.  No bathrooms by the gate – we have port-a-potties.  During my first week at Phoenix, I just used the first that was open.  It was (a) a squat port-a-potty and (b) smelled so foul, I decided then and there that I would neither eat nor relieve myself ever again.  Happily, one of my co-workers noticed my look of revolution when I left, and pointed out that the women of our building have a personal portable toilet that is kept padlocked at all times.  We all pitch in for hand sanitizer, Clorox wipes, and air freshener.  While I would prefer running water, no question, it’s become possibly the nicest hole in the ground I’ve ever used.

It will not surprise my regular readers to learn that each of my travels brought their own restroom-related hijinks, as they have in so many other areas.  The spate of sexual assaults at one camp resulted in rather odd measure of combination locks being placed on the doors of the women’s conexes.  I am, obviously, fully supportive of assault prevention.  However, when the majority of the assaults have been committed by members of the civilian cleaning crew who require the combinations to successfully performs their jobs, it is a solution that bears a bit more thinking about.  Meanwhile, if something nefarious were to transpire in the bathroom, one’s mandated armed escort could not come to her aid, as he would not have the combination. 

Travelling has also given me a perverse appreciation for plumbing.  I not appall myself somewhat by rating a FOB by the water pressure in its showers or how well the toilets flush rather than by the cleanliness of the tent I sleep it.  Deciding that something is a ‘good flusher’ is honestly not an observation I ever anticipated having to make outside of eventually potty training my own children.  It must be noted, though, that even the most effectively constructed toilet in Afghanistan cannon make up for the single ply toilet paper found on the bases.  I feel like one of those insipid Charmin bears, using handfuls of paper.  Sheryl Crow would be so disappointed.

No matter what I go, there is one constant: bases are forever trying to convince us to save water.  The sign in my bathroom urges me to only take 5 minute showers and turn off the water when I brush my teeth (oddly, the same sign urges me to brush my teeth for ten minutes.  I don’t know why camp management is so concerned with oral hygiene, but there you go).  A slightly more effective version is the one that warns me about the dramatic water shortage in Afghanistan.  Apparently, we do need to be taking combat showers.  Take that, intrusive bathroom man!