Bathroom, Restroom, Lavatory, The Facilities, The John, The Loo, Little Girl’s Room, The Latrine, The Crapper. . . . Why are there so many different names for this common place that all humans use regularly?

At some time in the past a bathroom was just that – a room that contained a bathtub, which was the centerpiece, the dominant structure, maybe the only structure. The process of bathing was long and laborious. Water had to be heated in large buckets, then transferred to the tub where the pioneer bather boiled himself like a lobster to within an inch of his life in order to kill germs and at least a week’s worth of dirt and body odor.

Today, it is a multipurpose room, replete with mirrors, sinks, hampers, and showers, this last invention having rendered bathtubs nearly obsolete. Even so, it is still singularly a bathroom for infants, who go there to get bathed frequently because of their sudden involuntary personal bodily expressions, which they perform shamelessly, regardless of where they are at the time. They may wonder at the strange facial contortions of their providers when this occurs, along with the occasional rough treatment, but the overall experience of the bathroom is probably pleasant, perhaps even titillating.

But after infancy, everything changes. Preschoolers, increasingly separated from parents, are left partially alone to do a job they are not particularly skilled at. They would much rather splash and make waves, blow soap bubbles, and play with toy floating ducks or little boats, but now they are hounded by the instructions from hoverers outside the door: “Did you wash your bottom?” “Did you get behind your ears?” “Be sure wash your hair!” The bathroom has lost its allure, and not until sixty years later, when the feeble minded child now sits upon the threshold of senility, will the bathtub become re-appreciated, this time as a baptismal font that helps ease arthritic pain.

What does the word “restroom” imply? Does one go there to rest, to close one’s eyes and day dream or meditate? I think not. Especially in a public setting, it is the last place most of us would want to rest. It is a place to take care of business as quickly as possible, for fear that one of those extra gregarious individuals might happen in at the same time, choose the stall right next door, and begin to share his thoughts out loud, or sharing one side of his cell phone conversation, this along with other “aspects” of his personhood, also very loud.

Public restrooms come in many varieties, and serve various needs. Fast food restrooms serve not only customers, but anyone on the road or too far from home. The Golden Arches might signal the resolution of an urgent situation. But they are not places anyone would not spend much time in, as they are small, busy units that afford little privacy and are cleaned by the lowest ranking member of the chain’s teenage employees.

Airport facilities provide a constant ebb and flow of people with a purpose. Close your eyes and you’ll hear a virtual symphony of flushing and funneling and faucets flowing and folks…, well, you know, making sounds of their own.

City public libraries today have become sanctuaries for the homeless, and the stalls there are often occupied by individuals escaping security cops and/or the elements outside. Like Walmart johns, if you venture into one, there is likely to be someone in need, and, in a typically self-deprecating manner, will offer a brief, life story about his misfortune as a prelude to asking for money.

Maybe the best of all are on college campuses, where the art of graffiti still exists, revealing the creative and perverse thoughts of so many geniuses who revel in anonymity and secrecy. The stalls are their canvas, and despite the danger of being found out, they leave their marks to remind us of the better days, before the internet, when you had to draw pictures of private body parts with your own deft hand, and you could offend or amuse people in a random way that rarely seemed like bullying.

I get that a rose is a rose, and that by any other name it would smell as sweet. But at least it has a name that is precise and consistent, and does not elicit so much confusion, so many profound questions like the following:

  • Why do we call the men’s room called a “John”? Who is the John (or Johnson) that warranted such an honor as to have millions of these places named after him?
  • Isn’t it mostly older women who call it the little Girls’ room? (But It’s no wonder we real men would never call it the Little Boys’ Room!)
  • Why do we say “take” a pee? Don’t most of us “leave” one instead?
  • Why do some people neglect to flush? Are they environmentally concerned about saving water? Or is more ego related, like they have created something special that should not be destroyed? Or are they just stupid?
  • Do those people who, after finishing “going to the bathroom,” put one hand under the faucet for a split second and wipe it dry on their pants really think they have washed anything? If no one was around, would they have even done that much?
  • Is the purpose of those automatically flushing toilets to save water? To eliminate odors? Or just to scare the hell out us, making it more difficult to finish our job as we worry about when the next blasting splash will occur?
  • How many people leave their hands under the blow dryers for the entire length of the blow?
  • Should throwing paper towels in a toilet be concerned a crime, and stiff penalties administered to those idiots who throw them in there? Jail time? Or public service cleaning sewers systems without gloves or mask?
  • Are there already tiny little cameras in the stalls????

Anyway, for as much as possible, I will try to stay home and take a good, hot bath more than once a week in my own private bathroom.