June 9, 2014 by Melanie L.
Recently, I was caught with my pants down using the accessible stall in the public restroom. Think Curb Your Enthusiasm (see link posted below), except it was the women’s restroom and I was caught before exiting the stall.
It went down like this: I walked into a public restroom. No line. Three stalls: one clogged, one occupied, and one accessible. I did not even hesitate for the briefest of moments to claim the open, unclogged, accessible stall. What can I say? I had to go, and quite frankly, I’m usually accompanied by two uncaged toddlers who require that particular stall for corralling and safety purposes. It just so happened that on the day in question, I was sans kids.
So, there I was, pants down, conducting business. Moments later, a woman wearing wedge sandals over stockings entered the restroom and made a beeline to the accessible stall asking no one in particular, “Is the handicapped stall open? I have a real handicapped person who needs it!” Before finishing her sentence, she pushed on my stall’s door and found it locked. Upon this discovery, her speech became even more pressured when she addressed me directly, “How long are you going to be? I have a real handicapped person here!”
I broke out my mom-voice and responded as calmly as possible, “You’ll have to wait until I come out.” The woman turned on her heel and moved away from my stall door.
But, at the same moment, the tenant next to me vacated her stall. Confused, Mrs. Wedge Sandal asked the former tenant, “Oh, are you out now?” expecting the accessible stall to now be vacant. She returned and pushed on my stall’s door and found it, once again, locked. “Are you still in there? How long are you going to be? I have a real handicapped person who needs that stall! Are you even handicapped?!” She put her eye up to the crack between the door and the stall wall to get a look at me. She then dipped her head to peek at me from under the door.
Annoyed, I repeated, this time through clenched teeth, “You’ll have to wait until I come out.” I put myself together, rushed actually, and emerged moments later.
Mrs. Wedge Sandal, who by the way, was unaccompanied by any person, much less a person who required the use of that particular stall, dressed me down, “You look perfectly healthy! You know, that stall is for handicapped people! That’s rude – RUDE! – for you to use that stall!”
I defended myself by saying, “That’s not how it works and you know what’s rude is you talking to me through a stall door and violating my privacy.” To which she felt the need to spar further by accusing me of being a young and healthy BRAT with a big mouth. She then spun on her heel and left the bathroom. LEFT! Without ever having used the stall, or brought in the “real handicapped” person to use it.
I washed up and walked out only to find that Mrs. Wedge Sandal was indeed accompanied . . . .by a man. A MAN! A man, who though he was not in a wheelchair, was exiting the public men’s room on shaky, shuffling feet with an aide sporting a lanyard. Did I fail to mention that he was a man?
We shall save the discussion about when and whether an able-bodied person is ever entitled to use the accessible stall for another day. Better yet, read this well-reasoned post. (The gist, if you are like me and too lazy to click the link, is that waiting in line for a public restroom is an equal opportunity fact of life.) That’s a topic for the civilly advanced. Instead, rather, we seem to need a refresher on public restroom rules 101:
1. You must respect boundaries. While it is reasonable to check your preferred stall for occupancy, once occupancy is established, you must back away from the door. No one over the age of four may bang repeatedly on the door, look under the door, or stick an eye up to a crack.
2. You must wait your turn. Duh. This seems self-explanatory but let me break it down, just in case. I don’t care who you are, not a single human on this planet is entitled to evict a stall’s tenant with dropped-trou while mid-business. One evacuation at a time. WAIT YOUR TURN. M-kay?
3. You must not presume to know anyone else’s medical history Even if you happen to be a medical doctor, but especially if you are not, you may not diagnose anyone with either a disability or a clean bill of health. Some disabilities may in fact, require more roomy quarters, or handrails, or a higher seat, and yet not be patently visible. Unless you are precisely said person’s treating physician. . . but you know what, no, not even then. Because you should not discuss a patient’s diagnosis or treatment in public! So there are no exceptions to this rule. Keep your judgey-judgey diagnoses to yourself!
4. You must be an actual human If you are going to demand the evacuation of the occupied accessible stall on the basis that a “real handicapped” person is in need, said person must be an actual, real human being and not an imaginary friend, figment of your delusions, or ghost.
5. Gender Trumps When you gotta go, you gotta go. I’m all for using the bathroom of the opposite sex, especially if the demand is great and the supply is low, or even if simply time is of the essence and the opposite-gendered bathroom is closer. A quick check that the coast is clear and you’re all set. But that’s an allowance, not an entitlement. The placard on external door trumps any placard on the interior stall doors. That is, there is no VIP seating for men in the women’s restroom and vice versa.
6. Finally, do not wear sandals over stockings. Ever. But, especially if you are going to rave like a lunatic, peek into the crack of a stall door, claim the existence of a non-existent person and/or name-call.
Now, your turn. Have you ever been “caught” in the public restroom and want to dish?
To my editors, Jason and Bridget: thank you!
And to my dear fellow blogger, Meg, I feel you!