In Passionate Pursuit Of Privy Productivity

Do modern workers spend too much time in the bathroom, causing the businesses that employ them to suffer decreased productivity?  A company in the United Kingdom is making that claim and has developed a new toilet to combat the alleged problem — which it says is getting an enthusiastic reception from American companies that may leave the commode creators feeling flushed with success.

defaultThe company, StandardToilet, asserts that workers spend 25 percent more time in the office bathroom than is strictly necessary, causing employers to experience missed employee time on the job and a hit to the bottom line as a result.  It’s not entirely clear what study, if any, substantiates the 25 percent figure, and it sure seems like determining precisely how much time people really need to take care of business in the bathroom would be extremely difficult.  In any case, the theory articulated by the trade group the British Toilet Association is that employees are spending more time on the seat because they aren’t just performing essential bodily functions, but also are checking social media, sending texts, visiting news websites, and otherwise multi-tasking on their personal affairs in there.  Apparently it’s just another way that the smartphone has affected life as we know it.

StandardToilet’s brainchild is a toilet with a seat that has a 13 percent downward slope, causing employees to need to use their legs to firmly brace themselves against the risk of sliding off and thereby making it uncomfortable to use the toilet seat as a perch for extended bathroom breaks to stay in touch with whatever’s trending on Twitter.  The tilt is supposed to cause leg strain after five minutes, incentivizing employees to wrap up their use promptly.  And it’s not just about businesses, either: StandardToilet hopes to market the new toilets to roadside rest stops and public restrooms where users might be tempted to linger and clog up the efficient use of the facilities.  Incidentally, the company also claims that the new design “helps in reduction of risk in swollen hemorrhoids,” which certainly is a worthy goal — you might call it goal number two — as well.

Are employers concerned about extended bathroom breaks to the point where they will install new toilets to replace old ones that are working perfectly well?  The next time you’re using the facilities outside of your home, you might want to check the slope before you sit down and start liking Facebook posts.

Dr. Toilet

We’re used to “smart” devices these days.  Smartphones, of course.  Smart TVs.  Smart security systems.  Even smart refrigerators.

So, is it really a surprise that people have been working on the “smart” toilet?

eut3628s__98071.1512066915An Asian company has created a toilet that has built-in sensors that can detect, collect, and analyze waste samples.  The test results are then transmitted to an app on your phone, which gives you health advice based on the test results.  This particular smart toilet is supposed to be able to monitor heart disease and also to evaluate urine samples for symptoms of cancer and heart disease.

Health advice and real-time test results, directly from your toilet to your phone?  We must be living in the 21st century!

But that toilet is not the only “smart” stuff that will soon be available to increase the IQ of your bathroom.  Other powder room devices that have been exhibited or developed include a toilet and bathroom mirror that use the Alexa voice assistant (although exactly how Alexa helps in this particular area isn’t clear), a pressure sensor toilet that measures heart and blood vessel information, a toilet seat that checks blood pressure, and toilets that are linked to wi-fi, analyze out sugars and proteins that appear in your deposits, and also evaluate your body-mass index.  And some of the new devices even helpfully have LED night lights built in to the toilet lid.

In short, we may be on the cusp of the next great advance in toilet technology, when your home bathroom turns into a laboratory of devices that collect and analyze number one and number two, evaluate the blood flow in your cheeks, and consider God knows what else in order to provide you with a detailed, up-to-the-minute report on your personal health status — all of which will be transmitted and stored somewhere.

Terrifying, isn’t it?

Bathroom Humor

When I went to the grocery store yesterday, I walked down an aisle and saw, to my dismay, that Halloween stuff was on sale already — even though it’s just the beginning of September.  But I was really stopped in my tracks when I saw this product for sale, right there next to the bags of candy and trick or treat decorations.

It’s a “Jokin’ on the John” motion-activated toilet seat cover.  Put this on, and when the lid to the commode is lifted, you get treated to one of several jokes delivered by this crazy-eyed cackling witch.  It’s one of a number of “Jokin’ in the John” products that can help you celebrate Halloween.  Others include “Flush ‘n Stein,” a motion activated Frankenstein figure holding a plunger who is supposed to be put on top of the toilet and then tells jokes and sings a song, as well as a wisecracking ghost armed with a plunger and a mummy-type figure whose wrapping is toilet paper.

An entire “Jokin’ in the John” line of products, offered by Hallmark, of all places?  Apparently the bathroom, one of the last bastions of peace and quiet and normalcy in an overdecorated holiday world, is viewed as the new frontier for holiday-themed “humor” products.  It’s there, ready to be invaded by cackling witches and other intrusive figures whose handful of allegedly funny phrases would get old pretty darned fast.  And speaking as a representative of the older generation that now has to make more nocturnal visits to the bathroom than they used to, I can’t imagine wanting to have any talking, motion-activated items in there to startle me when I stumble in at 3 a.m.

It’s bad enough that Halloween now gets celebrated for about two full months — can’t we leave the bathroom out of it?

 

The King’s Privy

People often have romantic notions about the kings and queens of yore.  We think about turreted castles and fluttering pennants and knights in shining armor, but not about the uglier, nitty gritty details of what life was really like in those days — before modern dentistry, and the invention of air conditioning, and countless other developments that contribute every day to making our lives much better than they have ever been before.

mann-wrathIndoor plumbing obviously is one of those developments.  Which raises the question:  how did kings deal with that essential aspect of the human existence?

Historians note that England’s King Henry VIII — he of the six wives — actually had a courtier called the Groom of the Stool to take care of that element of the King’s daily routine.   The GOTS apparently was a high-ranking (if not coveted) position that involves taking careful notes about the monarch’s bowel movements and maintaining the “Stool Room.”  The Stool Room was a private privy where the King used a padded chair “covered in sheepskin, black velvet, and ribbons” positioned above a pewter chamber pot to take care of business.

Other members of the Court had their own private rooms with their own chamber pots, but the masses weren’t quite so lucky.  The article linked above indicates that servants working at the King’s palace tended to answer the call of nature in whatever happened to be nearby.  Fireplaces and the stone walls of the castle were popular targets, giving the castle a distinct aroma by the end of a long day.  And visitors and the staff also used a huge, open-air facility called the “Great House of Easement” that had 28 seats and no stalls or interior walls.  The facility and its tank were cleaned by a group of boys called the Gong Scourers who were appointed by the King.

Still entertaining romantic notions those days of olde?

Professional Grade

Airport bathrooms have got to be among the most brutal to clean. So what, exactly, does the custodial staff at a major American airport use to get disgusting bathrooms spic and span? According to this cart, it’s a mop, a bucket of soapy water, lots of paper towels, and a cleaner called Bab-O.

Bab-O? I’ve never heard of it. But if these guys use it it must be good.

Down To The Studs

IMG_0754When we bought our house we knew the upstairs bathroom was a do-it-yourself job and that we would have to fix it some day.  Today, that day came.  The bathroom is being stripped down to the studs, exposing the brickwork of our middle-of-the-house chimney, and then completely rebuilt from the two-by-fours up.

Because we live in a two-bathroom house, this means that, for the next two weeks, we’ll be exclusively using the shower and toilet in the downstairs bathroom.  Nothing wrong with that, right?  Not unless you’re a guy in his late 50s who typically makes at least one trip to the bathroom every night.  Until the upstairs bathroom is back on line, I’m going to have to be very careful about my fluid intake.

Unflattering Sign

IMG_0428Recently I was on the Otterbein University campus and had reason to visit the facilities, where I was struck by this sign posted on the mirror.  It made me wonder:  What kind of kids are going to Otterbein these days that they would come into the bathroom needing to wash off scum?  I’m all in favor of rhyming, but it’s not exactly the kind of message that makes you want to sit on, or otherwise touch, any surfaces on the Otterbein campus.

Tile Dysfunction

We’re strongly considering undertaking some remodeling of our upstairs bathroom.  It’s a perfectly serviceable bathroom, but it’s clearly aging — and, it’s embarrassing to admit it, but we all know that aging often is associated with tile dysfunction.

IMG_7570In this case, the regrettable case of tile dysfunction stems in part from the choice of tile made by a previous owner.  They are large tiles, beige-colored, with some ambiguous designs etched onto them.  They look vaguely like the kind of tile you’d see in a Roman bath scene in Ben Hur.  You half expect to find toga-clad Senators in there, arguing vigorously about Cicero’s most recent speech at the Forum.

In short, the tile selection might work just fine in a steam room in pre-eruption Pompeii, but it looks curiously out of place in a bathroom in a 100-year-old brick structure in German Village in Columbus, Ohio.

And then there’s the installation of the tile, which we suspect was a do-it-yourself job.  There’s nothing wrong with do-it-yourself work — hey, we’ve all seen the Lowe’s commercials featuring husband-and-wife teams happily discovering the rich rewards of putting in a beautiful new kitchen floor themselves — but sometimes DIYers cut corners in ways that professionals wouldn’t.  If you’re the proud homeowner who surveys the fruits of your labors and feels flush with the sense of accomplishment from retiling your bathroom yourself, you might overlook the signs that your work was an amateur effort.  If you’re a later owner unfettered by personal pride in the job, however, you see those little signs.

So now we’re into the bathroom remodeling zone — and if we’re going to treat that unfortunate case of tile dysfunction, shouldn’t we also do something with that vanity, and the bulky medicine cabinet with the annoying mirrored sections that you have to press in to open?  And who’d have thought there were so many different kinds of non-Roman tile to consider?

If I find myself talking about grouting for more than four hours, I’ll be sure to call my doctor.

The Curious “Courtesy Flush” Concept

Recently I was in the bathroom of a coffee shop — give me a break, I’m a 58-year-old guy whose bladder capacity for coffee apparently has shrunk to thimble size — when I noticed a sign above the toilet paper roll that stated, in pertinent part:  “If you must go #2, please courtesy flush — DO NOT OVERLOAD TOILET, IT WILL BACK UP!!”

There’s a lot to digest in that one, somewhat menacing sentence.

IMG_7558_2First, apparently “#1” and “#2” references have moved from childhood to the adult world.  I haven’t heard someone use “#1” and “#2” to describe bodily functions since our sons were little boys, and I wouldn’t expect to see them used in a sign in an adult establishment.  But is there really universal understanding of these slang terms in the United States — much less the world?  In France, for example, do parents speak to children of “nombre un” et “nombre deux”?  What would a coffee-loving foreign visitor to our shores make of the sign’s likely baffling statement about “going #2”?

Second, the sign tacitly assumes that there is some element of choice involved in “going #2” in a public bathroom, as if people decide to do so on a whim, or to enjoy a comfortable seat and a rewarding view, rather that in response to an imminent biological imperative.  Retail businesses should understand that no rational person would want to plop down on their public toilet seat unless there is no immediately available private alternative.  In short, people who unfortunately have to “go #2” in a coffee shop bathroom inevitably “must go #2″ this instant — and having avoided disaster no sign is going to discourage them from doing so.

And finally, there is the curious concept of the “courtesy flush,” which is a phrase I’d not heard before.  The context suggests that flushing should proceed in stages, with a dainty-sounding initial “courtesy flush” to be followed by the ultimate, keep-your-fingers-crossed-and-hope-to-avoid-a-clog final flush.  The concept seemingly presupposes an element of bodily control beyond the capability of all but trained ninja warriors, who probably wouldn’t understand the “#2” reference in the first place.  Or perhaps the “courtesy flush” notion asks the user to initially disregard the adage that “no job is finished until the paperwork is done”?

The No-Bathroom Flight

I learned something interesting yesterday — a functioning bathroom apparently is not an essential requirement for a domestic airline flight.

IMG_6237It happened on my flight from Columbus to New York, on one of those regional jets that has only one rear bathroom.  In the boarding area, the gate agent advised us via a loudspeaker announcement that the only bathroom on the plane was “inoperative” — and sure enough, when we boarded there was a sign on the lavatory door to that effect.

(“Inoperative” seems like a vaguely Nixonian way of saying that the crapper isn’t working, doesn’t it?  Makes you wonder what happened, and whether a miscreant tampered with the smoke detector despite those pre-flight warnings.)

Here’s another interesting bit of information.  When you announce on the public address system at an airport gate that the only bathroom on a plane isn’t working and that people might want to consider that fact, you’re likely to cause a stampede to the nearest comfort facilities.  Obviously, no one wants to be caught in extremis on a bathroomless flight, but there is also the power of suggestion at work.  You might not feel like you need to go at this instant but . . . now that you mention it, and when you know that you’re going to have no options for at least two hours, you’re sure as heck going to try.  In fact, I think some people in the neighboring gate areas trotted off to the restrooms — just in case.

Fortunately, the flight passed without incident, and the passengers made it through without any apparent problem.  I thought of the no-bathroom flight that night, however, when bad weather at LaGuardia caused my flight out to sit on the tarmac for two hours, turning a short flight into a drawn-out exercise that would have been a kidney-busting disaster without a bathroom.  Thank goodness the lavatory on that flight was “operative”!

The New Toilet

IMG_4806
Yesterday was a red-letter day in the Webner household: our new toilet for the downstairs bathroom was installed.

There had been a working toilet in the downstairs bathroom when we bought this place, but flush with the thrill of our new purchase we deemed it aesthetically unacceptable. I’m now not quite sure why — ’70s design? Low-slung seat? Appalling color selection? — but we had to wipe the slate clean and the ex-commode had to go. So we were toilet-free on the first floor during our first week in this place, which isn’t an ideal arrangement for a guy with a 57-year-old bladder who might have to sprint up the stairs to answer nature’s call on a moment’s notice.

Now that issue has been rectified. We have this bright, shiny toilet, conveniently located and blessedly functional, with the graceful lines and design flourishes that you would expect from a modern bathroom fixture. It makes you want to have a seat and take it for a spin.

Men’s Bathrooms, Ladies’ Bathrooms

Women may not realize this, but ladies’ rooms are almost mythical places to many men.

We’ve heard tales of the pink palatial rooms that are kept spotlessly clean and equipped with chaise lounges and other luxurious features. But we haven’t seen them, of course — they’re forbidden territory.

There’s nothing mythical about men’s rooms, however. This photo of the facilities at one of the joints along Frenchmen Street gives you an idea of what to expect.

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The Psychology Of The Two-Urinal Rule

Every guy knows this basic rule about the use of a public bathroom: if someone else is using one of the bank of urinals, you need to choose a location that leaves at least one urinal between you and the other user. It’s one of those social conventions that is so widely accepted that you really notice a breach.

This week The Atlantic has a fascinating article about the psychology of the two-urinal rule and other phobias and taboos about the use of public bathrooms. I was unaware, for example, that there was a formal name for the condition that causes people to have anxiety about using a public bathroom to do “number one” — it’s called paruresis — and that affects about 20 million Americans to some extent or another. (The analogous condition about “number two,” called parcopresis, is far less common.)

IMG_4196Interestingly, men seem to be more troubled about use of public bathrooms than are women, and the free-standing, out-in-the-open urinal apparently is a significant part of the problem. Studies show that men worry that they are being watched while they are standing there doing their business, whereas women — safely seated in a flimsy yet shielded stall as they answer the imperative — tend to worry more about cleanliness and comfort. Some men’s rooms are now being designed with partitions between individual urinals to try to address the perceived privacy problem.

The article notes that, even in our wide-open culture, there are still many taboos and rigid behavioral norms about using a public bathroom — even though the notion of privacy while excreting is a fairly recent development in the long history of humans. We tend not to talk to anyone when we are inside. We don’t make eye contact with other users, and in fact strive to maintain a state of studied indifference to their very existence. And, of course, we do our best to ignore the sights, smells, and physical conditions in the bathroom and the fact that the facilities are being used by complete strangers for unpleasant but essential bodily functions.

If you use public bathrooms all the time, you incorporate these norms and obey them, accept the fact of bodily imperatives, and forget about it. For some people, that’s harder than for others. So if the guy ahead of you in the line for a urinal at the next Browns game seems to be taking a while, give him a break — he’s probably doing his best while dealing with the weight of some deep-seated psychological issues.

Bluetooth In The Bathroom

I’m not a big fan of Bluetooth earpiece devices.  I’m not talking about whether the technology works well or not; I just think it creates too many awkward situations.

How many times do you walk around a public area — airports in particular — see someone who appears to be talking vigorously to themselves, and decide to give them a wide berth?  You do so because long experience has trained you that people who talk to themselves are probably dangerous lunatics, and the last thing in the world you want to do is enter their field of vision and become the focus of their deranged rantings.  Bluetooth devices have interfered with that crucial modern survival instinct.  Now you don’t know whether the self-talking person is a nut or a Bluetoother, talking louder than is necessary because that’s just what Bluetooth users always do.

The worst scenario for this is the public restroom.  If you’re a guy standing at a urinal, you don’t want to make eye contract, have a conversation, or otherwise engage in any form of human interaction whatsoever.  So, when a person who at first appears to be talking to himself shoulders his way into the urinal next door, apparently flouting every known rule of male bathroom etiquette, it’s a cause for concern.  You feel that initial sinking feeling, only to later realize that it’s just jerky Bluetoother who is still flouting accepted norms — and also consciously demonstrating for all to see that their call is so important that it can’t wait until after they answer the call of nature.

I’m reconciled to the fact that Bluetooth earpieces and those hanging string-like microphone devices are here to stay.  It’s too bad, because they make public areas like airports gates a babbling cacaphony.  But can’t we all agree to keep them out of the bathroom, for goodness’ sake?

Another Hazardous Intrumentality

IMG_3775Today I saw an alarming warning sign.  It appeared, of all places, on the metal lid of one of those rolling cloth towels you find in some older restrooms, and I saw it as I was drying my hands.

IMG_3774What were the warnings?  First:  “Use only to dry hands and face.”  Ewww!  I never considered it could be used for other drying purposes, or washing purposes.  I must admit that that warning made me eye the visible cloth toweling suspiciously and wish that I had dried my hands with toilet paper.

Second:  “Do not hang from towel.”  Check.  Say, is that warning really necessary?  In the history of Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence, has there ever been an incident of a tort claim caused by failure to warn not to hang from a cloth towel dispenser?

And third:  “Intentional misuse can be harmful or fatal.”  Harmful, okay.  Fool around with the towel, slip on a wet floor, dislocate something.  But fatal?  How?  Hanging?  Choking?

The sign didn’t say, and left all my questions unanswered.