On Bathrooms

Written by Mike Parish, Illustrated by Dan Tarnowski
On Bathrooms

One thing I am always amazed by is bathrooms. Not the one in my apartment or the ones in other people’s homes. I’m talking public bathrooms.

The public bathroom is an evolutionary hotbed for bathrooms as a whole. If you were somehow able to look at advances in public bathroom technology over each decade since the start of civilization, you’d pretty much understand the history of mankind. I want a bathroom museum.

Public bathrooms are where the latest advances in bathroom technology are found, far surpassing those on the consumer level. Hand dryers are the most fascinating bathroom invention, and one of the more powerful. The idea is to get the hands dried as quickly as possible. Forced air comes out at a speed rivaling jet engine propulsion; it ripples the skin and shows off the patron’s bone structure to others awaiting their turn.

Recently, while visiting the MoMA with D. Tarnowski, I discovered a new type of hand dryer called Air Blade. It looked like an instrument you’d find inside a spaceship; it was white and enamel-coated and in the shape of a sideways capital letter “U”. You sort of dipped your hands into the U’s basin and pulled up slowly, a kind of invisible air squeegee stripping the water from your hands. I’m not sure how I would compare this method to the conventional kind. It didn’t seem to work well and I don’t think its creator’s vision was properly realized.

Public bathrooms can be unsanitary and that is the main reason for their upgrades. The idea it seems, is to make them completely automated so one doesn’t have to touch a thing. The door opens automatically, the toilet paper dispenses automatically, the urinals and toilets flush automatically, a dollop of soap spurts out automatically, the water sprays onto the hands automatically, the paper towels drop automatically, the hand dryer clicks on automatically, and when you’re all done, you automatically walk out.

There’s something refreshing and relaxing about the experience, there’s no need to worry. It feels like an invisible force is looking after you. Everything is taken care of.

Soon, people won’t even have to walk to the bathroom. They’ll just be sitting in a movie theater or a restaurant or at work somewhere and be able to click a button on the armrest of their chair that will cause the chair to lift up and bring them into the bathroom, where they will wait in a queue until the next stall is available, and then, once in front of the toilet, a mechanized arm will come out of the wall and unzip their pants while Beethoven blasts through a set of provided headphones.

Bathroom technologies can be telling of human nature. They illustrate our fears and wants. Technologies in general are created to make lives better, and for some reason, making lives better equates to not having to do anything at all.

Modern plumbing is quite astounding for its ability to bring fresh water to us and flush away waste instantly. Since the speed at which plumbing occurs has peaked, its automation in public places was the next logical step. But it is a bit of a novelty.

People would never install automated bathroom devices at home. These devices don’t really make sense in the way they are employed either; people’s own bathrooms are as dirty or dirtier than public ones. Since it is family and friends using them instead of strangers, there is no second thought given. But just because you know somebody, doesn’t mean they’re clean. And even if the volume of people using public bathrooms is greater, the entire space usually gets sanitized daily. To be honest, I’m not really sure when the last time I cleaned my bathroom was.

I’ve accepted the fact that the world is teeming with microorganisms. They’re covering everything right now, tables, chairs, floors, you and me. That’s all we really are anyway, a collection of smaller parts compromising a whole. Just because you can see me, and I look like a single entity, doesn’t mean I’m not any number of microscopic creatures living and working together, waiting to discover you. The bathroom is where we all get together and dance, even if you can’t hear the music.

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