I heard a story on National Public Radio this morning about Japan’s fascination with high-tech toilets. The toilets, ranging upwards of $4,000, have seat warmers, automatically lower the seat after use by an insensitive male, provide a bidet function, and a whole lot more. The top-of-the-line model has a control panel on the side sporting nineteen knobs, buttons, and dials.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I could never persuade myself to purchase one of these techno-toilets. I’d never use it. I’ve grown accustomed to the painfully cold porcelain on my backside in the dead of winter. The only high-tech component in my entire bathroom is my Palm III - so I can play MahJongg - and that’s not even a permanent fixture!

I realized recently just how much I like the privacy of a bathroom. Regardless of where you are, you can always count on the quiet solitude of someone’s bathroom. You can read the funny anecdotes and little prayers embroidered on towels that adorn the walls. You can admire the dried flower arrangements sitting in a pretty vase on the sink. You can relax in the austere pastel environment.

But not a public bathroom! Oh no, the cold functionalism of the modern public restroom epitomizes everything I loathe about society today. In an effort to save every last penny, public restroom construction contains the absolute minimum of personal comforts. Now, I’m speaking from the purely male perspective here; I suspect that females get a marginally better toilet experience.

Guys are forced to stand shoulder to shoulder in a small pool of what may well be water and stare at a blank wall. If we’re lucky, there is a small privacy divider between the urinals, although many public restrooms opt not to provide even this modicum of decency. Stalls are seperated from one another by an extremely thin wall. The walls themselves are a good six to twelve inches above the ground, and generally rise no higher than about six feet. Sure, it’s nice to be able to glance down and see a pair of feet to indicate an occupied stall. But as a tall guy, I don’t like to look at the crowd milling about the sink basins as I stand up.

Nor do I particularly like standing next to a guy as I stare at a blank wall. Invariably, someone will eventually feel the need to make some small quip about the weather, or a sporting event, or some news piece. The last thing I want to do, while I’m staring at a blank wall holding myself, is to discuss much of anything with a complete stranger, who is also holding himself and staring at a blank wall. I also do not like to hear the sounds of people’s intestinal distress. When I choose to use a restroom, the last thing I want is to hear some poor sap suffering from diarrhea.

The toilets that I experienced in England were, on the whole, far superior. Stalls were actually seperate rooms, with the dividing wall running all the way from floor to ceiling. The occasional trough was present in place of urinals, but these were generally broad enough to support a few guys standing sufficiently spaced apart. Some such troughs wrapped around corners, allowing guys to turn their backs to one another. When urinals were in place, the privacy divider generally ran from ceiling to floor, providing a little urinal alcove.

Who designs public restrooms? Do they ever use them? Do they enjoy standing in a pool of what may well be water, holding themselves and staring at a blank wall? Do they like hearing the sounds of a man sitting in a small, semi-private cubical suffering from intestinal distress? Do they enjoy washing their hands at a sink coated in grime and soiled paper towels with only the slightest dribbling of water from the faucet?

Speaking of which, why are people so lazy in public restrooms? Why can’t people not make a mess? I’m always very conscientious about my behavior in these dens of bacteria and foul odor. If the paper towel that I toss into the waste bin falls short, I pick it up and stuff it inside. If I splash water on the sink, I’ll use a paper towel and dab it up. But so often one is greeted by the sight of an overflowing toilet or sink which has been either abandoned by its last user, or stuffed with towels and toilet paper in an attempt to stop it. “It’s not my problem,” must be the re-occuring thought going through the minds of all these mouth-breathers who commit this heinous act of toilet abuse.

Public restrooms allow - nay, encourage - the worst behaviour in all of us. We don’t have to clean it up. No one we know has to clean it up. It’s our one chance to really do something marginally destructive to screw up some poor sod’s day. Someone does have to clean that mes up. But since we’ll never know him, we all feel perfectly justified in walking away from the overflowing urinal. We’ll just step blithely over the murky pool of fluid on the floor, and be on our way. If we destroy a toilet with the effort of our bowels, we’ll just walk away - flushing is the next guy’s problem.

No courtesy whatsoever. Public restrooms epitomize everything I loathe about modern culture.

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