Stand and Deliver
A few years ago Griffin (my autistic son) and I found ourselves in one of the dirtiest fast food joints to have ever existed this side of Calcutta. It was at this time that Griffin was going through a phase where he insisted on visiting every public restroom he saw. He usually didn’t need to use the facilities. Mostly he just wanted to see if it was clean, well decorated and if it had a window. Unfortunately, sometimes he actually needed to use the bathroom for its intended purpose. It was these “active” excursions which forced me to temporarily abandon my germ phobia and clean off toilet seats for my stubborn son who refused to stand when he pees. (Sidebar: Now fifteen years old and he still refuses to stand.)
As recently as a few hundred years ago, men wanted male off spring to carry on their name, gain political power, plow their fields, and inherit their kingdoms. The only remaining modern day advantage of having boys is that they stand up when they piddle. For me, this last surviving perk of male progeny has been wiped out by Griffin’s insistence on sitting when he urinates.
For those readers of the female persuasion, a brief explanation of the dilemma this poses may be in order. The idea of lifting a seat, flushing, or even aiming at the toilet in a public men’s room is as foreign to guys as a unicorn wandering down 42nd Street. For that reason, it is only in the most extreme and dire situations in which a man will dare to sit in a public restroom. I have been known to endure intestinal ruptures in an effort to avoid this fate.
A very young boy can accompany his mom, if she is available, or be held over the seat by his father for a contactless deposit in other situations. However, even if the mom is present, bringing an eleven year boy into a women’s room is fraught with pitfalls we try to avoid. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger can’t hold Griffin’s hundred plus pound frame over the bowl while the boy chit chats about elevators instead of quickly doing his business.
Because of this, I’ve cleaned commodes on the New Jersey Turnpike, Canal Street, the Empire State Building, every Florida Theme Park (more than once), public beaches, sports arenas, and many others.
This particular bathroom was beyond cleaning. It was worse than a Porta-Potty after a weekend of Grateful Dead shows. Decorating the seat was not an option. Nothing I could do without a pressure cleaner, a gallon of bleach, and a ShamWow would make the throne fit for use. We needed to stand. The urinal was only marginally better, but since Griffin was too short to use the sink and too classy to go on the floor, we had no choice. I helped him pull down his pants and stood behind him waiting for nature to call as Griffin screamed and protested. Since he was 11 or so at the time, the scene must have looked creepy to any other customers who wandered in.
While I was busy holding him up by his torso in a makeshift half nelson hold, Griffin decided the contents of the urinal needed to be emptied before he deposited his precious cargo in it. So he reached in and pulled out the rubber drain guard, pieces of chewed gum and fermented urinal cake. What little parental instincts I have kicked in and I grabbed the bounty from Griffin.
Before I knew it, I was the one holding the quickly crumbling and dripping hockey puck sized urinal mint. In my hands, moments before I was going to indulge in a few Whopper Juniors, was the residue of the excretion of countless BK patrons. As the unmistakable stench of urine, mucus and stale Juicy Fruit Gum surrounded us, I washed our hands furiously. The hand washing continued obsessively, like Lady Macbeth, for months to come. Needless to say, I did not eat that afternoon, but Griffin chowed down his double cheese burger and large fries without a second thought.
In a strange way this episode proved to be a great learning experience for me. Griffin, as he often does, forced me out of my comfort zone. I had to face my germ phobia straight on in the worst sort of way. It was horrifying and disgusting, but I didn’t die. I did not get ill. Best of all, I did not mindlessly inhale 1,500 empty calories and 100 grams of saturated fat.
(Flickr image by loop_oh)
More from F. Lewis Stark: