I believe it was Abraham Lincoln’s maid, Ezmerelda Flushing, who once said, “A bathroom divided cannot stand.”
For each and every boy at Idlewild Elementary in Tacoma, WA, truer words were never spoken. Only two student bathrooms existed at the school, one near the gym and one near the library. The latter was the focus of unending debate.
Like most bathrooms with a medium traffic flow, this one provided two stalls, two urinals and an equal number of sinks. Situated in the center, however, stood a large, circular, porcelain basin, which stood around waist high. At the base was a circular pedal which, when pressed, caused the small, circular spout rising from the center of the basin to emit a low-pressure stream of water from numerous pinholes.
This manufactured anomaly was the source of the controversy. Specifically, was this a sink or a urinal?
No one quite knew for sure. There were no diagrams or written instructions placed on said item to suggest its identity either way. It was up to each individual to decide one way or the other and use the basin accordingly. So, for example, at lunch or break, when there were several boys in the bathroom at a given time, it was not out of the ordinary to see some boys using the basin to wash their hands at the same others were using it to relieve themselves. A logical argument could be made for both sides, so each student was fairly confident that their conclusion was the correct one and rightly so. And yet, no matter which use a boy chose, he could never be 100% sure of his decision. On occasion, there would be that neutral boy, one that toward a future in politics, who used the basin for both purposes, thereby getting it right, no matter what.
School is supposed to be a place where children learn, a venue for their questions to be answered by knowledgable and learned adults. But, this thing, this ambiguous, mute, almost mocking, bathroom fixture was a great source of shrugs. The answers we received from faculty members were conflicting.
We were told, “Its a sink,” by Mr. Dannell, the janitor.
The next day, we were told, “It’s where you go potty,” by Mrs. Shaw, the librarian.
What do you do when the adults in your life are dumbfounded?
“We could call the people that made it,” my friend Clint said, one day. “If anyone’s gonna know, it’d be them.” We found the name SaniFlo stamped near the pedal. Sounded like a foreign name to us.
Clint, our other friend Tim, and I spent part of our lunch in the library flipping through the handful of phonebooks that were filed under reference. White pages, yellow pages, even the blue ones, we couldn’t find any mention whatsoever of the SaniFlo Corporation, our only hope for closure.
But, not since the time we built a secret fort (a ditch with some flimsy branches over the top) in which we would hide whenever the Russians attacked the suburbs of the Pacific Northwestern US were any of us so motivated to see something through. Onward and upward we went, consequences be damned.
“What city, please?” asked the operator.
Using the yellow wall phone in my parents’ kitchen, I said, “Oh, I don’t know.”
“What is the name of the party you wish to locate?”
“It’s called SaniFlo, please.”
“No, no. SaniFlo. They make, um, bathroom…things.”
“One moment, please.” Seconds later, the operator returned. “I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing anyone by that name. Do your parents need a plumber? Is that what you’re looking for?”
A plumber? I hadn’t thought of that. If anyone would know, it would definitely be a plumber. “Yeah, can I talk to one?” The operator dialed the number and connected me.
“Roger Rooter,” answered a man, whose deep voice painted him in my mind as standing eight feet tall and having a scar across his cheek.
“Hi, um, I was wanting to see if you could know something.”
No doubt wondering why a child was calling, he said, “Alright…”
I went on to explain the situation at Idlewild. “…or is it a sink? We don’t know.”
“Uh-hmm,” Roger commented. “I don’t have time for prank calls, kid.”
Before I could plead sincerity, he had already hung up on me. Had I not been worried about Jesus crying because of my choice of words, I would have said ‘Dammit!’ at that very moment.
After that, we gave up. Other things, more important things, had come up: Missy Johnson had begun wearing a training bra.
For all I know, the boys bathroom debate goes on among present-day students. The optimistic side of me likes to think that someone on the faculty came to their senses, hired a group of shamans, some Wiccans and a voodoo priest and just sent the demon bathroom fixture back to the hellfires from which it was created by a team of war criminals serving out an eternity of damnation.
As for my personal opinion on the subject: If I live to be the ripe, old age of 45, I would like to do so knowing that I’d spent the entirety of my life having never urinated into a sink.
Then again, my judgment is not always correct.