Retail Chronicles: Potty Talk, The Study

During an unpleasant stretch of employment, I conducted a study in a Macy’s bathroom. A study may be putting too fine a point on it. It wasn’t my intention to make any observations. In fact, I was doing my damnedest to repress all my sensory experiences in ‘the ladies.’ However, I found myself hiding in the second floor stalls too often to stay ignorant of certain emerging patterns.

If you don’t understand why hiding in a filthy department store bathroom might constitute a reprieve, I don’t think you’ve ever worked a retail job.  Frankly, it was a welcome break, basically a psychic vacation, to stand in a locked bathroom stall, clutching my skull, trying to breathe…but not too deeply. While stealing these breaks every workday, I scrabbled back into my own consciousness. I tried to gain some perspective on life. The restroom was a more fitting environment for this than I ever suspected.

Every restroom environment has its own culture. The second floor of the old art deco Macy’s building in Ardmore, Pennsylvania skewed towards middle-aged ladies. Rich ladies, save for Macy’s employees, for whom this was their only bathroom too. The sample was more racially diverse than you’d expect in Ardmore. Definite groups of bathroom behaviors emerged among the herd, during the year I hid out in this Macy’s bathroom. A few were common enough to comprise categories of patrons. I will submit a few samples below as a small contribution to the world of bathroom anthropology:


The Howlers and Whoopers

These ladies barrel into the bathroom, sirens on full blast, “Whoo! Hoo! Whoo! Oooh Hoo!” Installed, they whoop with relief, “pheeeeeeweee! whooooooaaaaaah…!”; and leave (always) with satisfied songs of, “mmmhmmm!…aaah.”

The Prayerful

The base and the divine intersect for these ‘excretrix.’ The Lord is invoked during, before and after the act. Sometimes, full mutterings of prayers will be uttered to ease their offal’s transition between realms.

The Dancers

The women who do a staccato dance on their toes while using the facilities. Some favor the cha cha. Others employ a mysterious morse code. Still others invoke the machine gun, impatiently drilling out their duty.

The Muzak Singers

They get into the soundtrack of their bathroom experience. They sing so earnestly, punctuating their solos with distinctly un-musical sighs.

The Soliliquist

If they think they’re alone, then the soliliquist will continue the conversation they’ve been having in their head all day, now fully or partially out loud. The acoustics amplify these strange poems. “I give up, I just…Lasagna, I could make the lasagna…stupid, stupid, stupid…okay, choose between peplum and polka dots and then go…there’s never any soap in these places, is there? Ha! What a dump…What is this world coming to…” The true bathroom soliliquist is rarer than the cell phone monologists- a demographic so vast and unabashed, and undoubtedly familiar, that I won’t waste any more words on them.


Retail Chronicles: Potty Talk, The Prologue

Not long ago, the famous columnist and sedimentary scholar, Gene Weingarten, wrote a column for The Washington Post magazine reviewing a product for sufferers of Poop Shame. I don’t recommend that everyone read it aloud at the breakfast table, but when I did, it inspired an engrossing release of opinions and anecdotes. I myself was viscerally reminded of the robust lack of poop shame I witnessed when I used to hide in a women’s bathroom at an old hellish job. I’ll return to that, and my unintentional bathroom study, in another post.

First, for those not familiar with the concept of Poop Shame, I’ll give you a classic example:

I am waiting for one of three stalls to free up at a Barnes and Noble bookstore in Frederick, Maryland. The line is long. All stalls are occupied. There is no chit-chat amongst the waiting women. The tension suddenly amplifies when fortissimo anal trumpeting and toilet bowl splashes echo off the tile.

A little girl at the front of the line screams,”LaTanya, you NASTY!”

Her sister emerges from the middle stall and says, “Shut up! Wasn’t me!”

Another brassy burst sounds, acquitting LaTanya.

Giggling, her little sister uses the middle stall.

Now, I’m the last in line. There are a dozen women before me. However, the two ladies occupying the two other stalls refuse to emerge, knowing that they’re are nailed as Poop Trumpeter suspects. It had to be one of them, right? And neither of them can bear the thought of leaving the stall to face a crowd of women who heard them poop! Worse, one of them was not the Poop Trumpeter, and she can’t stand the thought that people might think she was the one!

It’s not like someone farted at the Macy’s perfume counter. The Poop Trumpeter is doing exactly what is acceptable to do, exactly where it is acceptable to do it. Poopin’ in a toilet in a private cubicle. Yet, even though the ladies room line is long– even though it takes forever and a half for the line diminish—even though all the fussing, twitching women, their eyes tearing up, have to cycle through one bathroom stall to relieve themselves–the embarrassed stall-sitters settle in for a stake out.

I know this is exactly what is going on. I am positive, because, as I said, I am the last in line. No one else enters the bathroom. So when my turn to use the stall comes, the bathroom is quiet. No more shoes or shoe-wearers waiting against the wall are visible from the view under the stall doors.

This is when one possible Poop Trumpeter flushes. She seizes the moment, that critical moment when the last person in the a long line of witnesses, me, is safely ensconced where I can’t see her. She washes up and scurries out at top speed. The second occupier waits cautiously. She must’ve been the real Poop Trumpeter, because she didn’t leave, conscience-free with her fellow suspect. No, if she was innocent she’d have had the satisfaction of shooting knowing disdain at the culprit. Instead, the Poop Trumpeter makes sure I’m not flushin’ anytime soon, then she makes her getaway.

That, readers, is a brief and clear illustration of the Poop Shame phenomenon. For additional stories, I can only refer to Mr. Weingarten’s piece. For the sake of full disclosure, I will confess that I am both a defecator and a urinator. Poopery. Pissery. These acts are committed daily, hourly, every second…And I suspect all of you are guilty, guilty, guilty!