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.