Journals of an Insane Genius


One of the things that puzzles me the most is why men behave the way they do in the men's room. I'm standing at the urinal, engaged in typical standing-in-front-of-the-urinal activity. My boss's boss walks in and takes the urinal next to me. I'm a fairly private bathroom person, but apparently he isn't, and decides that this is an appropriate time to ask me about my project. I don't understand why he doesn't come over to my desk if he wants an update. Maybe he knows something I don't. He does, after all, make more money than I do, and it's just possible that this is exactly the kind of informal networking that leads to that kind of salary. I try to explain what I've been doing, but I tend to use my hands a lot when I speak. I'd like to have the computer in front of me so I could point and click at the various great things I've accomplished. But at the moment I'm just not comfortable pointing and clicking with what I have in my hand. At least not in front of him.

Some months later, I was at a user's conference for a company that develops mapping software. Their strategy is to invite people out for a week of workshops and demos, and then take everyone out to a different bar every night and provide as many free drinks as possible. A good strategy, I always returned and wrote reports on how vital their software was to our success. A bit earlier, Neslie, one of my coworkers, had pointed out that their new chief of customer relations, just in from Australia, was dancing quite closely with another man. She thought this might explain why he had completely ignored her at the luncheon earlier. I was under the influence of the strongest margarita I've ever had the pleasure to consume. Since the company had rented the bar for the night, no one was tipping the wait staff, just paying with drink coupons. My first coupon got me an adequate margarita in an 8-ounce glass. My second one was in a 12-ounce glass. When I asked about the difference, the waitress winked at me and said it depends who makes it. When I ordered my third I gave her a ten dollar bill and said (in my most alluring voice of course), "I'd like another margarita, but only if you'll make it." She returned with a 16-ounce glass filled with just tequila, ice, and a slice of lime. "How's that", she asked. Obviously I approved. After finishing it, I wander over to the men's room (no, the margarita stayed down fine, but you can only ignore the call of nature for so long). This was a rustic bar sitting on the banks of a river. The men's room was also rustic, and it took me a minute to get my bearings. Okay, that's definitely a sink over there (I'm not making that mistake again), the only other thing that could be thought of as a plumbing fixture is a large, rusty bathtub-looking thing. I don't see any horses waiting to be watered down, so I assume that it's what I'm supposed to use. Just as I get started, who should walk in but the Australian chief of customer relations and his companion. It's like my worst fear about entering public school has come true (the day before I started kindergarten my brother Ted told me that there was only one big toilet and they made you all go at once). The Australian looks at me and says, "G'Day mate," and proceeds to be fairly cavalier about the task at hand while trying to talk about something or other. I figure responding with, "Keep your eyes on the road pal", might be a bit rude. I redirect his attention to the wall in front of us by pointing out a rather witty piece of graffiti there (wasn't intended to be, but it's strange how bad spelling can result in a good joke). I wander back to the table and announce to Neslie and everyone else in the vicinity, "I was just mated in the bathroom." It took a few minutes for the laughter to die down enough for me to explain that congratulations were not in order.

About a year later, I'm driving to Las Vegas. In an attempt to stay awake, I bought the bucket o' diet coke at gas station in Phoenix. Since I wanted to get there in a hurry, I didn't stop again until I was almost out of gas, in Kingman. At this point, I'm about to have renal failure, and I pull into the first McDonalds off the interstate, cutting off a busload of Japanese tourists as I enter the parking lot. The relief is instantaneous, and I'm settling in for what I know will be a long time when some of the tourists from the bus enter. There are more people than urinals now, so it's standing room only. The guy next to me finishes, but I'm showing no signs of slowing. His buddy takes over where he left off, and he too finishes just as my torrential downpour begins to trickle off. Some of the others standing around are joking with each other in their own language. I hate when there's an inside joke, and I'm on the outside. As I'm zipping up, I notice the two that had been next to me standing at the sink and staring at me while saying something that's apparently humorous. In my best John Wayne drawl, which admittedly isn't very good, I say, "Boys let that be a lesson to ya. Don't ever get in a pissin' contest with a 'Murikin" (that's American for those of you that have trouble reading a John Wayne accent). I walk out without washing my hands to prove how tough I am. As I'm heading back to my truck, the two guys come running after me. I'm wondering if there's going to be trouble, but it turns out they want to take a picture with me. I'm pretty sure I'm in a Japanese tourist's vacation photo album now. I just hate to think what the caption under the picture is.

Of course, I'm as guilty as the next guy when it comes to puzzling men's room behavior. As you would expect, alcohol was a factor. There was a bar named Waldo's across the street from Western Michigan University. Every Friday, my buddy Bob and I would settle the week's competition for highest grade, the loser buying the winner a beer. Some weeks I lost, but others I drank for free. And when the first one's free it usually leads to a second, and maybe a third. Obviously, a restroom is going to enter the picture soon. The beer club was in the basement and had its own men's room. Most people used the upstairs ones. This was a fairly plain lavatory with only a checkered tile floor for decoration. You go to a boring room often enough, you get bored. I'm not exactly sure why, but one day I wondered how far I could stand from the urinal while still managing to stay on target. A dangerous thought to have when you've been drinking. That day, I satisfied my curiosity by moving back two squares on the tile floor. No problem. As the weeks went on I began to get more daring. Three squares, then four. I didn't know what I was gonna do next! I was out of control and should have known that this could only end in tragedy. Two more weeks go by, and I've just reached my personal best, seven and a half squares. It required a little extra beer to build up that kind of pressure, which probably explains why I never considered exactly what to do when the inevitable happened. If you've ever looked at the faces of the people in a crowd watching a fire or a car crash, you'll know the kind of frightened, yet curious expression that the guy who walked into the men's room had. Of course, the people in those crowds feel insulated from the danger. Not so for this guy. I figure the best thing to do at this point is to pretend this is the most normal thing in the world to be doing. "Oooooooookay", he mutters as he begins to turn around. Seeing that my attempt at appearing normal is failing, I ask to nobody in particular, "Why do they put these things so far away?" As he continues his escape, I figure I have nothing else to lose so I shout, "For the love of God, it won't stop! It just won't sto-oo-ooo-p!" After all, why should I be the only one puzzled by men's room etiquette?


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