I was attending a Christmas chorale concert when a friend suggested I write a column about bathrooms. I realize that's not exactly a glowing endorsement of my skills as a humorist, or, for that matter, a glowing endorsement of my friends' confidence in my scribbling skills.
Come to think of it, I guess it doesn't say much for the concert, either.
But it is the holiday season in America, which means guys have to turn off the TV and go places. And in such uncharted places, public bathrooms play an integral, underrated role. All over the country, guys are being forced to put on (preferably matching) socks, swipe their hair into obedience, and leave the house - often, during a ball game - to go out and attend various seasonal social functions.
You know what happens next. At these various functions, various hosts will callously carpet-bomb you with 800 gallons of an off-white substance, cleverly marketed under the unassuming alias "eggnog." Eggnog is a digestive-system-disrupting paste first created by the Spanish Inquisition for use on particularly stubborn interviewees. ("Nog" is an ancient Latin term meaning "renal express lane.")
What's worse, the 800 gallons are dolloped at you in 20-micron increments, served in overfilled elfin plastic tumblers etched with holly leaves, snowflakes and exclamation points, and presented on a useless square napkinlet the size of a Congressman's conscience, but cleaner.
Alternatively...or, if your karma really stinks, alternately...the inviters will insist that you try a nice goblet (or two, or six) of this year's wine from their Uncle Cletus' private label, Chateau Boxing. ("it's a pesky yet haunting little grape-toned diuretic that we like to call Chenin Blanc itty Blanc Blanc.")
And after an hour or so of that, there you are - a helpless, clueless, nog-mustached guy, facing a multiple-front volley of festive fluids. And all advice to the contrary, you forgot to "go" before you left home. Plus, you're wearing uncomfortable clothes and, theoretically, matching socks. Against such an onslaught, a guy and his plumbing don't stand a chance.
So the guy does what he must. He heeds the siren's call. He's just a guy.
The public bathroom is, I think, the only remaining American institution that's not yet been attacked by gender rights activists. (Excluding, of course, the West Coast. At last count, San Francisco had eleven distinct genders, and this weekend they're interviewing two more.) As a result, many of you have never been inside that odd, echoey, decidedly non-aromatic chamber known as the "men's room."
And even those of us who qualify for entry genetically (or, in San Francisco, eventually) are often socially unprepared for the experience.
So, as a public service, let's review some rules of etiquette concerning the room simply labeled "Men."
If you enter a public bathroom and, instead of seeing individual stations along the "wall," you notice a long trough, you should:
A) Move to either end of the trough
B) Run back and forth, shouting "Take that, commie! Ack-ack-ack!"
C) Sincerely hope you're in a football stadium
Sometimes in the men's room, there's a line of people waiting. While in line, you should:
A) Return your phone messages
B) Pull out a deck of cards
C) Try to organize a sing-along
Just inside the door of many public bathrooms, there is some kind of fold-up table. What's that for?
A) Those occasional social situations that call for an impromptu human sacrifice
B) An fold-out berth for narcoleptics to grab forty winks, if they're very short narcoleptics ("Well, officer, the sign did say 'rest room,' didn't it?")
C) It's used for changing a baby's diaper, but it has never been used by a guy in the history of there being the possibility of more than one guy in the bathroom at the same time.
When standing next to another guy at the "wall," you should never make:
B) Eye contact
C) A cardigan
However, if you know the next guy, you may feel the need to communicate. Which greeting is most appropriate?
A) Evening, Tom. Whoa! What's in that eggnog? WD-40?
B) Hey, Tom! Glad I caught you. Have you ever considered the variable-length benefits of term life insurance?
C) Tom, I killed again today.
On the other hand, if the next guy at the wall is a stranger to you, avoid the following phrases:
A) My! Aren't you tall!
B) These are way nicer than they got at the asylum.
C) Got a minute?
While washing up at the sink, if you happen to make eye contact in the mirror, you should:
A) Nod curtly, then look away and start humming the Marine Corps anthem
B) Mutter something non-committal and guy-like, like "how 'bout those Yankees!" or "Be honest - do I look bloated?"
C) Use your finger to write "I'm watching you" on the mirror
One more thing, guys. Remember this: eventually, inevitably, at some point in your life, you will commit the ultimate public facilities faux pas: you will get confused and walk into the Women's Room. When this happens, keep your wits about you, because you have options:
A) Mumble an apology and immediately make your retreat
B) Make some idiot comment like "Hey! Where's the wall? What's with all the stalls? What, are you guys voting?"
C) Memorize everyone's shoes. Later, while mingling at the party, try to find the shoes' owners and strike up a conversation.
I will recommend, however, that you steer clear of any female you see at a holiday party if she's wearing Viet Cong combat boots, or eight-inch stilettos and a leopard-motif leotard with iron ring inserts. Believe me, it's just not worth the effort. Believe me.