An Ode to Making Eye Contact With People Through the Bathroom Stall Door Cracks

Fiction.

Scott Muska
I THOUGHT THIS WAS WORTH SHARING

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At the beginning of the day, on the way to the office, you don’t imagine yourself making eye contact with someone through the crack in a bathroom door.

Just not something you’re expecting, which makes it more jarring when it does happen. Though you do know it is, for reasons you don’t particularly understand, something at least close to a commonality — engaging in this particularly uncomfortable brand of eye contact. It’s one of the most unsettling instances of meeting another person’s line of vision that you can encounter, probably.

(Guess it should be acknowledged that if you did set out with the goal of doing this as a box you would check as part of your day, that would be an exceptionally and objectively weird aspiration.)

If someone says they’ve never experienced this, making eye contact with someone through the bathroom stall door cracks, that’s difficult to believe. But if it’s the truth, you reason they should count themselves among the lucky ones. They should keep up the good work regarding appropriate restroom etiquette, restraining themselves from entertaining any strange desire to indulge in a wandering gaze in the direction of an enclosed commode.

In the case of this occurring, nobody is ever is like, “Oh my gosh, is that you in there, Roger? It’s me, Steve. From back in high school. We were partnered up in chem junior year. You passed out when we were dissecting that frog. I can tell it’s you from your left eye alone, which is wearing the same expression of horror it had back then! How ya been?”

Why does this happen? Why does anyone feel compelled to look anywhere in a restroom not directly related to conducting their own business? Why would the proverbial stars align when someone does look through the crack from the outside, the person sitting on the throne inside looks out as well and engages in eye contact, even if briefly? It takes two to tango in this scenario, always. Is it because they feel like they’re being watched? Are they simply staring into some sort of abyss and another person’s pupils disrupt their line of sight just as they’re about to figure out the meaning of life?

Maybe because it’s akin to the concept of rubber-necking when you pass by a car crash. You know in your heart of hearts it’s not going to be beneficial to you to do this, but due to some instinct combined with impulse, you scope out the scene, sometimes seeing human beings who are, at best, alive and uninjured but still having a much worse day than you, probably. What makes a bad day is always relative. Maybe their experience actually serves as a catalyst to somehow change their way of living in a positive way. And/or they saved on insurance with Geico, have a great plan and have been meaning to invest in a new vehicle anyway.

So anyway, you get out of a meeting that could have been an email, a Slack message that could have actually been completely disregarded except by one person of the nine who showed, who just has to make changes to a few slides before EOD, but the sooner the better. Yet it still somehow takes the better part of an hour, even though it was scheduled for 30 minutes and the invite even said something about how the entire 30 probably wouldn’t be needed. At its conclusion the organizer of said meeting checks his watch and says, “Look at that! Wrapped early. Guess we all get 14 minutes back.” Then another attendee points out that it was only supposed to be half an hour while hastily packing up her shit because she’s late for another meeting.

You’ve been hydrating liberally throughout the morning. It’s something you’ve gotten into rather recently, in an attempt to improve your overall health. It’s part of a regimen you’re implementing one facet or potential habit at a time. It’s progressing much slower than you’d planned. And thanks to a lack of self control when under the influence of The Devil’s Lettuce, you acted with reckless abandon the night before and consumed an order of dumplings and General Tso’s chicken with fried rice and more soy sauce than is advisable to consume in an entire fiscal quarter. So you’re more parched than usual. Basically living in salt.

All this to say by the time you get out of the gathering, your back teeth are floating somethin’ fierce. You’ve gotta hang a liquid wire that’s gonna have a strong enough stream and ample longevity to maybe finally complete a life goal: melt at least 2/3rds of a scented urinal cookie in one fell swoop.

So you beat it to the restroom to find you’re the only one about to post up at a urinal — always a little treat, the prospect of urinating in solitude — which you do, taking the furthest to the left of the three. This standard practice is designed so that if another person comes in for a leak, they will be able to choose the one furthest to the right, leaving a one-urinal buffer between the two of you, to be used only if it gets busy in there and a third amigo joins the piss party.

Then your boss’s boss comes strolling in with a newspaper rolled up under his arm. You notice because you can’t help but turn to clock your company. Could be one of your pals. Though you don’t know how much of a difference this would make, aside from sharing maybe a simple “Hi how are ya?” at the exact same time and then lapsing into silence. It’s not like you’re close enough with any of your coworkers to cross streams or anything.

You wonder briefly who reads newspapers anymore, let alone carries them around, specifically into the bathroom.

He selects the middle urinal. A real power move. You’ve already begun but get nervous for a second and your stream ceases. This is embarrassing. You shift from one foot to the other several times and then the hose turns back on, thank god.

This cat ain’t someone you talk to ever. You’re not even sure he knows your name. Has only ever called you “buddy,” you think. But you’ve heard plenty about his erratic and abrasive behavior from your boss, his underling, who lives in complete fear of he and his unwarranted level of wrath. But those are the kind of people who often have a sense of humor if you rub them the right way (you’re not thinking of proposing something like that, literally, yikes). You imagine a fantasy scenario where you sneakily remove a coin from a pocket with your non-wielding hand and drop it into the small reservoir of water in the urinal, and say “Wow, that’s cold!” And then he heartily guffaws, slaps you on the back with his non-wielding palm as he pitches his head back in delight. Could score you some points. At least make you memorable.

But nobody carries change anymore.

He finishes up while you’re still spoutin’ away, taking note of some comfort in the notion that you’ve at least gotten back from neutral after a severe sodium overload, as your pee is not the color of Pepsi. Hard work pays off.

You wonder what he’ll do with the newspaper while he washes his hands. Could be some residual splash on the sink counter from a previous tenant, which could make the paper soggy and the ink bleed, rendering the sports section unintelligible.

It’s a moot thought. He leaves without washing his hands.

Seconds after he makes his egress you realize the two of you are not alone. You hear the faint rustling of toilet paper being pulled from its dispenser and a small, almost cute, sigh. This as you’re finally finishing up a session you wish you had timed, because it was probably at least on the bubble of Hall of Fame-worthy emissions. You were really on some Austin Powers shit.

You zip up, saying a little thanks to whatever higher power is in charge of all this shit for not making all jeans button fly, and make your way to the sink. You emulate your boss’s boss’s financial prowess and robust knowledge of several markets, not his hygienic practices.

When you go to wash your hands, you realize that both dispensers have run out of soap. You frantically check the surrounding counter space in hopes there will be a disposable bottle out in lieu, as maybe the two machines had busted. But nope.

Here you are though, and there’s a dude in the stall, so you put on a performance, rinsing your hands sans soap for a reasonable amount of time, going through the motions.

As you wave your hand for the third time at the paper towel dispenser, the sound it makes while, well, dispensing, mixes simultaneously with some guttural noises, guess you could call them grunts, coming from the man in the stall.

Turns out that lil’ sigh was merely a precursor to an incoming fresh hell.

He sounds like he just ate the exact same diet as Liver King for a week.

It’s pertinent to get outta there, fast. You do not want to hear or, oh no, smell, what is about to transpire.

You dry your hands and as you’re making a move to discard the flimsy, thin towel in the garbage can, you are caught off guard by a very loud, mysterious sound unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. Best you can describe it, it’s like a French horn being played in an amplified way somehow, despite the fact it is coming from under water.

In your startled state, you cannot help but react to the shock of the sound — in the direction it’s coming from. Gotta take cover if the stall door is about to get blown off.

As you look, your eye inadvertently (you believe this) settles upon the crack in the door, where it scopes another eye peering out. With a pained expression. As if he’s pleading for help you cannot provide. You avert your gaze within a millisecond that somehow feels like it lasts an eternity, knowing now that it’s Ethan from market research who is on what promises to be a very cleansing journey, if nothing else. One you know he must endure by himself. It will build character. And hopefully not leave lasting damage.

You bounce and wince while, as the door closes behind you, another similar sound coupled with what might actually be a splash, their respective sound waves making their way out the slightly cracked door for those close by to hear.

Part of you wants to go to Annalise, the mayor of the front desk, office manager and point person of the Forced Fun Committee, because you guess that’s who you’d approach about such a matter, about the lack of soap in the men’s room. But if you choose to do this, she could accurately assume that you did not wash your hands with soap before leaving the restroom, which is just filthy and not in a sexy way.

Unless, of course, you went immediately to the kitchen where there was soap, and you lathered up real good. And when you left the bathroom without properly washing up, you made sure to use another paper towel than the one you dried your hands with, to open the door. Or that you hit yourself with a lil’ spritz of sanitizer once you got back to your desk, from your own personal stash, as you do after every bathroom trip. It’s not gonna hurt anything.

You did all these things, but you’re not going to proactively tell people about it. That’d be weird.

Anyway, someone probably wouldn’t get in there until after Ethan was done exorcising some serious demons, and you wouldn’t send your worst enemy in there while he was in the midst of such a dark ritual.

It’s worrisome, however that he’ll be without soap at the end of it all. Too worrisome.

It dawns on you that there is an opportunity for a random act of kindness that borders on the heroic, here, if you swiftly take action.

You grab the bottle of sanitizer you keep next to your ergonomic mouse that you bought on TikTok and is actually kind of a game-changer, and power-walk to the men’s room, where you, while pinching your nose with one hand, push through the door and underhand lob the sanitizer in the direction of the sinks, like it was a live grenade, with the other. Then retreat back to your desk.

Where you sit down and then a sneeze sneaks up on you. Before you can grab a tissue from the box next to the succulent your ex-girlfriend gave you that you can’t bring yourself to get rid of, you’ve named it Hank and sometimes talk to him like he’s a real boy, you let out a real ripper of a sneeze. The kind that can slip a disc. Large quantities of snot from both nostrils hit your black slacks and it looks like you shot an eight-roper onto them while you were in the bathroom.

You head to the kitchen, hoping you’ll be able to find a knockoff Clorox wipe with which to clean up. It’ll look like you pissed yourself, but that beats looking like you beat off somewhere in the confines of your place of employment.

There will be days like these.

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Scott Muska
I THOUGHT THIS WAS WORTH SHARING

I write books (for fun, and you can find them on Amazon), ads (for a living) and some other stuff (that seems to magically show up on the internet).