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I want to preface this article by stating that I’m not one for scatological topics. Honestly–I cringe when so-called “edgy” girls try to battle the feminine mystique by declaring their ability to take “big dumps,” or revealing that that morning, they woke up, changed their organic tampons, and had a good shit. In any case, although we all may do it, and apparently no one’s smells like roses, I am not a great fan of the scat-talk.

However, there are a few cases, mostly sociological in nature, that pique my interest and concern. Long ago, I had wanted to write an article on the shameful, primal behaviour of women in public washrooms–I know, every girl has her story about bloody, used pads stuck to cubicle walls, or shit smears denoting a lack of toilet paper, or the most prevalent and incomprehensible violation of them all, the pee seat. (A new trend I’ve experienced is the “shoeprint seat,” presumably the side-effect of one’s attempt to avoid the aforementioned pee-seat, that yellow-sprinkled demon). However, I was sitting in one of those hair salons whose name uses the play-on-the-word “hair” (out of respect to the owner, I shan’t repeat the groaner here, but will say that it’s in the same vein as “Hair ‘n’ After” etc.) and read my very shit-disturbing idea in a Chatelaine article. That’s right, Chatelaine got to it first. Right then and there I ended my dream of becoming a hard-hitting journalist. Like Geraldo, but for women’s bathrooms.

I don’t think Chatelaine has tackled my next scat-related sociological study, however. As someone with a rather sensitive…er, “system,” I feel it is my duty to expose the pain, hardships, and challenges that occur in washrooms around the world, every single day. Every hour. Perhaps even at this minute. Is it 9 a.m. somewhere in the world, after the first coffee of the day has settled? Then yes, even this very MINUTE.

I am speaking of the phenomenon I have dubbed the “Poo-Off.”

Many shirk in fear when I mention the Poo-Off, but as I describe it, they slowly nod their heads; yes, I’ve been there, too. Many of us have been the unwilling participant in a Poo-Off; many of us won’t even know that it’s happening, all the times that we use a public stall, flush a toilet, opt for the hand-dryer over the paper. You might have been around a Poo-Off today.

The origin of the Poo-Off comes from my time spent working on an office floor with a three-stalled bathroom. There were also three offices on said floor, and I frequently peed alongside co-workers. It was inevitable in a company filled with hormonal, Starbucks Venti-guzzling alcoholic women. The office to the left was some clothing business called “Mr. Leonard’s Fashions” that seemed to have its hey-day in the ’50s, judging from the vintage framed Eaton’s Catalogue advertisement on the office wall. The receptionist/Girl Friday was a woman who looked fortyish, most likely single, and what you might call “pleasant” in demeanour. She was dubbed “Penny” due to her penchant for penny-loafers. Interactions with her were limited to passing in the hall, or walking in on her in the bathroom washing out her office’s coffee cups. The only other time one came up against her was whilst dancing the silent dance of the Poo-Off.

It was the summer of getting fit and eating right, and I was following the raw food diet/lifestyle, which led to a very regular system of expulsion (forgive my euphemisms…I don’t want to talk about these things!). I trained my rebellious bowels to go but once, in the morning, before my 40-minute walk to work. However, I know what offices can do to a system. You’re drinking a lot of coffee, eating crappy muffins, nuking Michelena’s for lunch, followed by more coffee…throw in a couple of smoke breaks, and you’re bound to hear nature’s stinky call.

But Penny had control. Some of us can’t handle the pressure, and feel that bathrooms should be for doing one’s nasty business, and of course there will be farts and plops, social norms be damned! Not Penny. Penny was a shy gal. Penny would wait for you to leave. It didn’t matter if you were already in the bathroom, or if you entered a stall while she had already occupied another: Penny would WAIT. I soon learned not to test Penny. She had the patience of Mr. Miyagi. Her stall would remain ever-silent; only the hiss of the automatic air-freshener would mark the passage of time. This patience became extremely troubling on those occasions where you, too, would want to have a little private moment, because there was NO WAY she would leave before you. And that, my friends, is how it becomes a Poo-Off.

Now, I have no evidence that Penny even pooed during these occasions–she might have just been a shy pisser, but minds speak to each other in that state of arrest. When you join the competition, you just know. Similarly, you know when you are being challenged. The walls of the stalls evaporate, and all that remains are two determined souls, clutching at their ball of toilet paper, examining the blemishes on their thighs. Sometimes the sound of your own quickening pulse deafens you, but you can be brought back to focus with the shuffling of heels, or the clearing of your opponent’s throat. In desperate times, sweat will bead up and roll down your face. How you wish all your bodily expulsions could happen as smoothly and silently.

Penny telepathically shooed me many times from that bathroom. I have tried, in vain, to shoo others from their own stalls in my times of desperation. I now work at the university library, and I learned (with horror) that the office had no bourgeois bathroom of its own. The only bathroom on the floor is the large, seven- or eight-stalled behemoth with ineffectual hand-dryers that NOBODY USES. Nobody uses them, for the love of god…I curse the acoustics that foil my attempts at delicacy…. I witness a Poo-Off taking place every day–the feet planted firmly in their respective stalls. When I’m having a good day, I do my best to prevent Poo-Off tragedies by starting the hand-dryer on my way out of the bathroom. “You poor, sick bastards…'”I think to myself.

I even keep myself distracted by adding horse-race commentary:

“…and in stall num-bah 2, we have a contestant at 3 minutes, that’s right ladies and gentlemen, 3 minutes and counting! Now that’s a determined lass! And wait, we have a challenger entering stall num-bah 6! Will contestant 2 give up? Will they continue past num-bah 6’s pee run? Will they hope that num-bah 6 will flush and, hope of all hopes, use the hand-dryer? It seems like contestant num-bah 2 will have to make a decision quickly, as there seems to be someone veering for stall num-bah 3, and that changes the dynamics of smell and sound for num-bah 2.

There are so many things to take into consideration when participating in a challenge such as the Nine-Thousandth Annual Poo-Off…these contestants are hardened, determined, but also incredibly frightened. There is always the disqualification of the winn-ah if they reveal themselves at the sinks prematurely, or if a colleague enters her stall with the naive reassurance that her associates would never use public stalls for anything other than powdering their noses and re-applying deodorant!

I’ve been doing commentary for many, many years now, and it still breaks my heart when this occurs….”

Today was a good day. Although the bathroom was full, it had a lot of turn-over, as well, so there was flushing to the left of me, flushing to the right–gallons and gallons of glorious whitenoise.

I know some may call it disgusting. Some are talented or disciplined enough to never have to worry about expulsion in their places of work. It’s those sorry asses who DON’T stumble into work reeking of coffee, curry, and cigarettes. Well, they ain’t my friends. Friends are the ones who know why you get up from your desk at 9:25 and don’t say a word, or make fun of you, or notice that you only return at 9:37. They are the ones who make awkward conversation with you if you’re both in the bathroom at the same time, and leave sooner than you. They are the ones who always use the hand-dryer–ALWAYS–and push the button twice so it’s still running after they leave. I respect that. But I’ll always carry the greatest respect for the woman who opened my eyes, my ears, and my mind to the struggle to keep bathrooms non-primal. To keep them…”pleasant.” That woman will always be Penny Poo-Champ.

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