Newspapers in the Public Restroom
I had a close call today. I was washing my hands in a public restroom when a guy rushed in clutching a newspaper. He was breathing heavily, and there was no silent nod of acknowledgement (he didn’t even make eye contact with me), so I knew something bad was about to happen. I didn’t even dry my hands before I exited the facility.
If the guy hadn’t been holding a newspaper, though, I might have missed the other signs of impending disaster (heavy breathing, no eye contact). For that, I shall be forever grateful for the newspaper.
Circulation is down for just about every newspaper, and pretty soon there probably won’t be any newspapers anymore. Offhand, we might not care because people believe newspapers are obsolete. But newspapers are essential in one way.
If there are no newspapers, how will men know when it’s time to evacuate a restroom (before it’s too late)?
A newspaper is the perfect symbol that something (necessary but) horrible is about to happen. Nobody has to say anything. No verbal warnings are needed. A newspaper equals long-term body function; get out immediately if you don’t want to be offended. Without a newspaper, that nonverbal warning is gone, and I don’t think anything can replace it.
Replacing a newspaper with a tablet or a smart phone is too dangerous. One unlucky slip into the toilet, and nobody will want to touch that ipad again (even if it’s the latest one), no matter how long it sits in rice. If I see a guy walk into the bathroom with a tablet or a smart phone, I’m not exactly sure what his intention could be. He might simply need a place to talk, but that’s a bad idea if somebody else is reading a newspaper because, you know, you have to breathe in order to talk.
Magazines are too expensive. A person reading a newspaper in the bathroom doesn’t want to keep the newspaper afterward, but the newspaper is cheap and disposable, so the reader doesn’t mind throwing it away. A magazine is relatively expensive, and a guy might want to keep it afterward to save money. The reader then has a choice of either wasting money or being unsanitary, and some people in that situation might make the wrong choice.
If there are no newspapers, guys might have to resort to verbal warnings. A simple “You might want to leave,” is enough warning to any gentlemen who are simply washing their hands. A verbal warning, however, is the last resort because of the shame involved. It’s embarrassing to announce that you must “read a newspaper” when you don’t actually have a newspaper, and some guys would rather slip behind the stall door and hope for anonymity. A verbal warning seems crass, but it’s far more polite than “reading a newspaper” without letting everybody else washing their hands know what’s about to happen.
When I was a kid, my dad would always give the rest of the family a verbal warning (“Ladies and gentlemen, it is that time!”), even though he also took a newspaper in with him. We had a bathroom next to our dining area (why?), and his urge to read the newspaper coincided with my breakfast every morning. Unfortunately, my dad read the newspaper very loudly, and my breakfast was often raisin bran flakes with milk. That’s not a good combination, especially since bran flakes get soggy very quickly, and a bunch of raisins floating around brown sloppy cereal is not pleasant for a kid with an imagination. I resorted to eating breakfast in another room in front of the television with the volume turned up.
That is how I eat all my meals now, in front of a television with the volume turned up. When my wife calls me antisocial, I simply tell her this is a learned behavior.
I don’t know what will replace the newspaper. Technology (tablets and smart phones) can’t do it. Magazines can’t do it. Verbal warnings won’t be used because of the shame involved. Without the newspaper, it’s going to require extra vigilance to know when to flee from a public restroom. I’m going to really miss newspapers.