May 31 2012

The Handicapped Stall Door Swings Out

I know some people who don’t use office restrooms for certain functions. They’ve trained their bodies to wait until the end of the day. I’m not one of those people. At around 1 pm, an hour or so after lunch, I hit the office men’s room, as do an unfortunately high percentage of the large number of men that work on my office floor.

Today I was in the stall, doing my business, and checking something out on my phone. A guy got in the stall next to mine and closed his door a little too hard, causing the latch keeping my door closed to slip out of its hilt.

I looked up in creeping terror to see my stall door slowly swing open, away from me, out into the bathroom. I recalled that most stall doors swing *in* but that I was in the handicapped stall. And the handicapped stall door swings out. Which makes sense. Just not at that moment.

As the door swung out into the room, it revealed a dude leaning up against the wall, checking out his own phone, facing - and clearly waiting to use - my stall. And for a split-second, his eyes glanced up from his phone and met mine, registering the deeply unfortunate nature of the situation, but then they quickly snapped back to his phone.

I waited an endless second for his assistance, but it was not to be. It was either he or I that closed that stall door, and since it had swung out to him, he was actually a step closer to the open door than I was. And I was pantsless, mid-business. Yet in that moment when his eyes had snapped back to his phone, he had committed to pretending he was not complicit in the scene and was immune to all else at that moment but what lay before him on his phone.

He disengaged. But that split-second connection had betrayed his farce.

It was a bummer moment in that crowded men’s room. I had simultaneously learned about different stall types and human nature. I took care of some things, hiked my pants up, and shuffled off the toilet and out of the stall to pull back the door. In so doing, I noticed that there was another guy waiting to use the urinal, two guys using urinals, and one guy washing his hands at the sink - many of whom glanced over to see what was going on. 

And as I reached out to pull back the door, I dropped my phone. It smacked on the bathroom floor and bounced on to the complicit dude’s foot.

The air seemed thick. I’m not sure if people were stifling laughter, but it was silent, except for one guy finishing up urinating. How had this become so awkward, so fast? What would the complicit dude do now, I wondered. Frozen. Mute.

Miraculously, he reached down and picked up the phone, the world turning again, and he handed it back to me. As he did, he quickly looked me in the eye, and somewhere in his look he acknowledged he should have closed the stall door in the first place. My bad, said his eyes.

I took the phone from him and returned to my stall, pulling the door shut and latching it, making sure the latch held. It was at that moment such an insufficient technology, so error prone and insecure. But humanity had redeemed itself, somewhat.

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