How not to pee (men’s division)

Even before the recent confession in these pages to possibly deviant peeing practices, I’d conceived of writing a post addressing the topic of men and urinating. This idea grew out of an incident at a baseball game on a very hot Saturday afternoon a couple weeks ago.

After drinking about a liter and a half of fluids that sweltering day, I had to pee, so I left my seat and made my way to the bathroom.

Those of you who have never peed in a men’s bathroom at a major league baseball game should know a few things to fill in the gaps here. Often, there’s a long line of guys waiting for the urinals, which is unusual in terms of public men’s rooms generally. And by the way, when I say “guys,” I do mean GUYS — dudes whose expressed notions of masculinity and gender rarely stray from cliches I don’t care to catalogue here. Anxiety is generally heightened, due to the need to find relief and the impending possible public display of one’s penis.

If there’s any talk at all under these conditions, it’s confined to genial or not-so-genial taunting of fans of the opposing team, exclamations of drunkenness, and/or declarations of a pressing need to use the lavatory. Conveniently, stadiums usually pipe in a feed from the radio broadcast of the game in progress, so any awkward silences (or noises) are covered over.

In these bathrooms, separate urinals are often replaced by long troughs mounted on the wall. About 15 feet in length, each of these drains into a single pipe and is washed with a constant waterfall along its back inner wall.

Negotiating such a public convenience is a little complicated. The amount of trough space each user needs varies according to body size and stance taken. It’s sort of like parallel parking a car in that you need to judge quickly where you can fit. You don’t want to crowd others, but you also don’t want to leave too much unused space. If you’re hesitant or picky, you can interrupt the flow of traffic and raise the ire of the “guys” in line behind you.

At the moment under consideration, there was a fortunate dearth of other patrons. I strode in, found a spot at the trough with no problem, and with plenty of space on either side of me for others, I began to urinate. Moments later another customer settled in on my left. A quick second after that, a rather large guy — tall, thick, heavy-set, not overweight, just big — lumbered up and found room between me and the wall to my right. Because of his size, he needed about one and a half times the length of trough I did, crowding me just a bit, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

This somewhat-inebriated gentleman then proceeded to release a torrent of urine the likes of which I have rarely seen. Think Andres Serrano. Pee was splattering out of the trough, dancing, arcing, and splashing in a circumference of about 10 inches or a foot in either direction, and of course, spraying my legs with a not-so-fine mist. Tiny yet distinct droplets clung to my leg hair.

My first instinct was to move to my left, away from this unwanted golden shower. However, with another urinating party standing nearby, I couldn’t easily move very far. I edged over, just to test the boundary. This unaware and innocent bystander was immediately made uncomfortable by my advances in his direction. His body language indicated that he did not want me any closer. So I decided to take it like a man. I stood there and got peed on by a stranger.

While the offender finished up, I tried to comfort myself with a few thoughts. First, as we know and as Farrell has pointed out, pee is sterile. I realized that I was in no real physical danger from being splattered by a stranger’s urine. Second, my legs were already covered in an amalgam of sunscreen and sweat, not to mention dribbled foodstuffs — mustard and onions, maybe a little bit of Coke, perhaps some melted frozen lemonade. A little pee wasn’t going to add much to this concoction.

I knew this, but all the same I wasn’t very happy. A line had been crossed.

Now, bathroom etiquette can be complex. The toilet (along with the sink, perhaps) is the site of a peculiar blending of the personal and the communal. When using the bathroom at home, we close the door on the rest of the world and settle into addressing private needs. We shut ourselves away from the eyes and ears of others. Each of us has an intimate relationship with this space. It sees us at our most vulnerable, while we variously strain over or delight in achieving release.

In this room we can let go, not only of bodily waste, but also of some of our cares. It is the one place in the home where, barring the intrusions of an emergency or a small child, we can truly relax undisturbed. No one will knock on the door; no one will interrupt us with conversation. We pee, as we dream, alone.

But at the same time, we should recognize that the space we’re using is also used by other people–friends, family, lovers–for the very same purposes. We need to take care to make them feel comfortable in this same space, leaving it as we would want it to be when we enter. And when we move this set of intensely private activities and feelings into public, boy howdy there are going to be some conflicting emotions and urges. Because of this, there are a few rules that one should follow, both in private and in public.

This encounter at the ballpark, along with Farrell’s call for rules for sink peeing, have inspired me to begin to identify a general etiquette of micturation for men, for application in public and at home.

I’ve already gone on at length here and don’t want to test your patience. I’d also like to give others a chance to contribute, so an outline of these rules will have to wait for my next post. Please comment with your ideas. Other anecdotes welcome.

Next time: The Golden Rules.

5 responses to “How not to pee (men’s division)”

  1. Jeremy Zitter says:

    You don’t have to defend yourself, Tim. I loved this post, and of course most “guys” and “GUYS” have been in equally harrowing situations. And while splashing pee on a fellow urinator is one thing, your post also made me curious about other possible breaches of etiquette. I work at a school where every student has a cell phone, and I’m constantly encountering students (guys, at least) talking on their cellphones while at the urinals or even in stalls. I always find it somewhat disconcerting, a sort of sanitary, tech version of splashing pee on the person at the other end of the conversation. It’s a stretch, I know, but either way, you don’t really want to be a part of someone else’s bathroom experience, even if it’s just over the phone.

    And while I realize that women don’t generally pee in close-enough proximity to, uhh, spill bodily fluids on one another, I wondered–what corresponding rules and breaches occur in women’ s restrooms?

  2. celia says:

    My biggest pet “pee”ve in public restrooms (besides the inevitable long line) is when women are germ-aphobes to the point that they crouch above the toilet seat and attempt to pee in a partially standing position. Women are often too short to really get a good angle at the bowl, and they never have straight enough aim to get everything in the toilet anyway; they therefore leave splatters all over the seat. Many, many women leave their pee splatters for the next woman to deal with. Sometimes I have to pee so badly I forget to check the seat, I sit down, and a wet surprise awaits me. Even if I notice it, I don’t want to wipe someone else’s pee off the seat. Sick. =P

    It really is ineresting to me that there are places in America with the “trough” system. That’s like 3rd world country style. It was like that in China, but for everything. You stand over the trough and squat. Sometimes there were dividers, sometimes there weren’t. There was almost never toilet paper, so if you didn’t want to litterally have a mess on your hands, you’d better come prepared. Nothing like watching people’s bodily excriments being swept underneath you in a trough.

  3. Dave says:

    I’ve heard that women’s restrooms are much nastier than men’s for precisely the reason you cite, Celia. I’d rather have a trough.

  4. MarleyFan says:

    Even more strange, are the Men’s restrooms that have a tiled wall to pee on (water runs down the wall to clean it) with a little drain at the bottom.

    I love to tell the story about when we were young, my sister (Stephanie W.) could pee outside standing straight up. Yup, true story!

  5. bryan says:

    i’ve never witnessed the standing whiz, marleyfan, but i’ve heard that story many times. it does sum up a certain aspect of her personality, doesn’t it? [ducks, even though he’s hundreds of miles away from potentially flying objects.]

    tim — i enjoyed this post and am waiting to see where it goes next. i wanted to comment last week but have had very little time, what with all the monking out and soiling jeremy’s car, but i had two reactions. one, you didn’t mention the issue of stage fright. a friend of mine who writes for this site and shall remain anonymous, even though he posts under his own name, gave me the recipe for overcoming stagefright years ago: imagine yourself defecating or urinating on the person standing next to you who’s bringing on the anxiety.

    the again, have you ever been to roseland ballroom in ny? their troughs run down both sides of a waist-high wall, so that you’re not only surrounded by guys on either side, but directly infront of you, facing you, as well. what kind of sadist designed that bathroom?

    i don’t have much for rules. just the old-fashioned kind. if you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie and wipe the seatie. no one likes to look at — or clean up — urine jelly. i never liked living with male roommates.