A Lavatory Discovery Story

Eureka #2 (and sometimes #1, too).

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Public toilet stall.Patients of digestive illnesses have much in common, and they differ widely as well, but there’s one unavoidable truth that applies to us all: toilets are paramount. We don’t really feel like we know where we are unless we know where they are. And how far they are. And how many there are. Toilet-tunnel-vision is a way of life.

The places I frequent rarely surprise me that way because I’ve visited all the restrooms so many times, and analyzed every possible way to get there when the emergent urge arrives. I know that it’s 75 paces from my office to the public restroom to the east. It’s only about 65 to the more private one to the west, but it has a barrier—a workshop that isn’t always open. So despite being closer and a little more comfortable, it’s a risky gamble in certain situations (and we all know what they are). There’s one upstairs that’s off the beaten track, so during busy times that’s the best bet. There’s another in the building to the south, adjacent to the parking lot. I sometimes duck in there if I get caught with my pants up on the way to the car.

But despite this vigilant familiarity, the other day I was presented with a stunning revelation. On one of my trespasses through that workshop, the guy who runs it (he’s familiar with my digestive woes) pointed out to me that there’s a restroom in an adjacent building that’s actually closer to my office than most of the others I frequent. Despite walking past that building rather frequently, it had never occurred to me to look for a restroom in there because I’ve only been inside it a couple of times in the ten years I’ve worked on campus. Somehow this building was so far off my radar that my mind basically filtered it out. As a result, this seemingly obvious resource went completely ignored for a long time. It’s hard to imagine such a surprise after I’ve put so much effort into knowing every restroom in town.

I told him, “Hey, thanks for waiting until now to tell me!” to which he responded “Hey man, you’re the expert, you shouldn’t need me for that.” We both laughed. Then I made a bee line to go check it out.

It was nothing less than brilliant, an utterly gleeful discovery. After a decade of working there I am oddly thrilled to have a new resource in my routine. It’s a fairly plain restroom for sure, but the newness of it is a total delight. I don’t know how long the honeymoon will last, but for now I’m enjoying it fully. This might seem a little odd to people with cooperative digestive systems, but when you go to the bathroom twenty times a day, a new place to do it feels like a trip to Paris. Never mind the fact that my only visit to France was when I first experienced colitis symptoms, and was bleeding into every toilet I found. Thankfully I haven’t bled into my new throne yet (knock on wood). Needless to say, I certainly hope it’s a long time before I get that chance.

Specifics aside, I take this as a reminder that, despite our best investigations and preparations, seemingly obvious options can remain concealed right in front of our noses, even when we think we’ve already discovered the gems. I’d focused on east and west, and eventually discovered south. But how could I have never looked to the north?

This offers a good lesson to remember. When I was in art school, my photography teacher often reminded us of what he called “the 180 degree rule.” It was meant to suggest that when you’re so focused on capturing a particular image, great as it may be, there may be a lovely opportunity happening right behind you—only to remain a secret because you’re simply not paying attention. I’ve found this to be an essential lesson learned, and applicable in many different contexts. Of course it works a lot better when you remember the rule in foresight rather than hindsight. So, while the rule didn’t save me this time, I am certainly reminded to keep it close at hand. I suspect the photo teacher would never have imagined what I’d apply his bit of wisdom to some day. But that’s the beauty of gifts that keep on giving; you never know how they’ll evolve.

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Tags: Narratives , Toilet Talk

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About the Author

Andrew Tubesing is an acclaimed advocate and humorist on the subject of inflammatory bowel disease.

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