Sunday, May 31, 2009

Into the Wilderness, with Toilets

What is there to say about camping? Well, there is the issue of toilets. A few days ago I went on a one-night camping trip that was an excursion into the "wilderness." And it was indeed wild. Except for the running faucet and sink at the cooking location, elaborate roof structures with picnic tables, and expertly cleared areas with trails. But at one point I did take a walk alone down a path in the morning, and could have sworn I heard some kind of growling coming from the bushes. Without making too much haste, I calmly turned around and walked back toward camp.

There is something about civilization, and I think one of those things is toilets. Or all manner of bathroom facilities. We liked being out there in the woods, with the cold and the pine needles, the dirt, and the fire that blew smoke in our hair and made us feel warm. But as much as we liked to be "roughing it," we liked our bathrooms, too. We liked the fact that the campsite came outfitted with full-on toilets in bathrooms with sinks - not even the bring-you-own-toilet-paper portapotties I've been used to, and was expecting. This was a whole new level of camping experience; somewhere between a real get-in-the-dirt excursion and a summer camp style set-up.

But, of course, the bathroom facilities were located far away from the tent set-up areas, on the other side of the parking lot, all the way up the hill. So, what to do when you wake up in the middle of the night, it's freezing cold, except for maybe one little corner of your sleeping bag, and your bladder is screaming to you?

You contemplate the long walk up the hill with your flashlight, whose batteries are dying. You think about the energy it will take to dress, and undress again, and how will you get back to sleep after that? Probably you should walk up the hill. And yet, it's pitch black. Who will see you? There is plenty of dirt and brush right here. Why don't you just...hmm.

Then you wake up in the morning and realize you weren't the only one. Because it turns out the dirt around here is pretty dry, but not too absorbent. And as you walk around the campsite, you notice little wet spots here and there among the trees.

Ah, nature...

I guess sometimes, in the wilderness, toilets are just too much trouble. But as much as I love it out in the woods, there's nothing like coming home to a good, hot shower.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Just Like Home

Last weekend, I attended an art opening at the Mina Dresden Gallery in the Mission. When I got there, I of course had to use the bathroom. What I found was a bathroom that seriously resembled someone's personal bathroom. My first thought was, well, at least I know if I need to take a shower after some art viewing, I can do that. Turns out the owner of the gallery and her family live in a loft upstairs, and this bathroom is, in fact, their personal bathroom.

That explained why the shower still seemed to be damp, and the colored towels were hung casually over the curtain rod. But I especially like the big mirror with the white-painted leafy-looking frame and the old-fashioned style scale tucked in behind the toilet.

Going into a bathroom is a good way to get your bearings about a place, and here I felt very comfortable. I felt like a guest in someone's house. That's because I was, technically speaking.

When I spoke to the owner, Ms. Dresden, she said she always felt a little odd allowing the public to use her bathroom, but what could she do? She would have to install a second bathroom for public use. Not a tiny project. She also considered not allowing anyone to use it, but I, for one, am thankful that she hasn't done that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sur la Plage

I will always appreciate a good bathroom on the beach. This one is one of the series of public loos that line the beachfront of Alameda, facing the Bay of San Francisco. I honestly can't remember what we used to do without beach toilets as a kid. In Maine, you don't really pay to go to the beach. Someone owns the property, but makes it accessible to the public, and you just go. This means easy access to the beach. Not so easy access to facilities. Particularly when the beach is miles from a gas station. So I don't know. We probably peed in the water. Which was freezing.

In Massachusetts, you pay to park at the beach. That's how they get you. But on the bonus side, you might have certain amenities, such as bathrooms.

And while we're on the subject, can we talk about how annoying it is to try to use the baño when you've got a one-piece bathing suit on, under your clothes? This, again, is one area in which guys most definitely have it easier.

Bikinis: more practical than you think.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Steampunk Toilet

You know you want it. Well, I do. It's the "Antique Toilet of the Future." Otherwise known as the Steampunk toilet.

Steampunk, in case you didn't know, is the quasi-futuristic-Victorian-era-throwback-maker-y movement among the artist type people who like to make things for the Hell of it, or really for the pleasure of it, or because it looks cool. All of these things. This blogger, for one, is very interested, and would like to get or make herself a steampunk laptop someday. Ah, a writer can dream.

But back to the toilet!

So, this one comes with a "control panel," lights, gauges of unexplained significance, a coffee cup holder, brass seat, and, of course, a laser.

Because who doesn't need a laser on their toilet?

I do.

Anyone for tennis?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

On the Outside Looking In

Speaking of glass-walled bathrooms, I had probably the most uncomfortable bathroom experience of my life last night. And I've been in some pretty uncomfortable bathrooms.

In case you did not know, it was this blogger's birthday recently, and a friend of mine took me out to dinner and dancing in San Francisco. We went to a fairly small club/lounge, called Shine, where it was also, apparently someone else's birthday.

The women's bathroom there was nice. Dim light, high ceiling, light walls and a dark velvet drape framing the wall-sized mirror. (The door, by the way, locked).

Contrast that with the men's bathroom. I stepped in at one point, because there was a big line for the women's room, due to fact that the birthday boy's party showed up all at once, and all females seemed to be in need of a restroom all at once.

The men's room was lit with a deep red glow, much like a darkroom. That was about the only decor. There was a toilet in the far corner, and opposite that, a very low mounted urinal. But coming from the wall just to my right, there was another source of light - a blurry window that looked out onto the back section of the club. It was blurry because it was, in fact, a one-way mirror.

And whereas earlier, there had been very few people present, suddenly, there was a crowd of people standing around outside the room, in full view of me, but not seemingly conscious of my looking at them. Add to that the fact that the door did not seem to want to close or lock, and suddenly I was feeling very exposed.

I am sure that some people really like the one-way mirror effect. One male reviewer on called it a "nice bonus." But I can't tell you how disconcerting it was for me. I knew that the people outside couldn't see me, and yet, I could see them, which was bad enough. And at one point, I saw a guy staring straight into the mirror, checking himself out, I guess. He seemed to be looking right at me. But then he moved his eyes up and away and turned back to his buddies, apparently clueless as to what was behind the glass.

Maybe I was supposed to find this exciting. I found it unnerving.

So let's recap.

Women's bathroom: soft lighting, light colors, plush curtains, big mirror, tasteful decor, and a door that locks.

Men's bathroom: porn star lighting, minimal decor, vague odor of piss, weird voyeristic window, and a door that doesn't lock, or even close.

Clearly, they were appealing to the different sensibilities of men and women, and I think they nailed them, pretty much right on the heads. Women like different things in a bathroom, one of those being privacy. Guys, it seems, like that hunted, "I can see you, but you can't see me" feeling. So each one gets what they want.

I'd say that's equality for the sexes.

Still, I think I'll wait for the Ladies' room.