Office Bathrooms: Where Everyone Is a Disgusting Monster

by Jess Keefe

Listen, I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve been skulking around gray office hellscapes for a few years now, a full-fledged member of the white-collar workplace. And whether it’s a slick downtown hellscape or a suburban campus hellscape, there’s one thing that remains as consistent as awkward kitchen small talk and IT issues: horrifically misused, utterly disgusting shared bathrooms.

I’ve seen some gruesome stuff in my time as an office stiff. Dramatically overloaded (but not clogged! Important distinction) toilets that you can’t believe someone didn’t notice and attempt to eradicate with an extra flush or two. Dried blood caked to the floor that makes you wonder if someone is just aggressively menstruating, or if a murder maybe occurred. Toilets covered in fine piss spray that looks like it came out of the mouth of a velociraptor, rather than a human vagina. In one particularly disgruntled office environment, someone took an actual shit on the floor. A shit! A steaming pile of workplace resentment poo. We got perfunctory emails from HR about it. “Please use the toilets.”

Aren’t these bathroom bandits afraid of being caught in the act? I mean, it is a workplace after all, not a bus terminal McDonald’s. What if you ran into your boss as you exited your freshly destroyed stall? Have these people no shame?

Lots of workplace bathroom destruction strikes me as more personal than simple lack of respect. I think it’s because while we’re at work, we spend so much energy being professional and polite, half-smiling at peers we maybe hate, saying “yes, let me circle back on that” to people we maybe don’t respect, that when we get into the privacy of the bathroom we just let it fucking rip and our inner ape comes out. “I can’t control the smug grin my boss sports while letting me know I’ll be staying late tonight, but you know what I can control? My bowels, and the location and manner in which I utilize them.” It all feels too deliberate to merely be bad hygiene.

Take old floor-pooper from earlier, for example. The office where floor-pooper and I worked was particularly bleak. This place was a “media” company and most of us entry-level employees were classified as “freelancers,” even though we worked on-site, full-time. Basically the usual corporate-benefit-denial run-around. And us freelancers endured tiny indignities on the reg.

We had bagels slapped out of our hands at staff brunches. (“These are for full-time staff,” the HR lady in the cat sweater would hiss, balls of strawberry cream cheese nestled in the corner of her thin, churning mouth. “We’d be held liable if you were to choke on one.”) We were told to be in the office early on a sunny spring day when the full-time staff got to go do charity work in local parks. (“Please email me every hour to confirm you are still at work, I’ll be checking in on my BlackBerry,” the email from our supervisor read. “And if you smell something strange, don’t worry. We’re having all the conference rooms painted.”) We were paid in tiny whiffs of money that were accounted for down to the cent. (On time sheets, we were required to detail all break periods down to the minute.)

Obviously, resentment rising up in this setting was surprising to no one. The bathrooms were regularly disgusting, but the poop on the floor was a new chapter for many of us freelance losers. Lots of people quit. I think someone even complained to the Labor Department. We were all a little mobilized by that floor poop, so I guess to that extent, “bathroom destruction as protest” was semi-effective.

Still, the less dramatic, everyday nastiness of office bathrooms doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. And I guess we just have to live with it. We are all animals. Maybe it’s not so bad at Google?

Jess Keefe is a writer who lives in Boston. Get this: she even has a Twitter.

Photo: Ruthanne Reade

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