This is Sunday and the topic is a delicate one, so please forgive me. I may have to give it over to Bobby Bronco, that implacable, comedic force now making the rounds of comedy clubs East Side, West Side, and all around the town. I know he is looking for new material and is the kind of comedian who tells stories rather than jokes. “Narrative comedy,” he calls it. I think it’s because he can’t tell jokes, but that’s another matter.
I am referring to “potty talk.” I don’t mean words that erupt from the mouths of four-year-olds with the attendant giggle. I mean adult talk spoken on the toilet, in a stall, or at a urinal in a public restroom. And it is not talk within the restroom. Rather, potty talk involves that most ubiquitous and pernicious of devices, the cell phone.
There are now more cell phones on the planet than people. Soon, there will be more cell phones than cockroaches, which, in New York City, is a development of biblical proportions. The cell phone has become a human appendage. Someday it may even replace the appendix. Engineers at Verizon are probably working on that right now.
The other day I was in a men’s room on campus. A student burst in, entered a stall, and went about his business. Within seconds, he was on his cell phone. By the sound of it, his girlfriend was on the other end of the line. I’d like to believe she was not privy to the sounds I heard, because, if she had been, I’d have to wonder about her taste in men. Or her self-esteem. Note: ever since self-esteem has become the backbone of American, primary education, girls’ and women’s levels of self-esteem have fallen through the floor. That, too, is another story.
I have witnessed men conversing on their cell phones while grunting in a stall, pissing at a urinal, and taking a shower in the locker room. I’m not sure if this is due to the broader, cultural shift to make public everything that is private; men fixed at the anal or oral stage of psychological growth; or the work of those masters of marketing, who have convinced us that our lives are so rushed that there is no time for silence.
It used to be that the toilet was reserved for, beyond the obvious, quiet reflection. Now, silence has met a cacophonous death.
The first time I came across this was years ago at an airport. A guy came into the men’s room, which was empty except for me. He went into a stall and started talking in a loud voice. I thought he was addressing me, which I found a little strange, but I wanted to be polite and answered him. There was a pause and finally he said, “Listen, let me call you back. There’s some wiseguy listening in.” I dried my hands and left before he finished.
Beyond the possible influence of larger, social forces, I am not sure why individuals behave this way. To feel important? Because they were brought up by wolves? Utter disdain for those around them? This last one is perhaps the worst.
It is said that LBJ would make staff meet with him as he defecated in a stall on Air Force One. Judging from everything that has been written about our thirty-sixth president, it was undoubtedly an act of dominance, not unlike having your leg humped. Who is greater–the one taking a crap, or the one forced to watch? If you own a dog, of course, you are in even worse shape. I’ll leave it at that.
If you get a phone call from someone in an aquarium who doesn’t actually work in one, you’ve just been pissed on.