Viewpoints (Ellenore): Mystery of the Public Toilet Stall
It’s normally quite nice when you hear an old friend's voice saying "Ellenore, is that you?" However, it’s quite another thing to hear it as you sit behind the door of a toilet stall in the restroom of your local department store.
Since the day a year or so ago when my friend Janet spied me in exactly that position, I have ruminated on the mystery of the modern toilet stall. What is the explanation for those enormous gaps on either side of the door that require us all to make a moral decision every time we line up in a public bathroom--to peek or not to peek?
I tend to be a great admirer of modern design. When my new car actually parks itself, I marvel at human intelligence. When I feel that ergonomically shaped device fit snug into my hand as I peel potatoes, I revel in our ingenuity. But when I must immediately avert my gaze in a public bathroom to avoid seeing things I shouldn’t be seeing, I am sure there must be some good reason for this, I am just too stupid to think of it. After all, man has been building doors, and fitting them to door frames, for thousands of years. Wouldn’t you think that, if any door would be designed to meet the core function of providing privacy, it would be a toilet stall door?
Using my Sherlockian powers of deduction, I have concluded that the gaps must be deliberate. But why? Does some safety code mandate the gaps so that people collapsing in the stall will be quickly noticed and saved? Do the gaps deter people from doing nefarious things in the stalls? Do they support a secret study of how often people invade another person’s privacy? Will I ever know the truth? And why have I never once heard anyone complain? We are a society of complainers and yet, as we line up for the bathroom, we just dumbly acquiesce.
I think I will start a mass movement to ban the gaps. I can already see myself marching up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Houses of Congress waving my “Ban the Gaps” placard.
Maybe I will do something meaningful in my retirement after all.
Ellenore is a retired lawyer who ponders the most amazing social conundrums.