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A potentially embarrassing bathroom story

January 9, 2015


Yesterday I was reminded, in a funny way, of two things about being homeless:

Even if we don’t have a home we still want to act like we do. But we should never forget that it’s always someone else’s world and that we homeless people are just living in it.

Home is an idea if nothing else

Not all people who become physically homeless remain stuck out in the cold emotionally. Deprived of one kind of home many will naturally find a way to fill their fundamental human need to be rooted somehow or somewhere.

People may try to make a home out of a shopping cart or an out-of-the-way place or they may just develop a more expansive idea of home.

For me, all roads lead to home, particularly if they lead to Fairview. That whole neighbourhood feels like home to me.

But if the truisms can be true — that home really is where I lay my hat bike helmet and home really can be where my heart is — the same can never be said for “bathroom”.

Home is definitely not where the toilet paper is

After a decade of homelessness I know all the public restrooms in the Fairview area as well as you know the bathroom in your own home but I can never afford to feel at ease in any of them.

Living on the street means living much of your life in public places: public streets, public restaurants and public restrooms.

To tolerate this loss of privacy homeless people have to lose some of the shame and self-consciousness we might have once felt living such exposed lives.

However any illusions that I can take ownership of public spaces or that I can happily do my business in public vanish the minute I step into any public restroom.

Never get so comfortable that you forget

I couldn’t guess how many times I had previously been in the public restroom I found myself in yesterday afternoon — thousands of times to be sure.

Many public bathrooms are so small that you’re never out of reach of the door handle but this one is comparatively quite large. It’s several steps from the door to the toilet.

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on that toilet looking across the room at that door handle. And it suddenly occurred to me to wonder whether I had locked the door or not. For the life of me I couldn’t remember.

I could see that the little rotating switch in the handle pointed down — what did that mean?

Had I just breezed in without thinking, like I owned the place? Not good.

I felt like one of the dogs I see being walked outside.

If dogs actually seem to look embarrassed taking a poop in public I think that it’s only because they know they’ve been caught defenseless.

To be embarrassed is to feel vulnerable under public scrutiny: fight or flight doesn’t work when you have your pants down, so to speak.

That was me sitting on the toilet; suddenly caught like a de-panted deer in headlights by the thought that anyone might open that door and barge in on me at any second.

I was weighing whether or not to make a desperate duck-waddle across the room and check if the door was locked or not when someone answered my question by rattling the door handle from the other side.

Whew! That was close.

I had to laugh. It was funny.

The same thing probably happens to thousands of people using public restrooms every day.

But most people have at least one bathroom in their life that they can call their own and use how they please. I don’t. I should never get so comfortable that I let my guard down.

I may not always feel homeless but a day doesn’t go by that I don’t know I’m bathroomless. Click the image to enlarge it.

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