I have this book sitting in my bathroom. It’s good bathroom reading material when you happen to be indisposed. Quite apropos as well, considering it’s called Off The Wall: The Best Graffiti Off The Walls of America. It’s a collection of prose and verse found in bathrooms around the U.S. and it’s nicely put together with little pictures to compliment the text in a humourous way. I remember getting the book from Robert Wilson after he gave a talk on creativity. Wilson is one of the authors of the small volume, and I recall getting the book from an Alberta Weekly Newspaper convention that my manager felt we should go to (even though we’re from Saskatchewan, but that’s fine, it was a good weekend). I can’t recall exactly, but we may have been invited.
At any rate, I received this book and this morning (while sitting on the lou) I picked it up and began flipping through it. On the back it has a scrawl of bathroom graffiti (which I have seen before) that reads “BEAUTIFY AMERICA: STOP WRITING ON BATHROOM WALLS”. The word STOP is scratched out and replaced with KEEP. That got me thinking. When I’ve walked into public toilets lately, they’re really quite clean and in some cases incredibly pristine. Some of these pristine examples are in the strangest places.
For example, if I were to use the facilities at a fancy hotel, then I would expect the place to be clean. And I mean spotless clean. No dirt on the floor, no paper towels strewn recklessly about. Even the walls are well tended with not a single scratch in them. Now, if I were to walk into a 24 hour place like a 7-11 or a Humpty’s Restaurant, I would be more likely to see some of the aforementioned reckless abandon. For some reason, it’s just expected. But lately, whenever I’ve gone into those kinds of bathrooms, it’s really, really clean.
I don’t mean clean in the “floor is clean, sink is clean, and toilet is okay” aspect that someone who half assed cleans something. I’m talking the spotless kind of clean that looks like a mother came over and went to work (because moms can be like that… at least mine is… as is my dad). There’s not even graffiti on the walls.
The lack of graffiti meets me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s nice to go into a public toilet that’s neat and clean. But on the other, there’s a sort of nostalgic tug at the heartstrings seeing those scrawled bits of wit and whimsy on the walls of a public bathroom. Some of the most interesting, funny, and often overused pieces of philosophy can be found on the walls of a public toilet.