4 min

Slip me a little

The culture of mall washrooms

Credit: Xtra West files

If you make a living writing or making art, you learn to be flexible. You learn to say things like “Of course I can write a story about pap tests by Thursday. When do you need me to be at the clinic?”

So when they said I would get a couple hundred bucks for doing two 15-minute sets at a suburban mall, I didn’t bat an eye. I even forgot about the Daylight Savings Time and showed up an accidental hour early. I told them that I wasn’t a storyteller of the bring-the-kids-along variety exactly, and they said that was okay, they were trying to change the face of storytelling as a thing just for kids anyway, and as long as I didn’t say fuck all over the place for no reason, I should be fine.

Have you ever been to a suburban mall? I hadn’t been to this one. The stage was set up right in the big rotunda in the giant mallway, right down from the Fido stand and the cheap sunglasses. It was decorated still from last week, when they had a puppeteer in a skeleton costume doing scary tricks with witches and goblins, and the risers were filled with pumpkins and the backdrop was a full moon with bats and spiderwebs and what-not. There was a huge cardboard jack-o-lantern hanging dangerously just above me and the other two storytellers’ heads. The puppeteer must have been a short little fella, I remember thinking.

I don’t know if it was the spooky stage, or the guy with the hand-drum beside me, or the fact that the Irish poet on my left panicked at the sight of a growing number of children amassing at our feet for the free show and pulled a harmonica and Jew’s harp out of his canvas bag, or what, but soon I was facing down eight four-year olds, and I can’t even juggle.

I did what I had to do. I did my job. Fifteen minutes later it was all over, and I was free to hang around the mall until the second set. I marvelled at the concept of a $10,000 TV and had a coffee, and then I had to use the facilities.

Mall washrooms are not a friendly place for gender-expanding folks; they are right up there with theatre, airport and ferry bathrooms in terms of visibility and risk, in my opinion. The line up for the women’s was out the door and down the hall, strollers and matching twins and grandmas and all, and there was no way I was going to stand there and be stared or glared at by three generations of females from the same family, so I quickly ducked into the men’s.

Although busy for a men’s room, absolutely no-one even looked up or made any eye contact with me and I bolted for the last stall and shut the door safely. I had a huge and intensely satisfying poop and then noticed that my little oasis was completely void of toilet paper. This offered me a new and interesting bathroom problem, and I’ve had many, I assure you.

If I was in the women’s washroom I would have simply called out to the kindly lady farting softly in the next stall, and she would gently wrap a length around her hand and pass it to me. But I have a less than masculine voice, especially when trapped in a men’s room with my pants down, and if I called out for help here the fellas might wonder what I was doing taking a dump in their territory. Could be bad. Never know.

Fortunately, I heard a man slam the stall door open next to me, and bat a long bit off the roll next to me to blow his nose with. The roll kept turning and I watched with relief as the loose end dangled down to the floor beside me, and I reached under and grabbed some for myself. I heard a zipper and the sound of an ass squeaking on to the seat next to me. I reached under the tin wall for one more bit, before he broke it off too short, just in case, and then I felt it.

A smallish, dry hand, belonging to the nose-blower, I assumed, reached down and grasped my hand gently and squeezed, once. I immediately drew my hand back, dropping the paper in shock. I made do with what I had, noticing the man’s matter-of-fact brown shoes, flushed, rinsed and left without raising my eyes to anyone.

Back in the hall, I paced, pretending to wait for my lady friend who was busy in her proper washroom. I searched the shoes of the men who walked past me for the one I had just held hands with in the men’s room. Two left with grey shoes together, one who was black and one with hairy hands. Not them. I looked down at my brown boots with the squared off toes. Very identifiable in the suburban mall set.

Then he came out, so to speak. Grey shoes, dark blue uniform pants, and grey button up shirt with no tie. Plain leather coat. An older Chinese guy, maybe 60. Walked almost right past me without looking up, then checked out my package as he rounded the corner.

I returned to the table next to the stage in the mall, sat between to the Irish poet and the traditional storyteller and drummer. “Pity there’s no pub here,” says Mr Burns. “Me with an hour to kill and nothing to do.”

“You should check out the men’s washroom over by The Sony Store.” I wink. “It’s hopping today.”

No wonder gay men are such avid consumers. You really can get it all at the mall.