Other than the kitchen, the bathroom is one of the most respected and heavily used domestic spaces in the home. For some reason, people love to spend a lot of time there. It consumes a good part of your home life. Maybe it’s because a person can be alone with their thoughts without interruption. Really it is just a place where we relieve ourselves, read bathroom jokes, do crossword puzzles, talk on the cell-phone, smoke cigarettes and maintain our personal hygiene. For women, it’s where we wash and blow-dry our hair, apply make-up, and tweeze those annoying eyebrows. For men, it’s the toilet throne, a place where they can look at Playboy magazines in private, work on their laptop, shave and groom themselves as well. It’s also a place where various items just end up, collected in a mish-mash of confused clusters. Somehow this clumped chaos spreads its way to the counter tops and cabinets like a weed or a virus, taking on a messy life of its own. As if the smell alone wasn’t enough to get to you sometimes, the clutter is an annoying reminder that no matter how much you try, you can’t keep the bathroom clean in a one bathroom domicile.
While I’m on the subject of having an only bathroom and pinching your nose, it reminds me of an embarrassing moment I went through last year. I had been invited to my friend’s daughter’s graduation party in upstate New York, which was celebrated in her backyard. There must have been at least 25 to 30 people there and only one bathroom for everyone to use. I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with me because I suddenly had a need for that bathroom.
Unfortunately, I had to wait because there were two people ahead of me. The longer they took, the more nervous I became. Finally, it was my turn to enter. Wow! What a fantastic feeling to be relieved. As I reached for the toilet paper, I noticed there wasn’t any left, just an empty cardboard tube in its place.!!@#$%^&*… Nobody thinks of looking for the toilet paper until they need it and there was none to be found, no baby wipes, nothing.
I started to panic; I squatted and began sifting through the chaotic pile of junk under the bathroom sink, feeling guilty for invading her privacy. I even looked for an air freshener. Now, thinking about it, with 25 guests waiting to use this lavatory, I had three things to worry about:
1. Find toilet paper.
2. Find a can of air freshener.
3. Slink away and find a dark corner to hide in for the remainder of the party.
Eventually I located a can of air freshener. It was empty. There was one more place to look, the linen closet. As I opened the door of her linen closet, I was greeted by the lovely scent of her Yankee candles. Oh how exciting, now all I needed was a match. Where the hell would I find a match in a bathroom? Addendum to the list above:
4. Find matches or a lighter (Note: There were probably 15 people smoking in the backyard just outside the bathroom door, but, really, how do you politely ask for a match? “Hello there, pssst, you with the Marlboro, can you slide me a lighter through the bathroom window? Why, you ask? Uhmm…. Need to, uhm, light some candles?”)
Holy cow, doesn’t this woman buy anything, what am I to do? A house full of guests and not even one roll of toilet paper? I was too embarrassed to open the door a crack and tell someone to call her. Still in my bare cheeks, dragging my drawers around, I continued to look. Finally, I saw something at the back of the linen closet. I reached in, praying it was the toilet paper. It was another empty cardboard tube with a sliver of toilet paper barely hanging onto it. A man started banging on the door, shouting at the top of his voice: “Hey hurry up in there, what’s taking you so long, I have to go real bad!” Sounds as if he had the same problem I had, or else he would have found comfort in the bushes. “I’m coming right out”, I responded weakly, feeling sick to my stomach.!!@#$%^&*. I had no way to get rid of the stink, no toilet paper, and I couldn’t stay in the bathroom forever. I felt I was going to hyper-ventilate from the anxiety. I needed to do something fast, so I grabbed one of my friend’s Better Homes and Garden magazines and ripped out a couple of pages, folded them in half, wetting them and adding body wash which made it mushy.
Without going into gruesome details, I must say it did the trick. Relieved, refreshed, and dressed minus my drawers, I opened the door smiling at the scowling man who was busy grumbling to himself. He entered the bathroom, little did he know what he was getting himself into, and I zoomed out of there. ‘Have a nice day and good luck!’ I thought to myself. It’s surprising how creative one can be under dreadful circumstances. By the way, my friend did buy a large package of toilet paper; her son just forgot to put it in the bathroom. So here’s a bit of advice, before you get down to business, make sure there is toilet paper available… that goes for public bathrooms too.
Before the late 1800s, toilet paper did not exist, so people had to use other items to wipe their butts, such as old newspapers, summer leaves, old socks, and, my favorite, pages from the Sears catalog. The pulp must have been gentler than today’s edition. Maybe they put aloe in the pages or something. Even as recently as the end of World War I, there was a boom of bathroom construction in the U.S. and newspapers became the most popular choice when it came to wiping oneself.
Unfortunately, where there is only one bathroom, there will always be an aggravated roommate, an awkward visitor, or a row of short-tempered family members on the war-path, angrily waiting their turn.
Okay, here’s something to think about, have you ever wondered how our ancestors managed themselves when they needed to relieve themselves or take a bath.
I must say there was nothing like the great outdoors for our early pioneers and farmers. There were plenty of trees and bushes for the sake of privacy, and most importantly, lots of fresh air to breathe.
As for taking a bath, things were much different back then. It was not the habit of the people to bathe, because for the most part, it was considered unnecessary and immodest. In the warmer weather and summertime, the boys and men would just jump into the lake, creek or pond whenever there was one close by. Of course, the outdoor bath was skipped in the freezing winter. But in some homes, where they felt it would be a necessity, the family would have a big washtub in front of the fireplace or stove where there would be kettles of water boiling to pour into the tub. In the book “I hear America Talking” there is mention of “Philadelphia’s Elizabeth Drinker who took a therapeutic shower bath in 1799. It was remarkable enough to be recorded in her diary as her first bath in 28 years!”
Geeez… Love to be trapped in an elevator with her. NOT!
Even by the 1860’s, most people simply did not bathe, even though they sweated copiously during the summer months. Probably because they felt bathing would open the pores of their skin and expose them to all sorts of illness. So in the days before heated running water, the pitcher and wash basin were America’s most commonly used methods of hygienic toiletry. Nonetheless, there were some families during the Victorian era that made use of a tub for bathing. After the water was heated and poured into the tub, every one in the family would use the same water to bathe and wash their bodies. Because the ladies did not wash their hair often, they did a lot of hair brushing in those days. Perhaps that explains that greasy look you see in late 1800’s photography. For those who could afford it, the perfume industry flourished, since there was such an obviously large market in need of their products.
As the population increased and the bitter weather arrived, “outhouses” “thrones” “crappers”, also called “Privy houses” were built. A crescent moon would be carved on the privy door, which was a signal for women back in the day, while the men’s sign was that of the sun. The cutouts on the door allowed light and some air to seep into the outhouse. These outhouses usually measured about 3’x4′ wide and 7′ high, without a window, and were built about 100′ to 200′ from the house, with the door facing away from the house because of the emanation of accumulated pungent odor. This gave privacy so people could leave the door ajar during usage to get air inside while holding their breath. Back in the 17th century, the outhouses were called “House of Office, House of Ease.” Hey, don’t knock it; it served our forefathers well.
The poor immigrants, maybe thirty or fifty families living together in one tenement building in lower Manhattan, surviving horrendous and unsanitary conditions during the late 1880s, had to make due with only one or two outhouses in the backyard which the landlord provided and often neglected to maintain. The stench from the outhouses creeping into the building was enough to knock a horse down. Since there wasn’t any water in the house to bathe with, the inhabitants had to get water from the pump at the corner and drag all they needed up the long flight of stairs.
The chamber pot, infamously known as the “Piss Pot” was used indoors at night for emergencies and by those who were sick. During the Victorian era, chamber pots were usually kept under the bed. They were ceramic and were decorated with floral designs or beautiful scenes. Those of wealth would refer to it as a commode. In the wealthier homes during the 1750’s, the “Privy” moved indoors and was called the water closet. This was a closet-sized accommodation which contained a chair with a hole in the seat. The chamber pot would be placed directly under the hole, which often had to be emptied by the chamber-maid as soon as it became filled. Nice work if you could get it. The lady of the house would make sure there was always a sufficient supply of perfumed candles, rose- water, potpourri, and perfume to mask the smells making the quality of the room tolerable, unlike the host at that party I went to.
During the 1800s, the streets in the city of New York reeked of urine and worse. The street seemed to be the usual place for dumping refuse, waste, and slop pots from the tenement houses. Although there were dilapidated outhouses in some of the backyards, the tenants also would have a piss-pot under their beds, which in most occasions, when filled, its contents would be thrown out the window and woe to anyone walking underneath. Thank God for Thomas Crapper, the man who invented the toilet? Perhaps he was hit in the head by the contents of a piss pot being emptied from the third story of some tenement building when his inspiration came to him. Whatever the case, we should have a Crapper holiday in memorial of his great achievement. President’s Day and Columbus Day and National Pancake day (not kidding) are all good and well, I mean, who doesn’t love a free pancake once a year, but where would we be today without the invention of John Crapper. And what is his reward for this miracle of modern ingenuity. Crap gets named after him. By the way, that is his real name. Now we can all breathe easier when nature calls.
In 1825, during the Presidency of John Quincy Adams, the first john was installed in the White House, so that’s where the term John comes from. This was a big step in regards to the history of the lavatory, and it’s fitting that President Adams will forever be remembered and honored when people have to use the “john”, however, this pales in comparison to Mr. Crapper’s accomplishment, so Mr. Adams doesn’t merit his own Holiday. Besides, technically, he has President’s day, so he’s covered. Later, during the 1880’s, the magnificent words “toilet paper” and “wash cloth” became etched in stone as part of the bathroom vocabulary.
One of the first completed bathrooms with an installed bathtub and toilet was found in George Vanderbilt’s NYC palace in 1855, the Vanderbilt Mansion. Vassar College made it mandatory that their young ladies bathe twice a week in 1865. Hooray for higher education.
By the time 1935 rolled around, most people here in America were in the habit of taking baths on a daily basis, though there were still a few who chose not to. If you’ve ever been on a crowded bus, you’re aware that there are still a few people who haven’t developed this habit in today’s world.
So if, for now, you can’t afford the extra bathroom, then you’ll have to continue dealing with people waiting their turn and pinching their nose when entering your lone, overworked facility. Make sure you always have a plentiful supply of toilet paper, air freshener, matches and maybe a couple of National Enquirers on hand, just in case? The last thing you want is to have to clean a bathroom after a dozen people have gone through it lacking the proper supplies. As discussed earlier, it’s hard enough clearing the clutter off the counter tops. And it’s hard to find a good, affordable chamber-maid these days. Trust me, I checked Craigslist. Nothing doing!