Art vs. Science: A Bathroom Anthology

This will hopefully be the start of a series of posts about my observations about the disparities and similarities between the two spheres I operate in: science and humanities. I personally find them endlessly amusing. Today’s topic: restrooms.

The very soul of a building lies in its bathrooms. The general form malodor drifting through the air, the frantic scribblings on the walls, and even the sound of the toilets speak to the essence of a building. Not to wax all poetic on the crapper, but seriously, the bathroom is the one room in a building that every dweller of said building finds it utterly necessary to visit on a daily basis. Unless of course, said dweller finds nature much more appealing, in which case said dweller would likely be violating several (often violated, it seems from the smell of Telegraph Ave) laws in this general vicinity.

That being said, I have found myself particularly entranced by the difference between the bathrooms frequented by literary-types and bathrooms frequented by science-types. Of course, one must note that I have only seen half of the whole picture on this issue, since I have not frequented and of the men’s restrooms myself. I am sure that’s a whole ‘nother story.

The bathrooms in the hallowed halls of the humanities are in a word, effusive. They are all characterized by the same yellow light and smell as bathrooms are often expected to smell. The moment the hour ends and classes let out, they are flooded with scores of well-dressed women who line up out the door. The sheer scale of the whole spectacle is marvelous. On a typical two o’clock one can observe twelve young women lining up to pee in seven disheveled, foul-smelling stalls, the coral pink floor littered with toilet paper. Humanities bathrooms are glorious chaos. Take, for example, the basement-level restrooms in Berkeley’s logical fallacy of a building, Dwinelle Hall, home of the Languages, History, Linguistics, and various Ethnic Studies Departments. The un-aesthetic of the grey plastic stalls has proven an ample canvas for the outpourings of many a soul: drawings of butterflies, blunt professions of love, vague philosophical questions, and vicious offerings to do something lewd to the reader are scribbled furiously by these defecating luminaries in their, er, creative state of mind.

Science bathrooms tend to be the ones I can more readily handle. Often I walk into the bathroom in Leconte Hall (The Physics building) and amuse myself by calculating the probability of another female being in there at the same time. Usually, it’s around ten to twenty percent. Science bathrooms are like laboratories. They smell like freshly laid tile (or occasionally, shit.) Sometimes, even the paper towels are neatly composted. If there is graffiti, it is written in small round letters and is either sort of clever (like the ‘grout’ wall in Leconte, where in the grout between the tiles smart asses from all walks of life have contributed various puns on the word grout, such as “grout expectations” and “oscar the grout”) or makes absolutely no sense (again from Leconte: “call your mom”). Science bathrooms also seem to be thoroughly aware of the havoc tampons can wreak on old plumbing. In the women’s bathroom in Cory, the electrical engineering building, there is a sign bidding the visitor to “respect your fellow wombyn, don’t flush your sanitary napkins.” In the Life Sciences Addition, there is a laminated sign with a similar warning this time featuring a clip art of a woman in My Fair Lady-esque garb. Classy, those Life scientists are.

The oddest Science bathroom I have ever had the pleasure of using is the bathroom in the Space Sciences Lab. The lights are never on, there is never any trash in the bins, and the place is absolutely pristine, except for once it smelled like tuna sandwich. In fact, the only other time I have seen another living soul in that room is once when I walked in on a small Asian woman with enormous round glasses fervently brushing her teeth in front of the mirror.

So, Bathrooms. Some may argue that they necessary evil of the civilized world (and human nature). But clearly, they are actually portals into the minds and habits of the dwellers of their hallowed stalls. Clearly. And I’m only partially joking.

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