David Bruce: Bathrooms Anecdotes


While preparing a wall for his stage production of Romeo and Juliet, realist director Franco Zeffirelli flicked a brush soaked with dirty and watery paint about 18 inches from the bottom of the wall, explaining, “This is where the dogs pee.” He then flicked the brush higher on the wall, adding, “and this is where the men pee.”

Although they were born in the United States and were American citizens, Yoshiko Uchida and her sister Keiko, who was nicknamed Kay, were interned at the American concentration camp at Topaz, Utah, because of their Japanese ancestry during World War II. Before being moved to Topaz, they were first forced to live in a horse stall that had been painted so hurriedly by the United States soldiers that young Yoshiko could see the corpses of spiders and other bugs under the whitewash. Kay became ill and was forced to stay in bed and use a large tin can when she needed to go to the bathroom. She worried that everyone would hear what she was doing—the horse stall “apartments” were not conducive to privacy. Therefore, while Kay used the can, Yoshiko rustled newspapers and made a lot of noise to cover up the bathroom noises that her sister was making.

When they were children, young people’s author William Sleator and his sister, Vicky, sometimes amused themselves during car trips by pretending that they were BMs (bowel movements). Vicky imagined that she was an Oreo cookie that had been eaten by Queen Elizabeth and she described the process of being transformed from an Oreo cookie into a BM and finally being flushed down a toilet in the queen’s marble bathroom. William described two items being eaten at the same time—blueberries and carrots—resulting in a purple-and-orange-striped BM. Vicky used to point out that striped BMs do not exist, but William replied that just because she had never see one that did not mean that they didn’t exist.

While attending Eastern Washington State College, young adult author Chris Crutcher got to know a true eccentric named Dumbo Banger. Mr. Banger purchased a seat belt from a NAPA auto parts store and affixed it to his toilet. Whenever a friend visited and had to sit on the toilet, and Mr. Banger did not hear a click, he would knock on the bathroom door and tell the occupant to buckle up because of liability problems should the occupant blast off. Mr. Banger appears as the character named Lionel Serbousek in Mr. Crutcher’s book titled Stotan!

When Robert L. Mott was working for the Captain Kangaroo Show live on TV, his sound effects room was located next to the building’s only women’s restroom. The flushes from this bathroom were very loud, and Mr. Mott understandably did not want the sound of the flushes to be heard on the children’s program; therefore, before each show started, he put an “Out of Order” sign on the door of the restroom. One show, he had just turned on the microphone for a sound effect on the show, when a woman screeched, “OUT OF ORDER! OH, F—K!”

Singing at outdoor concerts while wearing fabulous, elegant gowns does have a downside. In 1995, at Radley College, soprano Leslie Garrett discovered that her dress, because of its width, would not permit her to use a portaloo (in USAmerica, the term is “portapotty”). For the first half of the concert, she sang with her legs crossed. In the meantime, the concert organizers set up a tent, complete with a bucket, for her use during the interval (in USAmerica, the term is “intermission”).

Sir Hugh Walpole was visited by Mr. and Mrs. Lauritz Melchior. Mrs. Melchior had to use the bathroom, did, and discovered too late that no toilet paper was present. Seeing some other paper present in the form of books, she selected the least impressive volume and employed a few pages for a purpose they were not intended for. Later, she discovered that Sir Hugh kept a number of priceless first editions in his bathroom, where he employed his sitting-down time perusing his collection.

While working together on the movie The Cowboys, star John “Duke” Wayne and director Mark Rydell went out drinking. At one point, Mr, Wayne went to the restroom, and when he came back, one side of his pants was wet. Seeing Mr. Rydell stare, Duke explained: A fan next to him at the urinal had recognized him, and without first finishing his business, had turned to him and exclaimed, “You’re John Wayne!”

Roy Henderson once started practicing some vocal exercises in an empty cloakroom, thinking that no one could hear him. However, he was startled to hear a toilet flushing, followed shortly by a man coming out of a door at one end of the cloakroom. “I’m extremely sorry,” Mr. Henderson said. “I hope I didn’t disturb you.” The man replied, “On the contrary, I found it quite helpful.”

Many families have a hard time sharing a bathroom, which is sometimes the busiest room in a house. However, when Paris Singer of the family that manufactured Singer sewing machines bought modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan a hotel outside Paris to serve as her dancing school, she didn’t have to worry about that problem. Of the hotel’s 200 rooms, 80 were bathrooms!

Early in her career, soprano Rita Hunter read a review which stated, “If Miss Hunter persists in singing her top notes with such abandon she won’t have a voice at all in two years.” Thirty years later, she still had her voice. She also still had the review—which she displayed on a wall in her bathroom.

During World War II, Adolf Hitler’s German air force attacked London, England, with bombs, forcing citizens into bomb shelters for as long as 10 hours at a stretch. Making things even more difficult was that some bomb shelters didn’t have bathrooms.

Like other college students, when Isaac Newton headed off to school (in his case, Cambridge University), he purchased necessary supplies. He bought ink, a notebook, a lock for his desk, a pound of candles—and perhaps most important, a chamber pot.

When comedian Jay Leno, host of The Tonight Show, was in high school, he used to sneak into the girls’ bathroom, pour water into the Kotex dispenser, then watch it expand and tear itself from the wall.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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